If only because of certain statistics, safety should probably be carefully considered by anyone visiting New Orleans when planning their days and nights. Speaking personally, I recently came back from a short trip to the city and have realised that the question of whether what I’m doing is safe or not is on my mind a lot in the city.
I worry about the risk of danger perhaps because I’m often a solo female traveller when there, perhaps because I’m a naturally cautious person, and perhaps because I live in one of the less safe parts of London, so am aware of what urban danger can mean and am naturally on my guard. Yet as well as this pull inwards towards safety and the familiar, I also feel an opposite push because I find that what I have experienced of New Orleans to date makes me yearn to see even more of it, which in turn forces me to think about safety again.
Negotiating New Orleans’ hidden map of safety, danger, and everything in between that must be read alongside regular maps of the city can be hard, even given the fact that after a number of visits and a lots of reading about the city I feel I know its geography relatively well. Doing so is made more complicated by the fact that there is usually not an objective answer to whether somewhere or something is safe.
Safety is a factor not only of the two or three dimensions tracked by map co-ordinates. It is also affected by time. Time of day, and by point in the cycle of seasons, which in New Orleans are not necessarily quite the ones you expect, being also defined by festival calendars and risks of extreme weather.
Then there is also the fact that in New Orleans time runs in another longer cycle that over years and generations turns some locations and neighbourhoods from run-down and potentially more dangerous than average to cool but still slightly edgy, then to gentrified and largely safe, then to touristy and perhaps troubled by crime targeted at tourists, and then sometimes back to the beginning again. Bourbon Street, the French Quarter in general, Frenchmen Street and St. Claude Avenue, for example, are arguably all at different stages of this process, most of which do not unambiguously represent either safety or danger but a changeable balance of some sort between them.
The phenomenon can be seen in other cities – very much including London – but I would say that, for various historical and social reasons, it is particularly noticeable in New Orleans. The upshot of all this is that places you have visited in the city before may not be the same when you visit them again, and by your previous visits you might have even played a very small part in that.
Which leads me to the fifth dimension of safety that we could call something like subjectivity. How much do you know, or think you know, the place you’re in? Do you look and act like a local or like a tourist? Are you by yourself or in a group? Are you female or male? Are you drunk, or tired? And how do you personally define safety?
And when I’m trying to work out whether a new place or activity is safe or not, it is subjectivity that leads me to my solution, as there is often no objective answer. I turn to the technique – which happens to be sort of like an old psychogeographical one – of mapping one city through my understanding of another.
I think about myself in my hometown of London, how I feel about areas of my own city and how I would act there. Yes, there are big differences to factor in. But in general, the tactic has served me well.
Image: Eric Fischer
In this amazing graphic, which is not a crime map, red dots are locations of Flickr pictures, blue dots are locations of Twitter tweets, and white dots are locations that have been posted to both.