New Orleans, the Big Easy…also known as The City That Care Forgot… I visited New Orleans once again this past weekend. I was raised there for four years when I was in grade school and my father’s ancestry goes way back in New Orleans. So, every time I visit, I unveil a new layer of understanding of this complex, corrupt, and magical place.
This time, my trip focus was about finding the sustainability pulse in town. Word on the street is that within the past two years, especially, there has been the rumbling of a small yet significant sustainability revolution. The tender shoots of healthy, content living are sprouting in the Big Easy. Yes, you too can visit and not clog your arteries or pass out from a sugar high. (And, I digress.) That being said…with slavery and sugar being a foundational part of New Orleans’ wealth and history, it is no surprise that sweet things, alcohol, and manic partying are the norm in New Orleans. (And, if you watch this Mississippi doctor talk about the impact of sugar on our cultural health…to me, a legacy of colonization and slavery…the link between social health and American history will reveal itself.)
However, there are new things emerging… One of the most substantial new developments is the Healing Center located in a rather rough part of town, just to the East of the French Quarter. A few old buildings were renovated and adapted to create a fulcrum of positive community exchanges (yoga studio, New Orleans’ first food coop, book store, community performance center, cafe, etc). Here’s a pic:
The Food Coop is worker-owned and it is just buzzing away. Actually, I went in yesterday and was really impressed. It opened up only two months ago after riding the waves of planning for the past 6-7 years (mainly problems with finding a site). Wild Lotus, which has a yoga studio in Uptown, now has a studio at the Healing Center location as well. Also, around the corner, on Franklin, is a lovely bulk herb shop with my blog’s name-sake, Maypop Community Herb Shop.
Another great place to visit in New Orleans to tap into your green veins, is a small little Superfood Bar I found on Magazine Street. While at the bar, my partner Phillip and I spoke with the owner about permaculture, a sports nutritionist Paul Chek (who the owner was really inspired by), Ormus Gold, and the mushroom guru Paul Stamets. He also said that there were multiple threads of sustainability inspired movements gaining ground. He was convinced that things were shifting in the Big Easy. Yes? No? Well, only time will tell…
Lastly, if you are in New Orleans, check out the Audobon Park for two main reasons…to visit the old live oaks that hauntingly drape their arms out into the space around them…their massive branches delicately dressed with Spanish moss.
And, the other reason to stroll through Audobon Park — the small stream that circles the park is home to a extraordinary amount of migratory birds. Migratory birds normally use waterways as their path for migration — mainly because the waterways provide plentiful food and shelter when they need to rest. As you can see in the map above, the Mississippi River watershed is an extensive collection of streams, rivers and tributaries. This watershed covers roughly 2/3 of North America. All these birds funnel into a narrowed path by the time they reach New Orleans. So, for birders and wildlife lovers, the Audobon Park and the swamps of New Orleans are important places to care for and to witness.
I sat by the stream at dusk yesterday and was serenaded by the cloud of bird calls. It was amazing…the diversity of sound and the constant movement of birds coming and going.
A simple request I’d like to ask of New Orleans is to go back to glass mardi gras beads. You may have seen the documentary created on the making of Mardi Gras beads in China. And, even though they are trying to recycle the beads after the parades, ultimately plastic has a limitation in that it can only be recycled so many times. Glass, on the other hand, can be recycled indefinitely. Originally, Mardi Gras beads were made in the former Czechoslovakia (see image above). Due to a ruling in the 60s (I think) about the banning glass drink containers, the beads were ruled out as well.
Of course, the New Orleans tourist machine is a powerful force and there are a lot of invested interests that like how things are running. And, the tourist machine is really a creature unto itself…owned by the masses that flock to the cobbled streets of New Orleans…to forget any responsibilities in the City That Care Forgot.
Thinking about my ancestry there…mostly blue collar workers — one ancestor a textile worker, another a seltzer truck driver, another a stevedore, another a musician…and so on… They all kept the wheels of New Orleans turning…enabling visitors to forget their cares and leave the tasks of constant clean-up to the residents.
One day, I hope that dynamic will change for the better… If the green shoots now sprouting have anything to do with that change — then I think the place has a chance to re-frame itself for sustainability.