Constance Book No.1

New Orleans:
I Have Seen the Future, and It's Houston

By James K. Glassman

For the past century or so, New Orleans has been a city that has gotten by on charm alone. Very few people here seriously consider New Orleans part of the "New South" or of the "Sunbelt" or of any other geoeconomic entity conjured up in the past two decades. And, until a few years ago, hardly anyone in New Orleans minded being left out. New Orleans might be poor, but it is happy. In fact, during last year's mayoral race, one of the candidates ran TV commercials that showed a bustling skyline with a voiceover ominously intoning, "Do you want New Orleans to become another Houston?"

Despite the fact that New Orleans has perhaps the finest natural location in the country for commerce, the city's economy has stagnated for at least twenty years. Population has declined; unemployment is among the highest in the South; and New Orleanians have remained among the poorest in the nation. Little has changed since the 1970 Census, which showed that out of the fifty largest cities in the country, New Orleans had the highest percentage of families living below the federal poverty level: 21.6 percent, against 18.4 percent for second-place Newark. New Orleans also ranked last among the fifty cities in percentage increase in median family income between 1960 and 1970, and forty-third in median years of education per adult.

It wasn't until 1975, when James Bobo, a University of New Orleans professor, published a highly critical report on the state of the local economy, that the public began to pay attention to what was going on. Bobo's report was entitled "Pro Bono Publico?"—a play on the motto of the most prominent Mardi Gras parading club, the Krewe of Rex, whose members are the sort of civic leaders that Bobo blamed for the city's stagnation. Bobo's thesis was simple: New Orleans had lost its industrial base. Manufacturing jobs were declining year by year, with the slack taken up by lower-paying, less stable jobs in service industries, mainly tourism. The steady fall of the economy had taken place with the acquiescence, if not the blessing, of the city's political and business leaders, who tended to like things the way they were and who probably feared the kind of social change that more industry would bring.

Mardi Gras, 1973: Shalmon Bernstein

The politicians, businessmen, and socialites who run New Orleans have through the years practiced their own brand of benign neglect. And the neglect—at least until recently—really has been quite benign. New Orleans, despite its tropical fecundity and its pervasive sense of impending violence (storms approaching from the Gulf, a murder rate about twice as high as the national average, as well as a major proportion of disasters highrise fires, mass lynchings, yellow fever epidemics, ferry sinkings, snipers, race riots, and hurricanes), has always been an easy city to live in—even if you're poor.

Until five years ago, a ride on a bus or streetcar was only fifteen cents. In 1970, a plate of red beans and rice—standard Monday fare in the city and when well prepared, a culinary triumph, redolent of Tabasco, shallots, and spices, and the richness of long-cooked ham hocks, which turn the sauce to velvet—was only twenty-eight cents at Buster Holmes, a famous French Quarter hangout on Burgundy Street. Smoked sausage on the side brought the tab to seventyfive cents. Plentiful natural gas in the state made utility bills cheap: five years ago, the average monthly charge was around $20. And then there were free attractions such as Carnival—the two weeks of parades and drinking and balls leading up to Mardi Gras; jazz funerals; band concerts in Jackson Square; the smell of roasting coffee along Tchoupitoulas Street in the early spring; and the joy of standing behind the French Market in May and watching the turgid Mississippi rush by.

Excerpt text: James K. Glassman, Image: The Times-Picayune, 1973.

New Orleans:
I have seen the Future, and it’s Houston.

36pg. 2-color Risograph 6th Edition of 150.  

A reprint of the first in our series of trade-paperback publications that explore points of time within the New Orleans landscape- conceptually approaching them to allow us to rethink about less common tropes of what people feel our city is and isn't or ever was. $10.00 US.

Available at these stores in New Orleans. More Soon.

Defend New Orleans