I was impressed by the vitality of live music in this city. In the evenings, nearly every bar had music. Not surprisingly, jazz and blues predominated, but other genres could be heard as well. And practically everyone I heard was good. Here are some photos, mostly from Faubourg Marigny, but also from outside the French Market and inside the Hotel Monteleone in the Vieux Carré. I probably spent the longest time at Bamboula’s. That’s not saying much — three complete sets (and a couple of Sazeracs, the high price of entry).
Here’s a sample of the Midnight Ramblers at Bamboula’s — skip to about 1:11 for the classic “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?“
Blue Nile and Apple Barrel had some enchanting sounds spilling out onto the sidewalk, as well — which led me into each venue briefly.
Midnight Ramblers at Bamboula’s.
A later set, great music, didn’t catch their name.
Here’s an extended sample from the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar (with a bit of the carousel, below):
I spent part of last week in New Orleans — my first time in that city. The photos included in this post are mostly of architecture and a few street scenes around the Vieux Carré. I’ll post other batches, including of jazz clubs, houses in the Garden District, and the enchanting light that came over the streets during an impending and fierce storm (including a visit to the again-going Old Absinthe House) in a later post.
A group of young women, dressed as angels (with iridescent haloes), congregate in front of the St. Louis Cathedral to prepare for a Joan of Arc-Twelfth Night parade that also marks the start of the Mardi Gras season.Photo: Theo Mackey Pollack.
I hope to spend time in New Orleans, again. It is a fascinating city to explore, and to try to process, on so many levels: its architecture and urbanism, its layered social and cultural history, the surprising way in which its high culture, cheap alcohol, traditional Catholicism, hedonism, classicism, neon, jazz, old money, abject poverty, and all else seem to (mostly) gracefully coexist. It reminds me of no other place in America, yet it could not exist in any other country.
The streets of New Orleans (at least, those in the Vieux Carré) are reminiscent of a Mediterranean city, maybe one in Spain, with low rooflines and floral balconies and breezy palms, and everything organized on a grid around a central plaza (anchored, of course, by a fine old church). Other aspects seem not-quite-American: many people dress more carefully in New Orleans than most Americans do elsewhere (except, perhaps, Boston). Streetcars still operate. Alcohol is everywhere in public. As is live music. And, in stark contrast to the genericism that has now conquered much of the United States, the local culture here struck me as the most vital I’d encountered in the States. That is, people participate in it. (Following the image above, an entire parade, including floats and more costumery, sponsored by a local krewe, would arrive.) Yet, for all its distinctions, it is a distinctly American city, combining influences that have only ever converged in this corner of the Deep South.
There were moments when I felt like I had opened a time capsule and entered a world where the twentieth century hadn’t quite arrived. Instead, this potent preserve of Victoriana and Vaudeville was floating obliviously on the sea of 21st century America. I’m sure such an impression is engineered by the tourism bureau; and pressing beyond the confines of historic neighborhoods would yield plenty of evidence to the contrary. But with such a concentration of historic spaces, inside and out, and so many people still participating in centuries-old traditions, any line between fantasy and living memory, like other contrasts in this strangely familiar city, can seem ephemeral.
Enough writing. Time for some visuals. Let’s start with some photos from the Edward Hopper show that I saw at the Whitney Museum early this year. Some of the shots are at an angle; I think I had in mind that since these were familiar paintings, it might be interesting to see them from a slightly different perspective. Not sure how well that worked out. You can judge. Before going, I had posted a link to a review in The New Criterion. So it feels like I’m closing a loop with this entry.
An LT reader and fellow urban writer based in the DC area, Bryce Tolpen, has launched a new Substack called Political Devotions. One of his first podcasts, “Stories & objects”, explores a global community that has coalesced around Columbia Pike in Arlington, Virginia; and how an arts space in a strip mall, StudioPause, came to serve as a neighborhood focal-point in the post-2020 American anomie that may never quite end. Such an interesting piece — check it out, along with the rest of Bryce’s writing and podcasts. He is a great storyteller, and writes with a perspective that incorporates a thoughtful and eclectic range of influences.
The Wall Street Journalreports today that the United States needs 5.5 million new housing units. That’s a serious backlog. As a nation, we are not building homes quickly enough to keep up with population growth. This is the story behind the soaring prices we hear about in the news. Digging a bit deeper, it could also be a key factor in falling birthrates and adults who continue to live in their parents’ home. So, how do we get serious about building the homes people need? Shouldn’t the market be driving toward an equilibrium?
The market is hot (again), but the shortage is chronic. Part of the problem is undoubtedly zoning, especially in the regions with the greatest demand. In New Jersey, the Mount Laurel doctrine has been a valuable tool since the 1970s, when it established the basic legal principle that zoning is a state action that may not be used to exclude entire classes of state residents from particular communities; to do so is inconsistent with the 1947 New Jersey Constitution. (I simplify, but not too much.) The New Jersey Fair Housing Act, which the state legislature enacted in 1985 to follow the Mount Laurel cases, has helped produce a significant number of regulated affordable units, over the years. Yet Mount Laurel, though based on an exemplary principle, has invited constant political resistance. Its implementation has been obnoxiously complicated. Worse, it does little tangible good for New Jersey residents who don’t fall into the income band for affordable housing — or even many who do, because the demand always outstrips the availability of units.
Yet today, more than four decades after Mount Laurel crystallized the concept of exclusionary zoning, the impacts of a chronic housing shortage reach much further up New Jersey’s socioeconomic hierarchy than they did in 1974, when the first case was argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court. That is, there remains a severe shortage of decent, affordable housing units for poor and working-class people. But there is also a dearth of homes for sale (or rent) at higher price points, in many communities — a bottleneck similar to ones that have formed, to greater or lesser degrees, in other high-cost metropolitan regions throughout the world. Not surprisingly, out-migration continues apace. Yet immigration keeps the overall population going up. Those who stay pay more for less.
So how can this unmet housing need be met? And should housing policy necessarily be bureaucratized, or could it be pursued more effectively by unlocking the private production of more market-built, non-income-regulated units? One concept that the Mount Laurel formulas acknowledge is filtering. That is, older units (often well built!) will become more affordable, through market forces, when newer units are produced quickly enough to soak up a lot of the high-end demand. This is how, for example, poor and working-class people inherited the incredible (if neglected) Art Deco apartments of the Grand Concourse (for a time — they are getting expensive again!).
I believe the next frontier will be a process of artfully (at best) customizing and improving zoning laws. Done wisely, this will foster the construction of market-rate homes that complement our existing neighborhoods while improving land values and strengthening public finances.
My 2017 New Urbs article about Unwin’s classic planning book can be found in TAC’s archive, here. Meanwhile, a PDF of the entire original Town Planning in Practice, including all illustrations, is available here.
This piece is something of a spinoff from the original research that I did several years back, and reported on this blog, about the last few Queen Anne-style Victorian houses along Woodycrest Avenue in the neighborhood known as High Bridge. Sadly, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission declined a proposal to preserve these last few detached gingerbread houses on the NYC street grid (that is, the one begins in Manhattan and continues north to the Westchester County line), and many have now fallen to the wrecking ball.
Several people have expressed interest in this topic. In addition to the ones on Woodycrest Avenue, I tried to document the handful of other remaining houses like these that are on the Commissioner’s Plan-Risse Plan streets of the West Bronx. I documented the research several years back, and most of it can be found here: https://www.legaltowns.com/category/the-bronx/
Unfortunately, for all its ambition and promise, it seems like this project may have been put on hiatus (or slowed down) several years ago. I would include some teaser images here (as allowed by the Fair Use doctrine) but (also unfortunately) the authors of the project are quite aggressive about threatening to sue anyone who uses their work without permission. So, to keep things simple, I’ve included an early 20th c. map of the city instead.
Oddly, the authors also seem quite concerned that their project should not be construed in any way against Turkey:
None of the material on this site can be used for any purpose against any country, nation or minority, especially against TURKEY and Turkish People.
Hm. Seems like there is some political tiptoeing going on.
It’s a shame that this effort has slowed down. Constantinople in its heyday deserves topographic scholarship on par with what Carandini, et al., have done for classical Rome. Regardless, what’s done of this model is already an impressive technical and historical undertaking, and given that there are few major European cities with a more rich or tragic (or extensive) history than the one we now call Istanbul, anything that sheds new light on Constantinople and its role as, essentially, a tenuous thread between classical antiquity and our modern world is, I think, a priceless cultural contribution.
Think about this: Byzantium considered itself a continuation of the Roman Empire — and, for all intents and purposes, it was. In the West, the Dark Ages may have enveloped the former Roman lands, but from its new capital at Constantinople the Roman state continued in the East with just one interruption (during the Crusades), right down to the 15th century. The people of Byzantium even called themselves Romans (in Greek, ironically; as did, apparently, many Greek-speaking people in the Ottoman Empire until the 20th century).
So Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453 (and the Greek scholars who fled West helped seed the Italian Renaissance). And Columbus landed, just 39 years later, in Hispaniola (where Santo Domingo — a Renaissance city in the Western Hemisphere — would soon be founded). That means that there was a generation of people who were born into the Roman Empire who came to know about the European discovery of the New World in the prime of their lives. I find that fascinating. Romans who had a glimpse of America.
A sister project has also begun to model Babylon as it existed in antiquity.
At the time of the blaze, the storied church was nearing the end of a $6.8M renovation, and metal scaffolding had been put up to protect the 19th-century spire. The high temperatures generated by the flames engulfed the church’s wooden roof, fusing the scaffolding. As it stands, the most pressing obstacle is removing the warped metal.