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The New New Orleans, Part 2:
Mandy Conger 

New Orleans native and Ochsner Health System employee

New Orleans native and Ochsner Health System employee

  "My dad's from Salisbury, near London. He moved when he was a teenager to Canada, and met my mom somewhere mid-country. She's from New York. He didn't want to live anywhere but the most European city in the U.S. This is clearly it.

  "I feel like there was no change in my life, obviously until [Hurricane] Katrina, which changed a lot of things. Even after Katrina, it was really slow to progress. Everyone said, 'It's going to change, it's going to change,' and I said, 'Eh, no.' When you're from here, you don't think anything is ever going to change, whether you want it to or not. In the last two years I've seen the most change. We've gotten a lot more people ... all these transplants. At my job, I work for the transplant department [at Ochsner], and we're doing a fundraiser, and all these T-shirts we're selling say 'Transplant Dat,' which has everything to do with the medical transplant, but I had so many people wanting to buy them because they thought it was transplant shirts representing transplants from other states, or wherever.

  "I was somewhere near downtown and I looked up and saw the arena and saw the big Smoothie King sign and was like, 'That kind of ruins the landscape.' I'm not saying I'm anti-Big Business, but we hadn't been used to that. It just puts a different feel on it. Going to Jazz Fest and seeing the Gentilly stage is the Samsung Stage, that's disheartening. Prosperity is good but there's a limit to it, too. We're tipping the scale now maybe going down the road I'm not comfortable with.

  "We've had all these cool little bars or things we do that outsiders wouldn't necessarily understand or even know about. Now anywhere you go is full of tourists. Things that weren't known by anybody, now it's jam-packed. Jazz Fest is overcrowded, French Quarter Fest is overcrowded — it's a lot different than it was a couple years ago. I'd been going to Jazz Fest every year since I was 15. This was the first year I considered not going, because of the crowds. That's my tradition, you know?

  "When you bring all this progress you dilute the culture. You have a lot of people who want to get involved who didn't grow up with it, maybe don't completely understand it, and some things now are just for show rather than for us to do. Super Sunday with the Mardi Gras Indians, the cultural makeup of the observers has completely flip-flopped. That's odd to me, to go to Super Sunday and see what was once an all African-American event that seems to be taken over by all these white people, photographing it, videoing it — they're not participating anymore, just observing it and Facebooking it. Things don't feel the same.

  "I do think it has brought a lot of good things. It has brought a lot of people here who do good things, who want to make good things happen. It's not as corrupt anymore, but that's still to be seen. Streets are getting fixed. Us New Orleanians want to have our cake and eat it, too. I've always wanted streets to be fixed, now I'm annoyed by how much is going on and how difficult it is to get to places I want to get to. But for all the good things happening, there's not enough focus on the bad. Our education system, our police department — those are the only two things I've seen, out of major categories of progress, that haven't gone anywhere. They've declined even more.

  For people moving in and really staying and building up the city, it's not going to go anywhere until those things are fixed. That to me is really disheartening. We have all this progress here, but we're still continuing to separate the haves and the have-nots. New Orleans has always been that city, but now it's magnified.

  "I've always wanted to leave, since I was 15. I wanted to move somewhere else. It's because of the things that have always been here, the crime, education. But I've stayed here. I don't know what my future will be. It's becoming less appealing. I'm here, and I'm here indefinitely until who knows. Even with the progress, I still feel like I have that itch to get out. As most New Orleanians say, 'You'll probably come back anyway.'"

As told to Alex Woodward


You can read all the stories on "The New New Orleans" at www.bestofneworleans.com/newnola and discuss it on Twitter using the hashtag #newnola.

And if you'd like to tell your story, contact us at response@gambitweekly.com. We'll definitely do a Part 3.

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