A swampy settlement established in 1718, New Orleans' exotic mix of French, Spanish, Native American, Haitian and West African founders formed a distinct culture. Decadent and just a little bit dark, the city has become famous for music, Mardi Gras and the neon gaudiness of Bourbon Street.
Until Hurricane Katrina. But not even Katrina could steal the beat from the city where jazz was born. The lights are on along Bourbon Street. Mardi Gras krewes tossed beads to the reveling crowds in late February. And the jazz? Come to APA's 2006 Annual Convention this August to see for yourself.
Back to life
Life in New Orleans right now is almost a tale of two cities, says Kathleen Ratcliffe, executive vice president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. Low-lying neighborhoods, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, Lakeview, New Orleans East and Gentilly were severely damaged by the levee breaks and will need a long time to recover, she explains. However, other areas, such as the French Quarter, Garden District, Warehouse District and Downtown, are rapidly recovering.
"Drive down St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District today, and you would never know that a storm hit," she asserts. Tourists-the lifeblood of the city-are returning in ever-increasing numbers, she adds.
In late February, the madness of Mardi Gras lured back many visitors. This year is the 150th anniversary of one of the world's most famous parties, and although celebrations were scaled back slightly, beads and beer still filled the streets. Other scheduled celebrations include the Jazz and Heritage Festival in late April and early May, the French Quarter Festival this month and a French Quarter wine-tasting weekend in late May.
According to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, many tourists attractions are also up and running again. Visitors can take tours to visit above-ground cemeteries such as St. Louis No. 1, the burial place of Marie Laveau, New Orleans' famed voodoo queen, walk in the steps of Anne Rice's vampires, brave a visit to historic haunted houses, trace the history of voodoo or head out to the bayou.
Those who want to see the magnitude of Katrina can take a "disaster" tour, which visits the city's most damaged neighborhoods. In order to minimize disruption to residents, these tour buses stick to the main streets and guides don't allow tourists to get out or take pictures. Instead, they can view an album that shows the damage in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
Many of the city's other claims to fame are also coming back to life. Café du Monde, with its signature chicory coffee and piping-hot beignets, has been open since late October, and started operating 24-hours a day again at the beginning of February. Visitors can also indulge in Creole cuisine, as most of the restaurants in the tourist areas are open again. After dinner, those seeking a bit of New Orleans' music scene can head Uptown to Tipitina's. For those who like to wander and browse, most of the antique shops on St. Charles Avenue and Magazine Street are open, as are the knickknack shops surrounding the French Market.
Safe for visitors
Those images of New Orleans under water are unforgettable. But though a lot of work is still left to do in many areas of the city, most of the areas that tourists and convention-goers will be visiting were never under water and sustained minimal damage.
Ratcliffe says that local health officials monitor air and water quality levels constantly, and that they are safe for residents and visitors alike. APA's Board of Convention Affairs has been closely tracking the developments, notes psychologist Jeffrey Barnett, PsyD, chair of the board.
"We received briefings from public health officials, toured the convention hotels and tourist sites, toured some of the heavily damaged areas and observed first hand much of the recovery work already under way," says Barnett. The board was satisfied with city officials' answers to their questions about recovery work and impressed by the efforts they witnessed.
"The Convention Center is being fully renovated and cleaned," Barnett adds. "Hotels such as the Hilton will be in better shape in August than they were prior to the hurricanes." Several small groups will be holding conventions in the Convention Center starting in April; in June, New Orleans will host 20,000 American Library Association members.
As of February, the airport was running at about 50 percent of its pre-Katrina capacity, and airlines have plans to add flights as the volume of visitors and convention-goers grows over the next few months. Rental cars are available and taxis and airport shuttles are running regularly.
Participate in the recovery
Psychologists have a unique opportunity to help rebuild areas of New Orleans that suffered heavy damage, notes Barnett. The city can in part pay for that reconstruction by doing what it does best-hosting visitors like APA's members.
"The city depends on the tourist to survive-it is our major industry," says Ratcliffe.
That's one of many reasons why APA's Board of Directors and Board of Convention Affairs decided to keep the convention in New Orleans, says Barnett: "One of the most important reasons is our desire to be a part of the rebuilding and recovery efforts and not abandon the people and city of New Orleans at this important time."
Members will be able to help in more direct ways, too. Barnett says that APA has arranged some public service opportunities that attendees can participate in (see "Progress toward New Orleans' 'rebirth'" ).
"Our members can have a direct and meaningful impact on the recovery of the city," he notes.
Additional convention information will appear in upcoming Monitor issues.
Register for convention!
Advance registration for APA's Annual Convention is now open. Early registration has two benefits: lower registration fees and the opportunity to reserve hotel rooms at the special APA rates.
To register, visit the Convention Web site. The site will also post session and programming updates.
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