By Ari Kelman
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Extra info for A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans
Derbigny’s concerns should not be misread as evidence of a nascent environmental consciousness. Instead, what he and New Orleanians had that Livingston did not have was experience with the river and the delta that it had created. While Livingston imagined a private port, carved out of clearly delineated private property at the batture, New Orleanians remembered the lessons of their environmental history. Lore abounded in the city, recounting ﬂoods as recent as those in 1785, 1791, and 1799, when water had stood in the French Quarter.
Derbigny warned that without the Mississippi’s sedimentary assistance, New Orleans would cease to exist. 44 Derbigny raised these specters to warn his audience that if the Mississippi were mistreated, it might lash out at the city. He used this discussion of New Orleans’s unpredictable surroundings to imply that the riverfront must remain open and public, available to all of the city’s residents struggling with the delta’s constantly shifting environment. Derbigny’s concerns should not be misread as evidence of a nascent environmental consciousness.
In many ways the waterfront deﬁned the city. Market, municipal entryway, port, and promenade, in post-Purchase New Orleans, it provided the city’s most important public space, a landscape from which people marveled at the city’s commerce, multicultural character, and relationship with the Mississippi. Although located on the city’s margin, the waterfront stood at the core of life in New Orleans. It was the key to orienting oneself in the city not only because of the myriad uses New Orleanians made of the riverbanks, but also because of the city’s layout.