Katrina: What will become of “The Jewel of the South?”

Jewel of the South.jpgI was unexpectedly moved by Slate’s architecture critic Witold Rybczynski writing about the cultural legacy of New Orleans – so many levels of loss and sadness with this tragedy.

Rybczynski writes about the “distinctive urban fabric” of New Orleans, now possibly forever lost:

It is—was—a rare example of French city-building in the United States (Detroit, Mobile, and St. Louis are others, but New Orleans is the most fully realized and, until a few days ago, the best preserved). Founded by the French in 1722 and then taken over by the Spanish (who built all those wrought-iron balconies), New Orleans has a cultural and architectural richness that is unique among the bland, sliced-bread cities of the continent.

Unfortunately, he surmises that sustained exposure to water will be devastating for the architecture of the city. And, he wonders if reconstruction is possible.

There are so many reasons to be horrified by what’s going on on the Gulf Coast right now — far more pressing reasons like people dying, shooting, looting, etc. But it’s hard not to be saddened anew by this article. I’ve never been to New Orleans (and regret being the one to shoot down a trip there with girlfriends in favor of – gag – South Beach) and Rybczynski’s article lets me know of how much I missed, how much will be missed.

The Jewel of the South: Can New Orleans recover its cultural richness? [Slate]