Remembering care in the city it forgot.
November 19, 2012 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Safely exploring New Orleans on foot.

I'll be in New Orleans this week for the first time. I love to explore new-to-me cities by wandering around independently on foot, without too much of a plan. It's my favorite thing to do when traveling, and New Orleans seems particularly fascinating.

My starting and ending point is the French Quarter.

I'm a white male in his late 20s, of average size and nerdy appearance. You can assume that I'm a reasonable person, cautious but not unduly paranoid, and that I have tons of experience living in and walking around big cities of all kinds. You can also assume I'll be doing this during the day and early evening.

What are my boundaries for safe wandering, if any?
posted by eugenen to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a short, white, slight woman who spent 5 days exploring New Orleans on foot and bike a couple of years ago, including a walk from the French Quarter, through Tremé, up to City Park (and back), and riding around the Lower 9th Ward to get a sense of what had happened during and since Katrina. The only time I backed out of a spot was when I turned onto a street in which there was an active fight going on (this was maybe a block north of I-10 near Esplanade?). The bike option is nice as it's both a nod to safety and also helps you get farther afield. In general I found the French Quarter after hours to be more aggravating than any other spot I wandered though, but I don't like noisy crowds.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2012

It's the same with any city. Do not make eye contact with or engage strangers in any way. Avoid looking at a map or looking lost. If anyone approaches you, back away and say no in a loud voice. Carry cash, one credit card, and an I.D. in your front pocket.

People are generally very nice but there is an active criminal element there so be wary.
posted by myselfasme at 9:32 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's a good question and unfortunately not one with a single easy answer.

Here's a map of New Orleans neighborhood boundaries that I made a while back, using data and names from the GNOCDC.

Neighborhoods that I would probably walk through that are near the French Quarter, based on A.) items of interest and B.) safety concerns: French Quarter, Marigny, Bywater (along the river but not so much up the industrial canal on the downriver side), Treme (closer to Esplanade), CBD, Lower Garden District.

Neighborhoods I would probably not walk through because A.) nothing of big interest and B.) safety concerns: St. Claude, St. Roch, Seventh Ward, Tulane / Gravier (though most of this has been razed to make space for new medical center stuff), Central City. That is not a blanket condemnation of those neighborhoods by any stretch, just trying to explain where a visitor might find best return for his or her walk.

Walking along St. Charles is fun. Almost anywhere river-side (because we seem to eschew simple concepts such as "north" and "south") would be okay to go exploring. Anywhere lake-side before Napoleon Ave.? Not as much. Again, not a blanket condemnation.

Walking along Esplanade Ave. from the FQ to City Park is a good route I've taken on more than one occasion.

Magazine Street will probably give you the most bang for your buck in terms of shopping and food and drink options. The entirety of Magazine Street from Canal up to the Riverbend is a good walk.

The New Orleans crime rate is honestly not that bad for a city of this size, except for our incredible (and depressing) murder rate. That's usually a result of a personal conflict, though, and not something that's likely to happen to Joe Random on the street. Still, maintain awareness of your surroundings. We play a mean game of Good Block, Bad Block down here, so don't daydream too long or you'll find yourself in the wrong place in a short period of time. That goes double for after dark, but I think nighttime is a universal concern, not a New Orleans-specific one.

Glad you're coming to enjoy our city! Eat well, drink well, be well!
posted by komara at 9:45 AM on November 19, 2012 [11 favorites]

It's the same with any city. Do not make eye contact with or engage strangers in any way. Avoid looking at a map or looking lost. If anyone approaches you, back away and say no in a loud voice. Carry cash, one credit card, and an I.D. in your front pocket.

People are generally very nice but there is an active criminal element there so be wary.

I take issue with almost everything written there.

Do not make eye contact with or engage strangers in any way? This is New Orleans, not New York City. The strangers are probably going to greet you before you ever even get to them. This is a friendly place full of nice people and we're used to tourists and visitors. Looking at a map is not a death sentence. Sure, somebody is bound to hit you up for spare change at some point during a walk through the French Quarter but backing away from everyone you see and saying "NO!"? That just sounds paranoid.
posted by komara at 9:52 AM on November 19, 2012 [14 favorites]

Six years' living experience in NOLA, komara said basically everything I wanted to say here, but better. He/she is spot on about what neighborhoods and routes will be good for you, and about how you should interact with strangers. Don't give anyone who approaches you money, but do expect to be talked to by strangers on the street. Most will be friendly, some will be weird, a few will try to scam you, and if you are very unlucky one might try to rob you. Enjoy these interactions but be on your guard -- they are much of what makes New Orleans dfferent and interesting. People will definitely approach you regardless of whatever Cone of Invisibility act you try to pull anyway, so talking to strangers is pretty unavoidable. Just don't give anyone any money and remember that you got your shoes on your feet.
posted by Scientist at 10:34 AM on November 19, 2012

This is New Orleans, not New York City.

That's probably why the OP asked his question. NO has a higher crime rate in every category tracked in the 2010 FBI Uniform Crime Reports.

I think myselfasme's advice of caution is not necessarily misplaced, although certainly it applies to some neighborhoods more than others as it would in any large city. I don't think anyone would recommend that the OP walk through Central City after dark with his nose in a map.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:07 AM on November 19, 2012

NO has, to me, a higher than usual amount of cobblestone, old broken (or uplifted) concrete, and damaged asphalt. People I've gone walking with have, several times, turned ankles due to inattention or lack of care in walking.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:12 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a chubby 30 year old white male and my girlfriend and I explored NO on foot. Everyone that we met, even people who meet the description of "stereotypically frightening," went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We did stay away from a lot of the main tourist traps at night, and generally took cabs home after dark (mostly because our feet hurt from walking all day), but spent the majority of two or three days exploring out along the streetcar lines and visting friends in other areas around downtown, so we got around a LOT.
posted by SpecialK at 12:05 PM on November 19, 2012

For what it's worth (probably not a lot) there's a crime map of New Orleans here. Otherwise komara's advice is good. You more or less can't go wrong between St. Charles and the river, although there are pockets that are a little sketchier- as komara said, use your judgement, block by block. I'll also echo the random friendliness you'll probably encounter and the general awfulness of the pavement everywhere.
posted by MadamM at 11:00 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd love an update on how the trip and the walking went, if that's something you want to share.
posted by komara at 10:13 AM on November 30, 2012

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