New Orleans, United States of America
Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in Aug. 2005. The storms claimed several hundred lives and destroyed vast swathes of the city, which fell victim to looting and lawlessness as discontent at the government’s slow response grew. Rebuilding and repopulating the city is expected to take many years.
Located on the Mississippi River in southeastern Louisiana, about 112 miles (180 km) from the Gulf of Mexico and to the south of Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans has historically been one of the most important ports and commercial centres in the United States. The city gave birth to Dixieland jazz and hosts an annual Mardi Gras festival. Its vibrant cultural heritage made it a popular international tourist destination.
The first European settler to visit the area occupied by modern day New Orleans was Frenchman René–Robert Cavelier in 1682. In 1718 another Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, the governor of Louisiana, established a settlement in the area and called it Nouvelle-Orléans in honour of the regent of France. In 1722 the town was made the capital of French Louisiana but it came under Spanish rule 41 years later allowing trade with Caribbean ports to flourish.
New Orleans returned briefly to French control but was sold on to the United States as one of the terms of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and was incorporated as a city 2 years later. In 1812 the city became the capital of Louisiana, although this status was transferred to Baton Rouge in 1849. Due to tensions between the Creoles (French-Spanish) and Americans the latter mainly settled in the Garden District and the Central Business District while the former lived on the other side of Canal Street in the French Quarter. The two groups united under future president Andrew Jackson to defeat the British in The Battle of New Orleans in 1815 but renewed conflict in the city between ethnic groups saw the city divided into three separate municipalities from 1836 until 1852.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the steamboat boom on the Mississippi River transformed New Orleans into one of the busiest ports in the United States, with cotton and tobacco trading the mainstay of the city’s economy. New Orleans’ population grew rapidly and by 1840 it was the fourth largest city in the country.
At the beginning of the Civil War New Orleans was a Confederate stronghold but it was captured by the Union in April 1862 and the Mississippi trade routes were sealed off, to the detriment of the city’s economy. The demise of the steamboat towards the end of the nineteenth century was another blow. However the draining of surrounding swampland enabled the city to expand in the early part of the twentieth century while the development of commercial river barges and oil and petrochemical industries supported economic recovery.
After World War II several major regeneration programmes boosted the city as new bridges and overpasses were built and the French Quarter of the city was renovated. The development of the Mardi Gras festival into a major annual attraction and the city’s reputation as the birthplace of jazz helped raise New Orleans’ status as a popular tourist destination. The city gradually desegregated and elected its first black mayor in 1978. From the 1950s many residents left the inner city for the suburbs, leading to a fall in population and tax revenue while crime levels rose.
Much of New Orleans’ infrastructure perished during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many businesses and much of the population subsequently left the city as preparations were made for rebuilding, expected to take many years.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had a diverse manufacturing base, with the major products being petroleum, grain, coal, cotton and foodstuffs. Dock facilities along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway were key to the economy and helped maintain the city’s status as one of the busiest ports in the United States. Every year more than 5,000 vessels docked at New Orleans and the city traded extensively with South and Central America.
New Orleans International Airport is 12 miles northwest of the city. Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses serve the Union Passenger Terminal while the Regional Transit Authority runs an extensive bus network within the city. There are also several streetcar services.
Among the city’s institutes of higher education are Louisiana State University Medical Center, Tulane University, Loyola University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Dillard University, Southern University at New Orleans and the University of New Orleans.
Places of Interest
The French Quarter (Vieux Carré) was the most popular area of the city for tourists before Hurricane Katrina struck. At the centre of this section of New Orleans was Jackson Square, surrounded by the Saint Louis Cathedral, built in 1794 before being extensively remodelled in 1851. Canal Street separated the French Quarter from the Central Business District where the majority of the city’s commercial operations were based including the New Orleans Convention Centre and Riverwalk, a large shopping complex.
The annual Mardi Gras festival is traditionally held during the week before Lent and features parades, balls and street dances. Other major festivals held annually included the Spring Fiesta and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Prominent cultural institutions include the Louisiana State Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Historic New Orleans Collection. Preservation Hall had regular jazz performances while the city also had an opera company and a philharmonic orchestra. The Louisiana Superdome ranks among the largest enclosed stadiums in the world.