New Orleans

Once again, several states along and north of the Gulf of Mexico face the force of a major hurricane. As I type this, New Orleans, one of the most historic cities in the United States, is without power, and hundreds of thousands of citizens—and large parts of the the area’s industries and environment—remain threatened as Hurricane Ida makes its way inland. I’ll let other, more knowledgable sources report the news. For now, I encourage you to remember and support our compatriots as they endure and recover from this major natural disaster.

Bachmann, John, Birds’ eye view of New-Orleans / drawn from nature on stone by J. Bachman, [i.e., Bachmann], ca. 1851. New York: Published by the agents A. Guerber & Co., Printed by J. Bachman. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.

Birds’-eye view, 1851

This 1851 birds’-eye view of New Orleans is positioned above the right bank of the Mississippi River, looking roughly north-by-northwest across the river toward the sprawling, bustling, port city. In this print, upstream (north) curves off to to the left and downstream (south) meanders to the right. Lake Pontchartrain forms the horizon at the top of the map.

Toward the right center of the image, the historic French Quarter surrounds Jackson Square. Then as now, Jackson Square is framed by the Cabildo, the Cathedral of St. Louis, the old Court House, the twin Pontalba Buildings and the great river itself. If you look closely, you’ll see the river side of Jackson Square has changed over the years:

Bachmann, John, Birds’ eye view of New-Orleans, ca. 1851, detail, Jackson Square and riverfront. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.

The square originally overlooked the Mississippi River across Decatur Street, but the view was blocked in the 19th century by the construction of higher levees. The riverfront was long devoted to shipping docks. The 20th-century administration of Mayor Moon Landrieu installed a scenic boardwalk on top of the levee to reconnect the city to the river; it is known as the “Moon Walk” in his honor, and has since been expanded and paved. The space between Decatur Street and the “Moon Walk” is designated as “Washington Artillery Park”.



Much has changed in New Orleans since 1851. The city has grown, the levees are higher, homes and businesses are tolerable because of air-conditioning. But New Orleans—like much of costal America—is threatened by rising sea levels, warming sea temperatures, the erosion of costal barrier islands and bayous, and the increasing frequency and violence of storms and hurricanes.

These are but a few symptoms of a broader problem: anthropogenic climate change. For much of American history, our best and most successful approach to such situations has been to acknowledge the size and complexity of the problem and then address the issues head-on, while we still have time to act.

Denial and delay are not a winning strategy. We built the Erie Canal, fed a starving Europe after two World Wars, walked on the Moon, and wiped smallpox from the face of the Earth. And we can solve climate change. If we chose to.