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New Orleans’s Lower Garden District is a preservationist paradise

‘It has some of the most beautiful architecture in town’

The Lower Garden District sits between the stately Garden District and the bustling Central Business District. Vibrant and historic, the neighborhood is known for its exceptional use of green space, 19th-century architecture, and several local shops and restaurants.

Planning for this neighborhood started around 1806 when two wealthy plantation owners contracted city planner and architect Barthélemy Lafon to subdivide their land. Lafon, an admirer of the classics, named nine of the neighborhood’s streets after each of the Greek muses (Terpsichore, Calliope, Melpomene, Thalia, and Erato, just to name a few) and helped introduce Greek Revival architecture to New Orleans.

Lower Garden District residents have committed to preserving the neighborhood’s rich architectural history. It’s home to the iconic Grace King house, a staple of 19th century Greek Revival; the St. Alphonsus Church completed in 1857; and a collection of well-kept double galleries and sidehall homes that seemingly outnumber the neighborhood’s single-story Victorian and Creole-style homes that New Orleans is best known for.

Today, the neighborhood is in a race for high ground. Known as the Sliver by the River, the Lower Garden District sits on naturally high ground being next to the Mississippi River and is one of a few neighborhoods that avoided the worst of Hurricane Katrina. While new development isn’t as widespread as in other areas of the city, there are plans for large projects, such as a 208-unit apartment complex and a multi-unit commercial building. Still, the neighborhood has maintained a balance between longtime local businesses and a growing, wide-ranging collection of boutiques and high-end restaurants.

Young people have long gravitated to the Lower Garden District. In its most recent report, The Data Center says that neighborhood residents aged 18 to 34 years old comprise over 42 percent of the neighborhood’s population. But it’s likely that these new residents are not becoming homeowners in the Lower Garden District. The same report states that renters occupy 72.1 percent of the households in the neighborhood while homeowners occupy 27.9 percent of households. Across Orleans Parish, homeowner and renter occupation is nearly split: 53.6 percent renters and 46.4 percent homeowners.

Even with a variety of architectural structures and commercial establishments, the Lower Garden District struggles with racial diversity. In 2016, the Housing Authority of New Orleans released a report that identified the Lower Garden District, along with many of the historic neighborhoods near the river, as one of the most segregated—mostly white—neighborhoods in the city.

As New Orleans scholar Richard Campanella points out, there has be an increase of white residents and a decrease of black residents across an area he coins as the White Teapot. The teapot-shaped section of New Orleans, along its river neighborhoods, holds a considerable chunk of the city’s white population. Since 2000, the Lower Garden District has seen an increase of white residents and a decrease of black residents.

As the photo essay below illustrates, the Lower Garden District continues to mature as New Orleans celebrates its tricentennial, and the neighborhood residents remain hopeful of its future while also taking care to preserve its history. They’ve fallen in love with the neighborhood’s walkability, diverse architecture, and close-knit neighborhood.

Pictured above: Brittany and Anthony in Coliseum Park.