Where y’at? Good question: A history of New Orleans neighborhoods
It was born of bureaucracy. In 1974, in order to qualify for a share of federal grant money, the city under New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu — and with help from Curtis and Davis architects — carved up New Orleans into 73 rigidly defined neighborhoods. What city planners didn’t count on was the can of worms they were opening. New Orleans neighborhood boundaries, after all, are often fluid, informal things, based on tradition and personal history as much as anything else. The debate over neighborhood boundaries started immediately. It has yet to end.
As controversial as the neighborhood map was, it is an undeniably useful arbiter when trying to describe exactly in what neighborhood a certain place lies. Still, boundaries set forth in it are disputed to this day. As part of its 2015 New Orleans Neighborhoods Project, NOLA.com learned that where a given neighborhood begins or ends all depends on whom you’re asking — no matter what the official map says.
- To come up with the original 73, the city first considered historic neighborhood boundaries, then looked at nearby thoroughfares and intersections that might serve as more easily definable boundaries. Then, natural boundaries were considered, followed by census tracts.
- The job wasn’t easy. The first map of 73 neighborhoods was formed in 1974, which was revised in 1975 into 87 neighborhoods to align with Census data. Another analysis in 1977 resulted in more than 100 neighborhoods, which, with use of data from the 1980 Census was later whittled down to — you guessed it — 73.
- The 73 neighborhoods are by no means the only way of diving the city. It is also alternatively divided into 17 wards, 15 city planning districts, eight police districts, seven municipal districts, five City Council districts — and a whole mess of ZIP codes.
- As everyone knows, the city’s first neighborhood was what we know today as the French Quarter, drawn out by Adrien de Pauger in 1721. But can you name the second? It was Faubourg Ste. Marie, which is where the present-day CBD lies, and which was laid out in the wake of the devastating Good Friday fire of 1788 to give people a place to live.
- Many of the city’s neighborhoods are rooted in the region’s colorful history. The English Turn area, for example, got its name from a 1699 con job pulled by city founder Bienville who, upon encountering English ships in the Mississippi River just below present-day New Orleans, he led them to believe — falsely — that a major French settlement was just upstream. The English turned around, and that bend in the river, as well as the land around it, has been known as English Turn ever since.
It’s been said that New Orleans doesn’t feel so much like a single place than it does like a collection of distinctive neighborhoods. That’s because so many of the city’s present-day neighborhoods actually were their own distinct places long before the neighborhood map existed — indeed, in many cases, even before those neighborhoods were part of New Orleans. What’s more, the residents of many of those neighborhoods have made it a point of pride to maintain their geographic identities. That’s why, when you tell somebody you live in New Orleans, you’re just telling them where you’re from. Tell them what New Orleans neighborhood you live in, however, and you’ll be telling them where you’re at.