When you think of downtown New Orleans, you likely think of the bright lights of Canal Street or the many-windowed business-y buildings towering over the sidewalks. It’s that, yes, and it’s also an oh-so-walkable 1.2 square miles of 11 neighborhoods whose names you’ll hear dropped—the CBD, the Warehouse District, the Arts District, to name a few—in reference to any number of hip restaurants, bars, retail, or music venues. Stretching from the Mississippi River up to Claiborne Avenue, then from Iberville Street to the Pontchartrain Expressway, downtown is where you head for springtime’s Wednesday at the Square or some quality time with the Saints in the Superdome.
But in the 1970s, downtown wasn’t exactly the kind of place you wanted to stroll through. Much of it was crumbling and unused. And despite a venerable history as the second-oldest section of the city, any kind of charm and energy seemed to be a thing of the past.