Post by David Beriss
The blog is back! In case any of our loyal readers were wondering, work on the Restaurant Row Project was put on hold at the beginning of the 2010-11 academic year, as the valiant team of researchers was swept back into the challenges of daily life in the university. Of the team’s student members, two have subsequently gone on to graduate and pursue other careers, while the other two are nearing graduation and promising futures at this time.
Which leaves me, the professor and organizer. I remain bothered and frustrated by the unfinished nature of our work. What do we really know about this restaurant row? Why is it here? Are there patterns that we can see in the way it has evolved over time? What challenges do restaurateurs face in this neighborhood? I had always hoped to bring the project to some conclusion. I want to be able to show some insights into how our restaurant row is connected to the city itself. I think the way it has evolved can tell us something about where New Orleans has been and where it is headed.
It turns out, even without my initial crack team of eager researchers, I have some very useful resources. I frequently teach classes in applied urban anthropology, full of more sharp-eyed students, ready to ask good questions, observe the details of life, spend hours in musty archives and sift through data. I am teaching one of those classes right now, in fact, and have engaged my students as a new research team. They will build on the excellent work of the original crew over the course of this semester. Divided into pairs, they have already begun to collect data and make observations. They will begin blogging in this space regularly over the next week. Over the course of the semester, they will be delivering their fieldnotes to me regularly. At the end of the term, each team will make a presentation of their findings and deliver a report on their work. Perhaps most significantly, they will each produce a poster, combining texts and images that can be used to frame exhibits about the restaurant row.
When we last checked, the restaurants in our neighborhood had largely recovered from the 2005 floods and were beginning to deal with the BP oil spills’ impact on their menus, customers, and future. We will explore the consequences of that ongoing disaster on the restaurants.
Other changes have occurred as well. There are new restaurants in the area—Redemption, the Canal St. Bistro, Katie’s, Blue Dot Donuts, Italian Pie, Rue 127, Juicy Lucy’s—that make the area even more of an eating destination. As alert readers may note, these are not all exactly new. A few are rebirths of pre-2005 restaurants that had not happened yet when we were last in the field. Others are new locations for New Orleans local chains. Each has a story that we hope we will be able to tell.
The neighborhood is also facing a significant new challenge. One of the last parts of the restaurant row that remained undeveloped following the 2005 floods—the area of Carrollton avenue between Bienville and St. Louis—is now slated for redevelopment. A supermarket, a variety of local retail and a few national chain restaurants are expected to move into the space. Work, it seems, will begin shortly. This coincides with the impending development of a greenway that will link the neighborhood with the French Quarter. All of this will make for an interesting future for our restaurant row.
The applied anthropology research team will complete our initial project, helping us understand the social and cultural processes that frame this particular restaurant row. In addition, their work will help us establish a cultural baseline for understanding subsequent changes in the area. There is no doubt that the neighborhood will continue to reflect processes at work in the broader city. I hope that my students are able to shed light on where those processes are taking us.