New Orleans rebuilds as a “boutique city”
The Rice Mill Lofts, a riverfront apartment complex in Bywater, is a hub for creative-types looking for long-term vacation stays in New Orleans. (Neil Alexander)
The Big Easy is undergoing its “biggest global moment”, according to New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu. The US Super Bowl , held at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome stadium on 3 February, lured more than 150,000 football fans to the Louisiana city; while Mardi Gras, the city’s infamous street festival and parade, is expected to bring in close to a million merrymakers when the month-long festival ends on 12 February.
But just beyond the boozy parade routes, travellers can catch a glimpse of the city’s pristine new look. Riverfront neighbourhoods, miles-wide public spaces on the banks of the Mississippi River and empty buildings due to the city’s slumped economy have been rebuilt since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina to attract entrepreneurs, artists, designers and creative-minded travellers.
“Now young people are not only visiting for just a few days but making this their home for a lifetime,” said Sean Cummings, real estate developer and CEO of the New Orleans Building Corporation, which works with the New Orleans City Council to develop deteriorated or vacant public land. “The city is a magnet again for new talent and new ideas, co-creating a new New Orleans.”
This trend has led Cummings to dub New Orleans the world’s newest “boutique city”. “It has nothing to do with boutique hotels or clothing boutiques,” he explained. “A boutique city stands for something. It’s original. It’s authentic. It’s one-of-a-kind.”
He is currently spearheading Reinventing the Crescent, a multi-phase initiative to develop six miles of the city’s under-used riverfront into tree-lined public promenades and outdoor recreation spaces.
Crescent Park, the first project, which started in 2010 and is still under construction, aims to add landscaped pedestrian paths, bike routes, playgrounds and two event venues to the Bywater district. In less than a year, this riverfront enclave of glass storefronts has become New Orleans’ trendiest neighbourhood, packed with independently-owned restaurants, such as Satsuma Cafe and Pizza Delicious, and art galleries, such as Bon Castor and May Gallery.
Booty’s Street Food, a two-month old tapas restaurant in Bywater, encapsulates New Orleans’ authentic flair for hearty food and local art, inviting artists to transform the restrooms into installations for the neighbourhood’s monthly art walk, Second Saturdays. In January, local artist Stu Wright decorated the men’s restroom with psychedelic glow-in-the-dark tribal paintings, while the women’s restroom featured Shannon Slane’s creation: a pink-skinned, blond-haired unicorn sculpture coming out of the wall.
Cummings is also working on Bywater’s residential sector. The Rice Mill Lofts, a riverfront apartment complex that Cummings plans to turn into a hub for creative-types looking for long-term vacation stays in New Orleans, was built in 2011 using reclaimed wood from the Mississippi River and is decorated with graffiti leftover from when the building sat vacant after Katrina. In October, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra put on a live concert atop the Rice Mill Lofts; a free and open-to-the-public jazz tribute to The Beatles, The Grateful Dead and Stevie Wonder.
“It's a gorgeous [warm] 70F in February,” Booty’s co-owner Kevin Farrell said. “You can grow anything under these conditions, especially a good idea.”