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The Vieux Carre: The French Quarter

Reading about it, seeing it on YouTube or on television doesn’t give the French Quarter its due. You have to be there and walk it, because it is the largest, most walkable and best-preserved district of 19th century architecture in an American city. And walkability is what the country is trying to get back to. After visiting this summer the French Quarter warrants high ratings for walkability, friendliness, superb customer service, great food and an amazing vibe. Remarkable for its architiectual preservation, The French Quarter is a mix of Creole, French, Spanish, Entresol Houses and American style townhouses. 

 

The French Quarter was built as a military-style grid of seventy squares in 1718 by French Canadian naval officer Jean Baptiste Bienville. A model for urbanism, it’s an example of how people lived  in close proximity without automobiles.

The quarter wasn’t always French. It became the Spanish Quarter for four decades contributing to its semi-fortified streetscapes, common-wall houses, walled courtyards used as gardens and utility spaces.

In 1803 the Louisiana Purchase transferred what was then a colony of Spain to the United States. The influx of thousands of refugees of Haitian and French descent and Andrew Jackson’s victory, the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, secured the city.

What followed was an era of cotton, sugar and steamboats and the continued migration and integration of American, Irish, German, African and "Foreign French" immigrants creating a mix of culture, language, religion and cuisine.

Decline of the city during the Civil War was reversed in 1900 when the birth of jazz in Storyville, the red light district of New Orleans rekindled the city’s vibrancy. It wasn’t until 1936 that residents began preserving the old Quarter with regulatory controls in the form of the state-sanctioned Vieux Carré Commission. The result was the French Quarter flourished with shops, restaurants and galleries along with nightclubs and strip joints.

 

When jazz declined in the 1960s, Preservation Hall emerged to serve musicians.  The French Quarter  greets over 10 million visitors a year, so ongoing preservation battles and the need for a tourist driven economy drive both the politics, planning and preservation needs the city faces today.