The world holds places of monumental beauty, those which inspire a sense of wonder and demand pause. These places come in many forms, and in addition to the Parthenons, the Taj Mahals, and the Grand Canyons of the world, our cities, communities, and natural areas are made up of many smaller wonders that are often missed on our way to something grander.
In New Orleans, a city with hundreds of years of history and culture, as well as natural beauty, these small, quotidian wonders are readily accessible. During What’s Out There Weekend, taking place over the April 1-2 weekend in New Orleans, historically and culturally relevant places around the city will feature free, expert-led tours.
The event is organized by the Cultural Landscapes Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based, non-profit organization that educates and engages the public to make our shared landscape heritage more visible, identify its value, and empower its stewards. What’s Out There Weekend is an outgrowth of one of its core programs, and each year, the event takes place in several different U.S. cities.
Cultural landscapes make up the rich and diverse local, regional, and even national identity of a place, ultimately carrying forward histories from those that preceded us– like a time machine, of sorts.
Cultural landscapes, as the Cultural Landscapes Foundation succinctly defines it, “are landscapes that have been affected, influenced, or shaped by human involvement.” We have all been to these types of places but may not have thought twice about their role as cultural landscapes: Yosemite and the White House nationally, and the French Quarter, Audubon Park, and Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 locally, for example.
Cultural landscapes make up the rich and diverse local, regional, and even national identity of a place, ultimately carrying forward histories from those that preceded us– like a time machine, of sorts. We as humans develop strong emotional connections to certain places, which is why some people have places they return to over and over again. It is also why the burden of losing them can be so detrimental.
Ultimately, taking the time to learn about and visit the cultural landscapes within our own communities, and while traveling, ensures their preservation to a certain extent. The more people who know and love a place, the better protected it is. It also adds depth and richness to our experiences. Engage with the places in New Orleans by registering for one– or more– of What’s Out There Weekend’s free tours and learn about the history, both seen and obscured, of this magnificent city. Some highlights of the weekend include:
What’s Out There Weekend Highlights
Saturday, April 1
Lafitte Greenway Bicycle Tour
11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
The Lafitte Greenway is New Orleans’ newest linear urban park that runs from Mid-City to the Tremé neighborhood. Now a 2.6-mile bike and pedestrian path, its former incarnations include the Carondelet Canal– used for shipping from the late 1700s until it was filled in beginning in 1927– and a railroad corridor. Though the tour is free, you will need to bring a bicycle for this event.
Bayou St. John & the Pitot House
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Bayou St. John is a natural body of water used historically by Native Americans who lived in the area. Through the early twentieth century, it was used for shipping until the opening of the Carondelet Canal. The Pitot House, located along the banks of Bayou St. John, was built when the area was still part of the countryside. It was moved from a neighboring lot in the 1960s to save it from demolition. The tour is provided by local landscape architect Lake Douglas.
St. Anthony’s Garden
3:00 to 4:00 p.m.
On the backside of St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter lies the quiet flowers, trees, and shrubs of St. Anthony’s Garden. Before it transitioned to a garden, it had been used at one point as a dueling site and a place to shelter victims of fire. Even the garden itself has gone through several iterations, currently featuring plantings that are recorded to have been used in the eighteenth century laid out in a geometric pattern. The tour will be provided by Alfred Lemmon, the director of the Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center, and D. Ryan Gray, Ph.D., an archaeology professor at the University of New Orleans.
Sunday, April 2
9:00 to 10:00 a.m.
The land encompassing Audubon Park operated as a sugar plantation before becoming one of the city’s major parks. In 1884, it hosted the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. Its namesake is John James Audubon, the naturalist who became a New Orleans resident in 1820. Learn more about its history and see its wildlife on a tour with local geographer Richard Campanella.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
10:00 to 11:30 a.m.
One of the oldest existing cemeteries in the city, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District was established in 1833. The cemetery is a non-segregated, non-denominational one, containing approximately 1,100 family tombs. The cemetery name stems from the City of Lafayette, which New Orleans annexed in 1852.
Congo Square & Armstrong Park
2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Congo Square, within the boundaries of today’s Armstrong Park, was once a Sunday gathering place for enslaved people, where they were permitted to dance and play the music of their West African ancestral homes. While beautiful, the park has a somewhat controversial genesis stemming from the demolition of a swath of the Tremé neighborhood, including Louis Armstrong’s childhood home.