Moving 504ward

It was bustling at the Crescent City Steakhouse. And the steak was yummy!

Last night I went to my first  504ward event, a networking dinner at Crescent City Steakhouse. 504ward was started in 2008 with the goal of keeping young talent in New Orleans. In addition to a email newsletter that features events around the city and job listings, 504ward plans activities (both fun and functional) to help people meet, connect and grow–such as the one I went to last night!

One of the reasons I left New Orleans in 2005 was because there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for young people professionals. It was June 2005, and the fellowship that brought me to New Orleans had ended.  It seemed that the only jobs in the city were at small organizations with little support for growth or opportunities for advancement. My friends, recent college graduates like myself, had jobs like this. Six years later, none of them live here. Two of them are kickass entrepreneurs in Savannah. One is a go-getting architect in NY. Another lives nearby, in Mandeville, and works as a public defender in St. Tammany Parish. (Despite valiant attempts, she has not been able to get a job in Orelans Parish.) Two left to go to school and become a doctor and urban planner. They vow to return.

The steakhouse is 77 years old. Accordingly, it's very retro. Check out this bathroom sign.

When they return, they will find a professional landscape that has shifted dramatically since the storm. There is a palpable excitement about the new energy, new ideas and entrepreneurial spirit in the city. (It is also controversial, in some cases, but that’s for another post.) In her welcome speech, Jessica Shahien White, executive director of 504ward, spoke of the organization’s commitment to preventing amazing people like my friends from leaving the city. “We’re not shy about that,” Jessica said. She also talked about a conversation she just had with her friend, who lives in D.C. Jessica’s friend got stuck in the metro for two hours during last week’s earthquake, and all she could think of was “I need to get out of here so I can work on a project that’s on deadline.” Jessica noted the stark contrast between that line of thinking and the way New Orleanians think about working. It’s cliche, but here people don’t live to work. They work to live.

I’ve thought a lot about the differences between working here and working in D.C. And a lot of those differences showed themselves last night. I don’t think I met two people with the same profession. No one worked in politics. Everyone was nice. Everyone was helpful. And most people weren’t awkward. And whether or not people wanted to talk about what they did in the city, they wanted to talk to you. Even if you couldn’t help them professionally. I met someone who works for Exxon and loves running;  a comedian who is opening a comedy club in NOLA; a loan officer that works with small businesses and non-profits who made great pizza recommendations; someone who started their own e-bay business that donates profits to various good causes; and this guy.

I’m not here to dump on D.C. I love Washington. But it was rare that I left a networking event in D.C. with warm and fuzzy feelings.


Where Y’At, Kind of New Orleanian Blog?

I have been a bad, bad blogger. It’s been two weeks since my last post. Shame, I have it.

But I also have a good excuse–moving. My boyfriend and I said goodbye to our lovely Uptown sublease, traveled to D.C., packed up my life there, drove  south in a 15-foot truck (with my cat) and arrived back here to a new place in Mid City. I’ll write up some of my thoughts from those events in upcoming posts, but for now I’ll update y’all* on some things I’ve blogged about before.

Recently I wrote about recycling in New Orleans. A few days after the post went up, the Times-Pic published the article New Orleans Recycling Efforts Not a waste, but Has a Long Way to Go. The article is optimistic, and says that NOLA has diverted approximately two percent of its waste from the landfill.

In my recycling post I mentioned my disappointment with the city for not recycling glass, especially because Abita (arguably the most consumed beer in the city) comes exclusively in bottles. Well, big up to this Big Easy brewery, because it announced on July 25 that three of its most popular flavors will come in cans, starting in 2012.

Austin Updates: My Questions Answered
In June, when I wrote about my experience driving through Austin. I quote myself (how narcissistic) “I don’t remember hearing much about Austin in the 1990s. I am also curious as to how the city became what it is. A friend said she’d send me a link to a set of stories NPR did on the city’s growth.”

Lizette made good on her promise: Austin, TX, Growing Pains. It’s from this rad site called “State of the Reunion,” which explores how American cities and towns create community and cultural narratives about the uniqueness of these places. Basically, I’m going to read and listen the hell out of this site… as soon as my boyfriend and I get internet in our new place.

*trying to use “y’all”



Car Free is the Way I Can’t Be

I was wrong, I admit it.

I thought I could live in New Orleans without relying on a car. For the six years I lived in Washington D.C. I walked, rode the metro or took the bus. In extreme cases I rented a Zipcar or borrowed a friend’s wheels. But most of the time I biked. I biked to and from work. I biked to go out at night. Once, I even biked to all 50 streets named after a state. I was proud, smug even, that I didn’t need a car. I vowed that I would never become car-dependent, even in a city that made that lifestyle more challenging. A city… such as New Orleans.

The car. The evil, sweet, sweet temptress.

I write this post to admit that I failed at my goal. My sublet is located on a bus line, a ten-minute walk from the St. Charles streetcar and within walking distance from businesses I patronize often. But I’ve fallen pray to the lure of the automobile.

I am sharing my boyfriend’s car with him, but he’s the one that walks when it’s an option. When he says he’s going to the coffee shop that’s less than a half a mile from our house I offer to drop him off. Yesterday, I suggested we walk take a walk in Audobon Park, but asked if we could drive there.

A map to the coffee shop I don’t want to walk to:

And JUST as I typed this, my boyfriend told me he is going to meet someone nearby for drinks.
I offered to drop him off.
He said he’d walk.

What has happened to me? I know it’s hot, but I have lived in Miami, Gainesville and DC. Heck, I used to live here! I thought I was prepared. I even carry wet wipes to wash myself down when I sweat. What can’t I handle about a car-free lifestyle in NOLA? This is what I think:

Ipods Off
I don’t see many people listening to their Ipods as they walk around, which always made being outside in D.C. more bearable. If you have your headphones on here, you seem unapproachable and people wont’ say hello to you. In an attempt to appear friendly,  I’ve been sans music and my beloved podcasts.

New Orleans Regional Transit Authority
In isolation, the streetcar and buses are fine. Slow, very slow, but they get the job done. But what if you need to transfer, it’s hard to justify public transportation. Rather than drive to Midcity, my boyfriend and rode the bus to the Canal Street streetcar, and then walked to our final destination. It took an hour and a half. It would’ve taken 15 minutes in the car. According to Google maps, it would’ve taken an hour and a half to WALK.

My Pledge to My Readers
I write this post the weekend before I return to D.C. to get the rest of my belongings, including my bike. Next month, I will drive less. I will use my gas expenditures to measure. I am announcing this so I can be accountable you, my readers.

Because being accountable to myself and Mother Nature is not enough.