Our Daily Bleg: What Should I Know About New Orleans?

I’m moving to New Orleans in a month (and continuing as editor of this blog from there).

I’ve gotten mixed opinions about quality of life from people who live there, but they all agree on two things: the food is spectacular; the weather is sweltering — and obviously, at times, extremely threatening.

So for readers who live in the Crescent City or know a lot about it, I have four questions:

1. Where’s the best area for a 20-something female from New York to live. (I won’t have a car for the first month.)
2. Why are open-flame heaters still widely used in the winter?
3. I want to volunteer: which organizations are doing the most for the city’s recovery?
4. What’s the single most important thing a new New Orleanean should know?

Since I won’t pay $2,635 for a U-Haul truck, there’s a good chance my moving vehicle will look something like this:


MDY

I lived in NYC (2nd best town in America) for 20yrs before moving back to N.O. last month. For good and bad there are some huge differences, but overall you'll be charmed by life here.

1) For you, I strongly recommend Uptown, especially the area around Tulane U. within 3-4 block walk of the streetcar line along Carrollton Ave. or St. Charles Ave.

2) There're still a lot of those things around? In old drafty houses they were really handy for warming/drying towels (draped over the back of a chair before/after you bathe).

3) Becoming a resident here is helpful as it is. You should settle in & understand the rhythm of things then decide on where best to commit to volunteer. In my case it's Habitat for Humanity.

4) 2 things: Don't ever talk/walk/drive crazy fast as in NYC unless there's a 911 level emergency, and if you perchance make human eye contact defuse tension by asking (remember, not fast) "How ya doin'?" .

Good luck!

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TMG

New Orleans is an amazing place, you should love it here.

You have had so much great advice on #1 that it would be silly to answer.
2. I've only seen these in extremely old places, left around for the ambiance
3. Habitat for Humanity is always good.
4. The single most important thing you need to learn (and learn quickly) is where the good neighborhoods stop and start. New Orleans is very unique in that you can go from very high income areas to poor areas very quickly. Unfortunately, like any city, there is quite a bit of crime. The last thing you want to do as a 20 something caucasian female is be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And one thing you can actually do since you've left NY - Buy a gun! Welcome to the South :)

Cristina

1. Uptown - for reasons already described
2. It's too hot to use those :)
3. There's a bunch and it depends on your specific interests.
4. New Orleans is almost a foreign country: lovely buildings, exotic food, corrupt politics, hot weather and the friendliest, happiest bunch of people you'll meet. On a practical side: Keep an open mind, learn to eat spicy food, and buy a bike lock.
Welcome!

Cristina

Directions in New Orleans are not north, south, east or west. Instead we have Uptown, Downtown, Lakeside and Riverside

MRB

I did work with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, helping homeowners get started on repairing (or gutting) their home. Even 9 months after Katrina (and again a year later) homeowners were so overwhelmed by the work that they needed to do to recover their home that they never began. PDA helped homeowners take that first step, among other things.

The things I learned that I pass on -

No one from there says "N'awlins", and most natives I met had something more akin to a Brooklyn accent than a cajun one.

Ann

You're going to so love it here -- and as you can tell, you're going to feel very welcome when you get here.

1. Uptown's great. I personally love the Warehouse district.

2. Use space heaters.

3. Get involved with nolayurp for sure -- you'll find lots of interesting and involved people. I also would suggest Young Leadership Council as a worthy group that's been making a difference for a while. But since I have strong attachments to the La. SPCA for personal reasons, I can heartily recommend the experience.

4. Don't be stand-offish about this area -- really dive into the culture and the various experiences. We're really happy to introduce newcomers to our traditions and events. As others have said above, get to be good friends with some natives so they can introduce you to the various rituals. It won't be long before this place is in your blood.

Best of luck! Can't wait to follow your adventures!

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Pete C.

1. New Orleanians are fiercely loyal to their neighborhoods and therefore, I'd say that Uptown/Garden District is one of the best places in the city - look for something near Magazine Street so you can walk along to all the great boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, etc. along the strip. Plus, you're never too far from the streetcar. Not having a car is not too much of a problem in the short-term, because, in spite of the city's obese reputation, people ride bikes here (below sea-level = flat) more than any other place I've been in the country. In the long term, it's good you're getting a car because public transportation is definitely sub-par.

2. Weird. I'm not sure I know or have seen anyone using an open-flame heater in my six years here. Nevertheless, due to the climate, it's a rarity that you'll actually need one, as the winters are mild, thank god.

3. The folks above named some good NFPs above, but if you're looking to get involved and want to use your talents to have a far-reaching impact on the city (and beyond) I would get involved in one of the many opportunities in education. New Orleans is currently engaged in the most revolutionary experiment in the history of American public education. After the storm, the state took over NOLA's dismal public school system - one of the (if not THE) worst in the country. Social entrepreneurs from all over the country have poured in to transform the education system - New Orleans is currently the only urban school district in the country with a charter school-majority school system. New Orleans is ground zero for education reform and policymakers across the country are focused on our efforts to see what will happen. If this experiment works, it could have far-reaching effects on reform initiatives across the country. I can recommend plenty of education reform organizations, schools, or charter school networks you could get involved with that are having huge impacts on the life prospects of the city's children.

4. First, I would echo much of what doctorj2u said in terms of the culture of the city (which is what makes this such a special place) - but I would also add that what every New Orleanian should know is what those of us who have lived here pre- and post-K have learned: our job is not to rebuild New Orleans, but to rebuild it better. As tragic as Katrina was for this city, the disaster - aided by the federal government's half-hearted response - reawakened our initiative, entrepreneurial instincts, and our need to come together and proactively change many aspects of the city that have been broken for far too long. While there is much work to be done, in the aftermath of the storm the city has seen a huge growth of civic involvement - community associations have sprouted up all over the city, archaic government laws and institutions have been voted out of existence, corruption has been attacked at all levels of government, etc. New Orleans is a Wild West of sorts - people have realized that there is tremendous potential in this city and are taking the initiative to bring about change - in non-profits, in civic/political groups, and in start-up ventures. We have realized this city is what we are going to make of it - and this makes it an exciting place to live.

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Ivan Trebuchet

1. If you won't have a car, I suggest the FQ or Marigny (west of Elysian Fields is best!!). Nowhere else in the city is life as condensed as there. If you can't afford that, try Uptown between St. Charles and Tchopitoulas, preferably close to St. Charles so you can take the streetcar.

2. They aren't used much anymore, usually just left in the walls because they're beautiful. If I had one and it did work I would probably use it, but I've seen maybe 2 that still work.

3. If you want to just swoop in to volunteer for just a day or so, try Habitat, though they can be a bit disorganized. If you want to make a commitment, Catholic Charities.

4. Whoever talked about the beignets was right: one of the first things you should do is buy coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde early early in the morning...(the FQ is most beautiful just as the sun rises)...and thank God, because you have at long last reached the holy land.

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Jaime

1. Somewhere near the street car line if you don't have transportation. Garden district and Uptown in the university areas would be best. I lived for years in Chicago without a car but New Orleans and the greater NO region is not set up that way.
2. That's in older homes. Most places have central air and heat. Except for a few weeks in the winter an electric blanket or an extra layer of clothes will do you just fine.
3. There are TONS of groups working year round that need people. Take your own interests and put them to use. City Park was really damaged and they need help for work on Saturday mornings. Since you are an editor maybe you could help Levees.org spread their message. They combat the tons of misinformation that the public recieved after the storm. They also watchdogs and are fighting for oversight so this does not happen again. The "beacon of hope" chapters have been great and might be good at pointing you in a direction. There are lots of house gutting / constuction projects out there and they make a real difference in peoples lives. If I had to pick the ones that have done the most I would have to say the many faith based groups have been the backbone of our recovery. Bless them! Come to town and get set up and then start checking things out - there are plenty of directions you could go in.
4. The music is as great as the food.

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Wendy

1. Marigny! its got a great vibe. eat at marigny brasserie just once... its pretty good. :)

2. i have never had any problems with open flame heaters. my grandparents' house has them, but they dont use them. and dont let anybody tell you it doesnt get cold in louisiana! yes it does! just... not that often, and definitely not as cold as it gets in NY.

4. you "got them shoes" on your feet, at whatever location you're standing at the time.

i lived in baton rouge for 15 years and spent a lot of time in new orleans. every chance my husband and i get a chance to go to new orleans, we take it. :)

i second the idea of living in a residential hotel for a little while to get your bearings. i recommend bohemian armadillo (located in marigny). get the jazz room. sure, it might be rumored to be haunted (i've got a story, myself), but its got a private bathroom and a kitchenette. last time i stayed there, it was $475 for a week, which is fairly decent if you're just looking for temporary digs.

i also second the idea of just looking for a place with a "for rent" sign in front of it, and also be wary of someone who tells you "this is the best you're going to get".

seriously underrated restaurant in the quarter: Coop's. yes, its a dive bar, but get the duck quesadillas. you won't regret it.

and just once in your life, have brunch at brennan's. sure, it'll set you back $120 for 2 people, but when your server makes your bananas foster at your table, you'll realize its worth every penny.

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Jim

#14 - Amanda: "Don't drink the hand grenades from Tropical Island"

Heresy!

Jeffrey

1 & 2, no idea. 3, wild guess, but I would think Habitat might need some help!

Also, quick tip on the U-Haul: have a friend who lives farther from NYC rent it and drive it to you. Here in flyover country, that would cost $1,200 tops.

JohnnL

Stay away.

The last thing we need is yet another idiot do-gooder from NYC coming down to show us how it's done or treat our city like some coming-of-age journey for an doofus twenty-something.

You want coming of age? Join the Army or USMC medical corps and go to Iraq or Afghanistan. But whatever you do, just stay away.

Scott

Don't do it. Okay . . . so, I've never lived there but New Orleans is my least favorite city to visit in the country. The parts I have been in stink and are dirty. It is terribly hot. With the recent spotlight that has shined on the hurricanes, floods, and crime, I can not think of any reason to live there.

Brent

1. Uptown, in an old section, walking distance to both the streetcar and Magazine Street.

2. The houses with open-flame heaters are really old, and since the people are smart and practical, they are able to avoid killing themselves.

3. There are many.

4a. The drink for real southern women is bourbon.

4b. New Orleans is an insiders town. Make friends with a New Orleans family, preferably one who is a member of a Krewe.

4c. The best restaurants are not in the quarter, are not downtown, and are mostly not expensive.

4d. Jazz Fest is better than Mardi Gras. Once you do Mardi Gras once or twice, go snow skiing or something during that time.

Natalie

(1) Uptown near the universities. But you have to be cautious anywhere you live. I live near Audubon Park and love this area. It's close enough to the streetcar and the Magazine St. bus which is much cooler on hot days and isn't crowded with tourists.

(2) What's an open flame heater? A fireplace?

(3) Habitat, Levees.org, The Youth Justice Project is my favorite though. They are working with a lot of children down here who are the in the system and also helping kids stay out of the system.

(4) This city is amazing. There is a lot to complain about but you just can't help falling in love.

Joshua

I'm jealous!! I lived in New Orleans for 9 years and am planning my return as well!

Lower Garden District is key - I always prefered the Coliseum Square dog run to the levee. Not having a car at first will be tough, but you will find plenty of people to help you get around.

Check out http://www.alldaybuffet.org/neworleans100 for organizations making a difference.

Single most important thing – once you have lived there - you can never get New Orleans out of your soul. It leaves an indelible mark that sparks a life long love affair.

elleelleem

Hi, and welcome to New Orleans. I'm a late 20-something New Orleans native and probably a little late to the party but I need to chime in.

1. Don't live in the Warehouse District unless you are a fan of conservative young lawyers, trust-fund Tulane students, and women in their 30's with fake boobs and cocaine habits. Really. While the gigantic windows in the old warehouses are amazing, your neighbors will not be. You are also talking about some of the most overpriced real estate in the entire city. Other areas have 1000x the character, neighborhood feel, architecture, and amazing things to do without the high rents, difficult parking, and cheesy residents. Also, avoid the University area for the most part, at least a 5-6 block radius surrounding the campus. Those apartments are (again) overpriced but also dumpy and you'll be living next to college kids who, on the whole, aren't great neighbors either. They also represent a transient population and so there's not a lot of neighborhood community building.

I would suggest living in the Lower Garden District, areas of Mid-City or Uptown, the Irish Channel, Marigny or Bywater. Craigslist and the classified on www.bestofneworleans.com consistently have the best apartments. While I wouldn't recommend staying in a residential hotel, I would recommend viewing in person any apartment you plan to rent. Pictures often do these places a lot of favors.

I would also not be so concerned for my personal safety as some of these previous commenters indicate that you should be. You live in NYC so you know the drill. Don't be dumb, don't carry a lot of cash, don't roam into unknown areas on foot alone at night, etc. Use the same precautions as you would in any city and live in whatever neighborhood suits you. The idea that you must have a gun to live in the FQ or Marigny is patently ridiculous.

2. I'm not sure what an "open flame heater" is or why people keep referring to only the "really old" houses having them. Most of the houses in the neighborhoods you will find yourself in are ALL "really old" - generally 100 to 150 years. In all the homes I've lived in here, only one has not had central air and heat. That one place had a gas fireplace which is maybe what you are referring to. Anyway, I'd say the only reason places still have those is because they have yet to be renovated.

3. I would say, pick an issue you are interested in and start Googling what's been happening here in that regard. You'll start seeing names and organizations repeated and you can investigate further from there.

4. I cant think of one over-riding thing you should know that doesn't delve into the realm of cliche so I'll let this one go unanswered.

Hope your trip down is safe and that you enjoy and learn to love it when you get here.

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Robbie Vitrano

Talk to your NYT colleague Rob Walker. Did time here and has balanced appreciation for the town. Also Molly Reid at the Times Picayune - have a feeling you two will have something in common.
Link up with Nolayurps, Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans, Idea Village, StartupNewOrleans, Nola Fugees and you can link to a bunch of blogs offering optimism, engagement and discontent here: http://risingtideblog.blogspot.com/2008/08/2008-rising-tide-conference-schedule.html

1. Check out the Marigny, Faubourg St. John, the Bywater, the Quarter and Warehouse District (in that order) before settling on Uptown.

2. Charm and risk are two sides of the same coin.
3. check nolayurps, ideavillage and common good.
4. Protecting our fragile cultural history requires sensitive progressiveness. We are by circumstance, responsibility and opportunity, in a state of reinvention. Have fun.

Tiffany

Welcome! I am always so excited to hear about young creative talent moving to New Orleans. All of the above recommendation are great. Especially the part about getting to know the local insiders. There's a lot of interesting locals Twittering and I think you'll find it a wonderful source for advice and community.