By Ari Kelman
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Extra resources for A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans
Joseph Sullivan, General Superintendent, Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. 3 This topography helps explain part of the waterfront’s signiﬁcance throughout New Orleans’s history. Rare high ground has always held great value in the city, because prior to the advent of sophisticated drainage technologies, the river’s levee provided the only suitable foundation for building in the delta’s soggy environment. Early planners took advantage of this geological gift, placing the city on the river’s eastern levee.
At that time, the federal government began assisting its land-hungry citizens, eager to settle the Mississippi Valley, by sponsoring the conquest of the region’s Native Americans. The government also began negotiating treaties with foreign nations, designed to secure the western settlers’ rights to navigate the region’s highway of commerce, the Mississippi system. In the controversies surrounding those negotiations, Jefferson learned what the river and its banks meant to the West. The importance of the Mississippi for westerners was simple: the river promised economic survival.
In the 1870s, New Orleanians lured trunk railroads to the city by offering generous land grants along the waterfront, beginning a process in which portions of that space were priva- Nature’s Highway to Market 17 tized over time. The discussion in this chapter then moves into the dawn of the Progressive Era, when the city created a quasi-public organization to administer the waterfront, the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans, or Dock Board. The Dock Board overhauled the riverfront, employing scientiﬁc management of space to rationalize the city’s port by constructing huge warehouses to keep goods stored there safe from the delta’s climate.