New Orleans' Treme neighborhood has been getting a lot of press lately because of the HBO series of the same name. I haven't seen the series and I don't know how much it deals with Treme per se as the aftermath of the Katrina levee failure.
I enjoy touring through Treme (which, I suppose, should have an accent over the second 'e'). It is a historic African American neighborhood, full of small homes and corner businesses that has developed a unique, self contained culture over the centuries. It is bisected by the highway overpass on North Claiborne Avenue, which is the topic for another report.
I was reading the newspaper the other day about a zoning plan that proposes letting 20 businesses open in the neighborhood. These would be groceries, coffee shops, local service stores to serve the neighborhood. Most of these would occupy spaces that were already commercial but abandoned post-Katrina. The planning board asked residents for input. Most residents seemed to want a midnight closing time and live music until that hour. The board put the kabosh on that stating that these businesses aren't traditionally open that late. So much for community input. The presence of bars was alluded to but not spelled out in the Times-Picayune article last week (sorry, no link. I think it was last Wednesday).
Anyone who has read the Boston era posts here on the Dot Matrix knows that I am in favor of 24 hour activity in a city. That is one of the reasons I moved to New Orleans. Anyone who has read the New London era posts here knows that I am relatively against central planning. I believe a city is an organic collection of people who will provide what the neighborhood wants without too much interference. I believe commerce should co-exist with residences...that is the definition of urban living as far as I am concerned. The smaller scale the development according to community needs the better for all involved, small businesspeople and customers alike. At least no one is proposing an upscale mall for Treme (yet).
Treme was once a more vibrant place, commercially, than it is now. The architectural remnants don't lie. I have no doubt that before zoning and good government planning bureaucrats got involved, the neighborhood flourished without outside interference. It is how it was formed and how it got its reputation as a hotbed of cultural innovation. That was then and this is now.
Saint Ann's National Shrine is on Ursulines Street.
Another one exists in Metarie, established after the St. Ann's Church on Ursuline closed. It is now tended by local, neighborhood devotees. The day I went, two pleasant elderly women sat in the cave and welcomed me.
Treme is garnering its share of attention because of the HBO show, its geographic location, and its historical significance. Lightning doesn't strike twice by design. Left to it's own devices, the neighborhood will raise itself up without any help. I believe in the inherent genius of the common person. If you think the advice of professional planners will only do good, be careful what you wish for. The designs for the post- Claiborne Avenue Overpass don't look any more inviting than what is there now. More open space perhaps but less shade. That's the thing about urban planners: they are in love with parks that no body wants to visit.