I have heard a lot over the years (particularly from one individual) about how Wicker Park-Bucktown should be like a neighborhood as well known for the arts as New Orleans’ French Quarter. While I empathize with the general concept, I’ve been skeptical of how pleasant it would be to actually live in the Quarter, and very much skeptical of the particulars that have been suggested. I think that the physical form of the Quarter — there being so few human-scale places, much less human-scale neighborhoods, in the USA — is a large part of its intrinsic appeal. (I would love to live amidst a skein of 38.5′ streets, but 2.5 FQ streets could easily fit into Ashland or Western.) It also has a very long (over a century older) and uniquely colorful social history that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
So I just got back from my first visit to New Orleans, and guess what? We’re doing something right, although not what this individual thinks. The French Quarter’s streets aren’t just swept and washed, they are deodorized every day by a private contractor, at a cost of $3.36 million a year. (Despite 2009 budget cuts in that sadly struggling city, the “popular” and “Disney-like” service is likely to remain in some form.)
There is also almost no notable public art to be seen on any of the sidewalks or squares, and likewise relatively few architectural monuments: just great background buildings, housing countless businesses both arts-related and otherwise. Oh, and you can stumble across some astonishing jazz.
One other aspect of efficient and effective municipal management where New Orleans (of all places!) seems to be ahead: deployment of the Pothole Killer machine, instead of three-man crews, requires 90% less labor for the same task — one-third the laborers and one-third the time. If faster turnaround leads to smaller potholes, the savings would increase further. It seems to leave a lot of gravel on the road, though.