New Orleans, a Caribbean city


In a a great piece from the new issue of The Atlantic about the experiments in green, affordable housing in New Orleans, there is a segment about Andrés Duany, a co-founder of the Congress for New Urbanism, and a persistent advocate for traditional small-town design, that gets to the essence of New Orleans as a Caribbean city. Here it is, as highlighted by the blog (see link below):

“When I originally thought of New Orleans, I was conditioned by the press to think of it as an extremely ill-governed city, full of ill-educated people, with a great deal of crime, a great deal of dirt, a great deal of poverty,” said Duany, who grew up in Cuba. “And when I arrived, I did indeed find it to be all those things. Then one day I was walking down the street and I had this kind of brain thing, and I thought I was in Cuba. Weird! And then I realized at that moment that New Orleans was not an American city, it was a Caribbean city. Once you recalibrate, it becomes the best-governed, cleanest, most efficient, and best-educated city in the Caribbean. New Orleans is actually the Geneva of the Caribbean.”

Duany said that many of the shotgun houses in New Orleans were built by the fathers and grandfathers of people living in them today, and few of them meet building codes. But no one worries about paying mortgages or insurance. “The situation is that the housing is essentially paid off, and it allows people to accumulate leisure,” he said. “What’s special about New Orleans is that it’s the only place in the United States where you can have a first-rate urban life for very little money.” What happened after Katrina, Duany said, was that FEMA and others came to town with detailed requirements for record-keeping and property titles, then insisted on stringent building codes that would make all the houses hurricane-proof. This might seem like common sense, he said, but it’s “essentially unworkable for a Caribbean city.”

So the central problem, according to Duany: “All the do-goody people attempting to preserve the culture are the same do-gooders who are raising the standards for the building of houses, and are the same do-gooders who are giving people partial mortgages and putting them in debt,” he said. “They have such a profound misunderstanding of the culture of the Caribbean that they’re destroying it. The heart of the tragedy is that New Orleans is not being measured by Caribbean standards. It’s being measured by Minnesota standards.”

For more go to the article in The Atlantic through the link above or to additional commentary at

3 thoughts on “New Orleans, a Caribbean city

  1. An excellent post, which one can explore further in the book “The World that made New Orleans” by Ned Sublette, where the author researched the founding of the city especially its deep roots and connection with the Caribbean islands. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of this unique and vibrant city.

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