Once upon a time with my wife and two wee daughters we used to live in a li’l ol’ shotgun in the Riverbend. We absolutely loved that house, but after the birth of our second child, 1200 sq ft was no longer so quaint or enjoyable. Too, where we were on the 800 block of Dublin often served as overflow parking for area retail, but worse, the density didn’t always bring the best drivers. Some days people would whip around the corner off Maple like they were in hot pursuit. And when you have toddlers and newborns you begin to see traffic and safety in a whole new way. It was at this point I began to wonder about the pros and cons of living on a dead end street.
Every block I’ve ever called home whether in New Orleans or elsewhere has been a thru way, a thoroughfare, or plainly a passage – for cars. Ah, the automobile! The necessary evil that spurned the 20th century into a cataclysmic economic force of Pandora’s box proportions. You can’t un-invent the horseless carriage. It’s made so many things happen, for better and for worse, arguably mostly for the the former. And the dream of a bicycling society in extreme cases can spiral into a nightmarish sea of very real cityscaped junkyards sculpted of two wheels and often rotting rubber; go ask Amsterdam. Strikes me as a great problem to have and maybe solve, but a problem all the same (and I don’t live or ever plan to either so for now I’ll watch from the stands).
Today I live half a block off Napoleon Ave in the heart of Uptown, the same Napoleon Ave undergoing extensive drainage and street improvement on par with other major facelifts like Oak St’s new “old” look and the FQ’s fresh pavement. Except did I mention drainage? Yep, I did; that makes those two projects seem like cakewalk sandbox efforts compared to the orchestrated mania happening presently. Napoleon poises itself as the artery’s artery, the bisector of the Crescent City, effectively running from the Mississippi River to Lake Ponchartrain albeit with a dogleg here and renaming to Broad there, plus a little lagniappe therein the more you creep into Gentilly. And with this eventful unearthing of this main avenue ample cross streets have effectively (and temporarily) become dead ends. In short, it’s interesting.
Best example: driving home. We all fall into a rhythm however aware whether on autopilot or otherwise of a pattern to getting to one’s front door. Turn left here, hang a right there, except d’oh! forgetting (again and some times again) the street reno actually blocks your block! And then having to go around roughly 2 more blocks because New Orleans still flexes as the one way street capital of the world, a title I would say that holds no merit whatsoever. Therefore the cross streets go uncrossed, and traffic diverts where it will. Read: not on my block. And voila! a makeshift dead end street. Inhale, how lovely! Zero speeding, no stop sign roll throughs, and I can worry less about my kids darting out onto the pavement. A man – rather, a father of four – could get used to this.
Until I’d miss the old days, anyway. Because the grass is always greener, right? Before you know it, I’d be kvetching about not being able to easily swing out on to Napoleon. And how this damned dead end isn’t what I signed on for. I moved to my block to be close to it all without being too close and yada yada yada. But truly I want, no, I really need, my kids to be streetwise. If I had wanted the Mayberry experience, we’d be in Pontchatoula, but I don’t. The motor fueled buzz that is Napoleon, that under ordinary circumstances brings just enough car flow by me, is kinda what brought me here. It lulls me to sleep as it tapers off in the evening, and wakes me up each morning as it winds back up. Man, I hope they finish soon!
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.