Sunday, August 15, 2010

A salute to Algiers.

Crescent City Connection from behind the Port Authority headquarters.
While I suppose it isn't very puzzling that a city can exist on both banks of a river (think Budapest), I find it odd that Algiers is part and parcel of New Orleans.

You can get to Algiers two ways.  One is by ferry.  Two is by bridge.  The bridge is a fairly recent invention this far down the Mississippi, as its structure in the above illustration shows.  Before it was built, people only had one option: boat.

Algiers is like the rest of the city in microcosm.  The part closest to the river bank is old and dense, full of quirks and small shops.  As you venture farther afield, it is like any other suburb; single family homes are planted on their plots and the commercial action happens in the strip malls on Gen. De Gaulle Drive.  The further you go on Gen. De Gaulle, the more you feel like your in East New Orleans: new land developers have carved into private oases.  It is more homogenized, less unique, there is less "there" there.  It could be Gretna or Westwego.

A collection of private oases is not what a city is, of course.  An urban oasis is a big, capitalized O as is.  A city is a dense, shared community where people live cheek by jowl in an infrastructure improvised to accommodate all sorts of civil and civic activity.  This is why the plan for the new Charity Hospital is such a bust: it is a suburban campus plopped into an urban grid.  It is why no one waxes poetic about New Orleans lakeside neighborhoods while the riverside ones capture the soul's imagination.

I don't mind going to Algiers to tootle around by motorcycle or bicycle but there's no real reason for me to linger.  I'm sure that, for the people who live there, the community is a thriving, interesting place.  The farther I've gone from the ferry landing though, the more my interest flags.  Maybe I'm jaded and I need lots of bright lights and activity to hold my attention.  Maybe I just don't know enough about Algiers beyond reading Kerouac and Burroughs and riding back and forth between bungalows build in the 1970s and 1980s.  Perhaps.  I'm not one to cast aspersions but I prefer the East Bank of New Orleans to the West.  I'm sure those on the West will disagree.

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