we spent four days in new orleans, taking in the colourful cacophony that is mardi gras. my second year, mr. monkey's first. i think i'm good now - not with new orleans, heavens no! but with mardi gras. it is fun but it takes a lot out of you, and it seems that i have less and less to get taken out before i am done. it's something that i'm glad i experienced, but it made me miss quietly meandering through the city's neighbourhoods. each time i walk the streets of new orleans, i am struck again with how much i love its uneven sidewalks, its tangled electrical wires, its tiny neighbourhood bars with their hand-painted signs, and the uncontrolled profusion of greenery.
new orleans is enchanting and charming and perfect in its imperfection in a way that our neighbourhood in texas will never be with its almost sterile elegance - each house similar in scale and style to its neighbour, tasteful landscaping, matching brick facades. it's pretty, sure, but it lacks soul, something that i manage to forget pretty successfully until i walk down a living, breathing street any place that feels distinctly like itself: suffused with a sense of its personality, history, vitality and identity. you can master plan a community, you can build a "main street," you can even throw in public art, but unless it is organically nurtured it becomes little else than a stage prop, a faux place, a photo op for the wealthy to pretend they're somewhere real. all you'll have is a pretty face with no soul.
much that is wrong with north america (from an urban planning perspective) comes, in my mind, from a ubiquitous car-centric placelessness - you could be driving through kansas or winnipeg or tampa, and their outskirts would be indistinguishable from one another. sure, there is a certain safety to it, but it also means that you are always separate from where you are, a passerby, with no voice and no emotional investment. you are in a place with home depot and a walmart and a thousand faceless restaurant chains that will serve you entirely non-challenging food. granted, i live in the nicer end of the beige spectrum (shall we call it snowy cashmere? or translucent silk?) but it is beige nevertheless. i try to focus on the beauty that surrounds me, lest i go mad from the ugliness we keep letting be built around us.
takeaway: go to new orleans!