REVIEWED BY AMBER N. WILEY FROM THE JANUARY 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE .
New Orleans is ubiquitous in our collective imagery because of its robust sense of place. Tourism brochures and meeting programs essentialize the city–its food, music, architecture, and nightlife. In Cityscapes of New Orleans , the geographer Richard Campanella implores the reader to detect the city, mind detailed information, and ask questions gleaned from tiny clues. He does this by presenting a series of vignettes that span the 300 -year history of New Orleans. Campanella argues that there are always brand-new lessons to learn from each finding, lessons that can guide us about how to exist within the particular cultural geography of New Orleans.
Cityscapes is a collection of 77 essays that Campanella published in various periodicals, newspapers, and venues between 2010 and 2017. These essays had specific and restriction audiences: Some were published in Preservation in Print , the publication of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, others in Louisiana Cultural Vistas , the magazine of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. More content was pulled from Cityscapes, Campanella’s monthly article in NOLA.com /The Times-Picayune, as well as guest editorials he wrote for online publications such as Places and New Geography.
The essays are readily accessible to any individual who has baseline knowledge of New Orleans. Campanella envisioned the book as a reader, and it is not divided into strictly defined chapters, but along permeable topics: “People, Patterns, and Place, ” “Architectural Geographies and the Built Environment, ” “Urban Geographies, ” “Regional Geographies, ” and finally, “Disaster and Recovery.” The writings flow into each other in such a way that establishes sense–one can often detects the ties between two essays in succession. The essays scope from pithy, such as the two-page final pondering “New Orleans as Metaphor, ” to quite lengthy, like the eight-page piece named “What the Nation’s Best-Educated Amateur Planners Learned from Hurricane Isaac. And Gustav. And Rita and Katrina. And Cindy, Ivan, Lili, Isidore, and Georges…” Cityscapes is richly exemplified, despite the nontraditional nature of the volume.
From this collect of essays, although not supposed as a single manuscript with an underlying argumentative posture, it is possible to obtain some central controversies that floor “the worlds largest” task. The main statement is that we need to unlearn which is something we thought we understanding of the city to facilitate a more critical and holistic approach to research and finding. The three essays that capture these thoughts in the most direct way are “The Seduction of Exceptionalism, ” “A Glorious Mess: A Perceptual Record of New Orleans Neighborhoods, ” and “New Orleans as Metaphor.”
“The Seduction of Exceptionalism” would have been a helpful essay to start out the volume, although it was tucked away in the penultimate( and shortest) topic group, “Regional Geographies.” In this paper, Campanella argues that reporting on New Orleans is tainted with proof bias that dilutes the nature of investigation 😛 TAGEND
” The trouble is this: researchers–that is, the documenters and interpreters of historical and cultural information–all too often start out with the assumption that all is different here, before they analyze the data. So positioned, they are generally finish up substantiating what they supposed all along…. Rather than resulting from critical thinking, exceptionalist interpretations all too often was obtained from not imagining critically. This is particularly unfortunate because it undermines the best interests of the careful experiment that does corroborate exceptionalism .”
At the crux of Campanella’s work, then, is the desire to explore, collate, and interpret the history of New Orleans with the level of rigor that the city deserves. Throughout the book he takes up its most important task of dispelling myths and urban legends. The Superdome was not built on a cemetery; there is no way written evidence that French real estate tax codes motivated the narrow heaps that characterize the historic heart of the city. The French Quarter has flooded. Multiple hours. New Orleans has not always been frozen in time; it is not a complete anomaly. The city went through the same architectural trends as other metropolitans in the United States. At various hours it espoused Greek Revival, Richardson Romanesque, Italianate, late-Victorian, California Bungalow, and even International Style modernism.
In “A Glorious Mess, ” the essay that starts the volume, Campanella wishes to point out that we( in this case I presumed the “we” to entail geographers) “allow for a certain level of ambiguity when we are talking about geographical regions.” The first cable of the essay asks us to accept some imprecision with regard to place-based investigation. Campanella reminds us that borders are developed, sometimes arbitrarily. In the case of New Orleans vicinities, the historical metropolitan expanded to include the plantation faubourgs, and as country switched hands among the French, Spanish, and Americans, new neighborhoods risen. Municipality paths reflected ethnic divide. The city industrialized, and previously uninhabitable swamplands were drained.( This area still carries the moniker “back-of-town.”) As the city entered the 21 st century, neighborhood paths hardened in ways that did not always make sense to the residents who realized their vicinities differently from the census blockings and other highly governed mapping categories. Campanella writes that, although arbitrary, those splits are “nonetheless consequential because they operate statistical aggregations of everything from population to crime rates, real estate values, and recovery metrics.” Campanella gives us a history of the “glorious mess” of vicinity formation while also acknowledging the utility of modern perceptions of neighborhoods for his project: “Officially characterized vicinities are a necessary immorality, a significant hallucination, a fake actuality. They should be viewed as useful cartographic and statistical tools–and no more.” What is considered “official, ” Campanella contends, is a social construct based on a type of rationality that does not take history into consideration. From the very beginning, Campanella is telling us to not believe everything we have been programmed to understand about the city.
Campanella also highlights the ironic in his seek to refute fallacies about New Orleans and Louisiana. In his paper “Louisiana Radio Stations and the( Inconvenient) Local Music Lacuna, ” he considers music consumption by analyzing the types of radio stations in the country. Campanella will be the first to admit that his data set is restriction, but he is considered that while Louisiana is well known for jazz, zydeco, and Cajun music, radio stations that promote and cater to these genres are few. Adding to that analysis, he implements Echo Nest , a data-mining platform, has found that the artist listened to the most in Louisiana is not a local legend like Dr. John or the Neville Brother, but the Canadian rapper Drake. While these results are surprising, Campanella is clear that they are not in any way damning or complete. “Its one of” the many strengths of Campanella’s work in this volume–his ability to be open and plain about the limits of his chosen methodologies and the evidence that can be drawn from his investigations. In this essay’s summation Campanella states 😛 TAGEND
” Being a geographer rather than a musicologist or music reviewer, I will refrain from making any sweeping judgments from this cursory analysis. But I would point out that, to the degree that a society’s musicality implies intake as well as make, an empirical look at radio station formats divulges a wide crack between( 1) the perception of localism in all things musical in Louisiana, and( 2) the reality that national mainstream music wins over many, many Louisiana ears[ emphasis added ].”
Campanella triggers interest about each topic, leaving unanswered questions for others to analyse. He does this often and with intentionality. This is not a weakness in the volume; it’s more an summon for the purposes of the research.
What is astonishing about these vignettes is how each storyline feels complete. Every essay contains the distinct excellences that make up a good narrative: put, foreword, rising action, culmination, etc. Campanella states in the preface that each essay should be viewed as a stand-alone article, which makes feel, given the original newspaper and magazine format. Even so, the storytelling is masterful because it is a combination of deep the investigations and rigorous analysis that creates lucidity in so many aspects of the lived and symbolized New Orleans experience that frequently taken for granted. Campanella treats the specifics of river sediments and soil content with the same level of detail as he does re-creating the gendered social criteria of the fin de siecle city. He revisits long-held degrees of investigative concern, such as how to track the beginnings of the shotgun home, but likewise pushes the boundaries of the geographic rule by attempting to map the geography of cool. He renders heightened awareness to regional topographic variety, underlining how much change one foot of altitude could induce to the city–the difference between the quotidian and catastrophe–and renders numerous suit studies involving real people to bring the level home.
This collection of papers is not readily defined, and I would not consider it an academic book, even though an academic press published it. Nonetheless it is deeply rooted in the epistemology of the geography subject and calls up the theories of Kevin Lynch, Carl Sauer, Yi-Fu Tuan, and others. Campanella likewise describes connections between such research, his work as an academic, and co-operation between Tulane preservation the institutions and intend firms in the town. For lesson, his paper “In the Ashes of the LeBeau Plantation House, a Lesson in Carpe Diem” discusses how his students inspect an 1854 plantation house to think about the resources necessary to rehabilitate and understand it, as well as to deliver brand-new life to the structure and surrounding region. But tragedy ten-strikes when only a few months later, it ignites to the floor. Also, while arguing about the need for water remediation in the city, he points to the “Dutch Dialogues” initiative of the architecture firm Waggonner& Ball , in which the Tulane School of Architecture , its faculty, and students play a pivotal role. This operate speaks to the academy( and could be used in an academic setting ), but not only the academy, given that the papers were not designed specifically for that audience.
Campanella is methodologically instructive. He tells the reader which archives he inspected and how he came to his conclusions. He consistently questions the reader to start by developing observational knowledge, to take nothing in the landscape for granted. He even teaches us on how to read and interpret a photograph–in this case a 1928 photo by Arnold Genthe of the Delord-Sarpy House( 1814-1818) which is available online through the Library of Congress.
Campanella likewise spurs readers to peruse historical artifacts in repositories and collections, triggering questions about societal, economic, geographic, or architectural decisions that led to landscape changes still visible in today’s New Orleans. In his paper “Arnaud Cazenave and the Reinvention of Bourbon Street, ” Campanella is transparent with his methodologies, showing how one can combination new technology with the old-fashioned. He wants to answer the question “When did nightclubs first appear on Bourbon Street? ” By his explanation, nightclubs were a different typology of social giving from concert barrooms, restaurants, and supper clubs. To track down the beginning of the word itself, he gazes to digitize newspaper repositories, conducting keyword pursuits to find the first printed instance of the word in the popular press. While this is a common tactic for researchers, they do not often present their hand in their manuscripts.
Despite the clarity in experiment methodology, the book has no footnotes for the papers; receiving the original sources can grow cumbersome for those who happen upon a topic they want to study further. To compensate for this lack, Campanella includes “Source Notes” in the back matter. These provide the original home of book for the paper, which might hold additional information, as well as heavily annotated citations to his previous journals( of which there are plenty ). So the process for locating original sources is not straightforward, and potentially not easy, but the direction at least is clear.
Two other problems arise with the format of the collection. First is the seemingly arbitrary nature of two of the thematic categories. The relationship between the papers in “Urban Geographies” and “Regional Geographies” feels more nebulous and less cohesive than the other three topics. “People, Patterns, and Place” reads as a place-based social record. “Architectural Geographies and the Built Environment, ” the most substantial of all his themes, is a personnel. “Disaster and Recovery, ” the final topic, is definitely the strongest to its implementation of an argumentative stance. Also, because the papers were published independently, some background information that might have been mentioned in one becomes the focal point in another, and vice versa. Specific realities, figures, and storylines are mentioned multiple times in the volume, building it a little bit unnecessarily repetitive.
Campanella avoids falling into the common trap of judging the city and its inhabitants. Instead he looks at the city for what it was and what it is, and to help shape what it could be. For lesson, the paper “Cityscapes of the New Orleans Slave Trade” was astounding in the detailed information put forth–not as propaganda, but as reality. Campanella argues 😛 TAGEND
” A guest to New Orleans arriving any time prior to the opening of the Civil War could not help but witness an entire cityscape of slave trading. Guests today, nonetheless, would be hard-pressed to find any substantial, identified physical prove remaining; it’s all been cleared away by demolition, conflagration, or the ravages of time. Absence preserved clues in the cityscape of this historical actuality allows social recollection to falter .”
He calls this a “case study of…absence, ” and pushes the reader to consider what is lost when the physical remnants of the slave trade are obfuscated. His author’s note for this piece distinguishes the most recent work to erect historical markers regarding the slave trade in the city.
Along the same lines, Campanella speaks patently of the sex busines, mapping its spatial restraints and the city’s attempt to profit off the business. The lives of madams are not eroticized. The homes they inhabited are relayed as a matter of fact. City ordinances and architectural the changing nature of the landscape that supported or tried to render the trade invisible are discussed with the same seriousness as other restrictive statutes that attempted to mold social norms.
Race. Ethnicity. Immigration. Religion. Sexuality. Politics. Slavery. Death. Disease. Disaster. The heavy topics are intermingled with discussions on suburbia, monorails, public drinking, coastal milieu, street structures, and mansion designing. Campanella does not shy away from the tough material , nor does he exploit the narratives or sensationalize. He puts forward history in the hope that it can teach lessons. He requires of us a certain modesty. This is particularly evident in his writings on bayou restoration and the future of New Orleans. In his essay “Katrina: An Alternative History–or Rather, Geography, ” written for the 10 th commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, he reminds us of our absurdity in belief we know all there is to know about the city and its region: “We enforced engineering and architectural rigidity on a deltaic surrounding that is fundamentally fluid, and persuasion ourselves we had mastered it even as it collapsed.” Heavy words, but powerful and necessary to heed , nonetheless.
Campanella intention the collect on a positive mention with “New Orleans as Metaphor.” Ever the optimist, he assures promise in the future of New Orleans, most likely because he knows so much about its past. That essay was written in 2010 as the Saint were gearing up to chief to the Super Bowl. The passion of the “Who Dat Nation” represented the return of the civic pride that was damaged in the wake of Katrina. Campanella describes this as a “metaphorical nationality in which citizenship depends not on perimeters or birthplace, but passionate desire of the Saints–and, right behind that, of New Orleans.” Campanella’s adore of New Orleans is obvious. He has studied the city and written extensively about it for two decades. Along with that adoration he carries a civic responsibility that was clear in his research and writing. This journal aims is not merely to deepen readers’ knowledge and adore of the city’s past, but also to remind us that we, too, are responsible for its future.
Cityscapes of New Orleans , by Richard Campanella; Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2017; 399 pages, $29.95.
Amber N. Wiley is an assistant professor of art record at Rutgers University.
Read more: landscapearchitecturemagazine.org