Cityscapes of New Orleans Review

Just Beneath the Surface: A review of Cityscapes of New Orleans by Richard Campanella, Landscape Architecture Magazine (January 2019)

Reviewed by Amber N. Wiley

New Orleans is ubiquitous in our collective imagination because of its robust sense of place. Tourism brochures and conference programs essentialize the city—its food, music, architecture, and nightlife. In Cityscapes of New Orleans, the geographer Richard Campanella implores the reader to observe the city, mind the details, and ask questions gleaned from tiny clues. He does this by presenting a series of vignettes that span the 300-year history of New Orleans. Campanella argues that there are always new lessons to learn from each discovery, lessons that can guide us about how to exist within the particular cultural geography of New Orleans.

Cityscapes is a collection of 77 essays that Campanella published in various journals, newspapers, and venues between 2010 and 2017. These essays had specific and limited audiences: Some were published in Preservation in Print, the magazine of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, others in Louisiana Cultural Vistas, the magazine of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. More content was pulled from Cityscapes, Campanella’s monthly column in Times-Picayune, as well as guest editorials he wrote for online journals such as Places and New Geography.

The essays are readily accessible to any individual who has baseline knowledge of New Orleans. Campanella envisioned the book as a reader, and it is not divided into strictly defined chapters, but along permeable themes: “People, Patterns, and Place,” “Architectural Geographies and the Built Environment,” “Urban Geographies,” “Regional Geographies,” and finally, “Disaster and Recovery.” The writings flow into each other in a way that makes sense—one can often find the connection between two essays in succession. The essays range from pithy, such as the two-page final musing “New Orleans as Metaphor,” to quite lengthy, like the eight-page piece titled “What the Nation’s Best-Educated Amateur Planners Learned from Hurricane Isaac. And Gustav. And Rita and Katrina. And Cindy, Ivan, Lili, Isidore, and Georges…” Cityscapes is richly illustrated, despite the nontraditional nature of the volume.

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