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A look at Bywater, New Orleans’s rapidly changing gem

“This was the end of the world at one point”

Two miles from the heart of the French Quarter and along the Mississippi River, Bywater neighbors Marigny to the west, St. Roch to the north, and the Lower Ninth Ward to the east.

There are a few long-running theories on how Bywater got its name. The most popular, reported by the Historic District Landmarks Commission, is that as the newly established New Orleans Telephone Exchange connected phone lines throughout New Orleans in the early 1900s, it came up with names for undeveloped areas based on something immediately recognizable, like a street or landmark. The New Orleans Telephone Exchange labeled this part of New Orleans Bywater.

And then there is the obvious (and simplest) theory: It’s literally by the water, and the name just stuck.

Today, Bywater is one of the city’s most beloved neighborhoods, but there is much debate about its rapidly evolving future: Since the neighborhood was nearly spared from Hurricane Katrina due to its relatively high elevation (it sits along the Mississippi River’s natural levee), new residents and developers are attracted to its maintained architecture and low flood risk.

And while the newfound interest has brought successful community-building initiatives to the neighborhood, rising home prices have led to the displacement of former residents because of affordable-housing shortages and a growing trend of its developers submitting copious plans for high-rise condo developments.

Bywater is where you can find Studio Be, the 35,000-square-foot warehouse that local New Orleans artist Brandan “Bmike” Odums converted into a four-hall exhibit. He uses the space to examine, critique, and bring awareness to current social issues.

Near the Industrial Canal is the experimental Music Box Village, a nonprofit community space that explores the connection between music and architecture. The educational space is made up of several music houses that each have a mix of architectural-based instruments (such as drumming shutters and whistling fans), along with reinterpretations of traditional horns and bells.

In 2015, Bywater reclaimed a portion of its riverfront when the City of New Orleans and a legendary team of architects, including George Hargreaves and David Adjaye, led a monumental transformation of the Piety Street Wharf into an outdoor adaptive-reuse development. Each of the designers contributed their personal philosophies on connectivity, which led to a 1.4-mile linear park flanked by the Mississippi River and an active railroad corridor.

The photos and resident accounts below show that Bywater is many things: a catalyst for conversation about gentrification and displacement; a home to adaptive, experimental and contemporary development; and a collection of the Greek Revival and Victorian architecture for which New Orleans is best known.

Pictured above: John, retired trucker, at Marie’s bar; Kendall, bouncing on the trampoline; Rodney, Bywater postal carrier for the last four years; Vivian rose on her bike; The pitmaster cooking at neighborhood BBQ spot, The Joint.