Memory, anticipation and immediate experience

Tim Culvahouse on the racial geography of New Orleans @ Design Observer.

Cities, being by-and-large large, rarely have well-defined fronts. Chicago has one, facing Lake Michigan. To my mind, the clearest front of Manhattan is the wall of buildings surrounding Central Park — an appropriately inward-facing front. New Orleans, however, has a decided front, the Mississippi River face of Jackson Square, the former Place d’Armes, with St. Louis Cathedral flanked by the Cabildo and the Presbytere and the square itself embraced by the counterpoised arms of the Pontalba Apartments. It is a picture postcard front, not only because it appears ubiquitously on picture postcards, but also because, other than on postcards, one rarely encounters it head-on. The only conveyances that regularly arrive on Decatur Street at the front of the square are the mule-drawn carriages that offer languorous tours of the Vieux Carrè, the present-day French Quarter. 

Pretty much everyone else approaches Jackson Square from Canal Street, where the St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street streetcars run, along with many of the city’s bus lines; and along and beyond which are most of the city’s major hotels. From the streetcar stop, you walk downriver along Chartres (char’-turs) Street through the Quarter, arriving at the Square sidewise. Still, you have that postcard view in your mind as you sidle up to the Cathedral along the face of the Cabildo, even if it’s your first time there.

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