Richard Campanella, originally from Brooklyn, is a Tulane University geographer. Campanella is the author of the book “The West Bank of Greater New Orleans: A Historical Geography”. The book is based on the West Bank and is a researched account of the land, its history and its people.
This is Campanella’s 11th book and took him three years to complete. The narrative that blends geography, economics, hydrology, sociology and history, along with the stories of people like John McDonogh and the Destréhans and Harveys who were forces in its history and whose names adorn parts of it.
The 264-page book hits closer to home than one might think. Brooklyn is across the East River from Manhattan and for a while was looked down on by Manhattanites.
“There’s oftentimes this spatial elitism where the urban core looks down on the periphery, particularly when there’s a water boundary and the area is more working-class, more gritty and more industrial,” Campanella said in an interview. “I’ve come to be fascinated with areas that have been ignored.”
He discovered that New Orleanians have the same attitude toward the West Bank, which is really east of downtown across the Mississippi River. This helped with his mindset to understand this condescending attitude toward the area.
“It’s the West Bank because it’s contiguous with the western half of the nation,” he said. “It had railroad access to central Louisiana, western Louisiana, Texas and points west in ways that the East Bank did not. The West Bank was something of a jumping-off point to Texas and beyond.”
Currently, the West Bank makes up around 35% of the urbanized footprint of New Orleans metropolitan and 30% of the metropolitan population. This is a big chunk of metro New Orleans population south of Lake Pontchartrain.
The area has been deemed the “red-headed stepchild,” but the West Bank plays a vital role in the city across the river. The West Bank is where those that keep New Orleans running live.
“The West Banks of the world are separate yet near their urban cores, apart yet convenient, a spacious counterpart to inner-city crowding and costs,” he writes.
The West Bank of New Orleans’ proximity also plays a part in the separation felt by so many. The Mississippi River is so wide that the East and West banks were originally made to develop and run on their own independent of each other. Campanella goes on to explain that the differences in communities stayed once bridges were built across the Mississippi.
Today, the West Bank is a great place to live “outside the limelight”. It is a place where those who seek it can live affordably and call New Orleans their home.
“I hope this book begins to balance out the disproportion in the scholarly coverage of New Orleans,” he said.
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