La Nouvelle-OrlÃ©ans (New Orleans) was founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. In 1763, the French colony was ceded to the Spanish Empire and remained under Spanish control for 40 years. Most of the surviving architecture of the French Quarter dates from this Spanish period. Louisiana reverted to French control in 1801, but two years later Napoleon sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. The city grew rapidly, with influxes of Americans, French and Creole French.
New Orleans also was once part of the Florida territory in what was once known as West Florida.
During the War of 1812 the British sent a force to conquer the city. The British were defeated by American forces led by Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.
The population of the city doubled in the 1830s, and by 1840, New Orleans had become the wealthiest city in the nation, and was the third most populous.
Early in the American Civil War, New Orleans was captured by the Union. This action spared the city the destruction suffered by many other cities of the American South.
See also: New Orleans in the Civil War
In the early 20th century, New Orleans was a progressive major city whose most portentous development was a drainage plan devised by engineer and inventor A. Baldwin Wood. Urban development theretofore was largely limited to higher ground along natural river levees and bayous. Wood's pump system allowed the city to expand into low-lying areas. Over the 20th century, rapid subsidence, both natural and human-induced, left these newly-populated areas several feet below sea level.
New Orleans was vulnerable to flooding even before the age of negative elevation. In the late 20th century, however, scientists and New Orleans residents gradually became aware of the city's increased vulnerability. Hurricane Betsy in 1965 had killed dozens of residents even though the majority of the city remained dry. The rain-induced 1995 flood demonstrated the weakness of the pumping system.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
New Orleans, like many coastal and river delta cities, has long been vulnerable to flooding. In the late 20th century, however, scientists and New Orleans residents gradually became aware of the city's increased vulnerability. Hurricane Betsy in 1965 had killed dozens of residents even though the majority of the city remained dry. The rain-induced 1995 flood demonstrated the weakness of the pumping system.
By the time Hurricane Katrina approached the city at the end of August 2005, most residents had evacuated. Storm surge pushed ashore by the hurricane caused the city to suffer the worst civil engineering disaster in American history. Floodwalls constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed, and 80% of the city flooded. Tens of thousands of remaining residents were rescued by helicopter or otherwise made their way to shelters of last resort at the Superdome or the convention center. Over 1,500 people died.
The city was declared off-limits to residents while clean-up efforts began. The approach of Hurricane Rita caused repopulation efforts to be postponed, and the Lower Ninth Ward was reflooded by Rita's storm surge. By October 1, parts of the city accounting for about one-third of the population of New Orleans had been reopened.
See also: Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and Drainage in New Orleans
Post disaster revival
As of late 2006, about half of the city's pre-Katrina population has returned to live in the city. This number is considered by some to be unexpectedly high, considering Katrina was the worst natural disaster to strike a U.S. city since the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Constant repair work continues on damaged housing and commercial structures. Tens of thousands of people are still waiting for insurance payouts or government assistance.
The Bayou Classic, the traditional game between Southern University and Grambling State University, returned to New Orleans in November 2006 after being displaced to Houston, Texas, for its November 2005 date. This popular event causes the French Quarter to almost entirely shut down for the weekend. The Essence Music Festival made a commitment to the city of New Orleans in July of 2007 after being displaced to Houston, Texas, for July 2006, along with other major events such as Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (which never left). The National Football League has made a commitment to the city of New Orleans with a possible 2011 or 2012 Super Bowl. The National Basketball Association has made a commitment to the city of New Orleans with the return of the New Orleans Hornets part time in 2006-2007 (one game per month) and full time for the 2007-2008 season, even granting New Orleans the 2008 NBA All Star game which generates millions of dollars for host cities. The City of New Orleans Tourist Bureau is also hoping to lure travellers and tourist income back into the area. Their new advertising campaign features celebrities such as actor John Goodman and TV chef Emeril Lagasse who invite Americans to come back to New Orleans. Several travel guides have once again listed New Orleans as one of the top 5 places to visit.
Through 2006, efforts continued to clean up debris and restore infrastructure. The city was completely reopened to residents, and areas that suffered moderate damage substantially resumed functioning. Parts of the city most severely damaged still had irregular city services; in some areas, next to nothing has been done in the way of rebuilding. As residents returned to the devastated areas, attempts are being made to restore city services; however, as of December 2006 there were still well over 200,000 New Orleanians who were unable to return. In 2007, as the city's football team, the New Orleans Saints, progressed through the NFL Playoffs, the team became even more of a sentimental favorite among football fans.
The lack of civic leadership as well as a weakened police force has led to a rise in crime. As of January 20, 2007, there were 15 murders in 2007. On Thrusday, January 11, 2007, several thousand New Orleans residents marched through city streets and gathered at City Hall for a rally demanding police and city leaders tackle the crime problem. Mayor Ray Nagin said he was "totally and solely focused" on attacking the problem.