NOLA is a land of jazz and jiving people, of strong whisky cocktails and smoky Creole foods fresh off the BBQ grill. Thanks to its Mardi Gras parades and legendary music halls, it’s unquestionably one of the USA’s bucket-list cities, but where are the most dangerous places in New Orleans that all travelers should know about?
That’s what this guide is all about. It’s got the lowdown on the less-than-savory parts of the big town; the areas that we don’t think you should be so eager to put on the itinerary alongside the French Quarter and the elegant Garden District.
Our method for seeking out the most dangerous places in New Orleans has been to take a look at the latest available overall crime rates for different neighborhoods. That’s helped us gauge where’s good and where’s not, but still doesn’t tell the whole story, since some places might have had just one or two bad years and others might be improving.
Hear a mention of Central City these days and the talk is usually of a district that’s busy shedding its former reputation as a center of crime and lawlessness. A pizza-slice-shaped area that’s wedged in between the 11th ward to the south and the Warehouse District to the north, it’s now regularly touted as one of the more upcoming areas of town, offering edgy art galleries and rich Mardi Gras Indian heritage.
Sadly, the crime stats don’t seem to have gotten the memo. Central City still languishes right down at the bottom of the league tables with a whopping incidence of 2,528 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. That gives you a 1 in 19 chance of becoming a victim of a crime here and means there’s nearly 15 crimes per day in the quarter. Nope, they aren’t great figures.
There are loads of reasons for Central City’s less-than-savory showing. The area became a hub for the Civil Rights movement in the 60s but soon fell into dilapidation during the throes of a 1980s drug epidemic. It’s also the chosen stomping ground of some of the city’s most notorious OC gangs, like the 39ers and the Young Melph Mafia Dooney Boys.
There is a glimmer of hope, though. It looks as though overall crime rates are dropping by nearly 7% each year here and there’s certainly renewed interest in the area, mainly thanks to buzz of Main Street, where you can find historic bakeries and dairy houses. Visitors should also be sure to drop by the moving Civil Rights memorials that speckle Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Saint Roch is a sub-quarter of the Bywater area that sits to the north of the famous French Quarter and the bends of the Mississippi River. It’s got a long and interesting past, having been founded by French traders in the early 1700s before being transferred to the USA after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Later, Saint Roch, then known as Faubourg Franklin, was known as the home of the largest community of free people of color prior to the American Civil War.
Sadly, the area is currently riding a pretty severe wave of degradation and crime. Figures show that the overall crime rate is something like 350% up on the national average, while violent crime is soaring at more than 600% above the national average. More colloquial reports talk of residents who are unwilling to walk down certain streets or leave their kids out to play in the parks. Not good.
Commentators have put the decline down to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina back in late 2005, which damaged loads of property in the area and had a hand in decimating the local population by nearly a half. There are efforts underway to salvage the reputation of Saint Roch, though. More police details and community projects are being enacted, and there’s still hope that fortunes can be turned around.
We certainly hope that they can. This part of town not only oozes intriguing history and black heritage, but it’s also got one of the finest food halls in the city – nay, the world. Cue the St Roch Market. Done out in chic minimalist styles, this gastronomic hub of north NOLA offers everything from artisan Creole seafood cooking to Japanese sushi. We think it should be a must for foodies in New Orleans.
The 7th Ward is the cut-out of the north part of the city that buts right up to aforementioned Saint Roch. Sadly, it looks as though the wave of crime that’s hitting the latter is now firmly hitting the former. The district, straddling Interstate 10 and the bustling traffic lanes of St Bernard Avenue, now has the dubious honor of a violent crime rate that’s right up at 2,799 incidents per 100,000 head of population, not to mention property crime rates that are over 320% the national average. Yikes.
Again, a lot of the decline has been put down to the disastrous onset of Hurricane Katrina of 2005. It hit this part of the town particularly hard, flooding the streets, destroying houses, and bringing huge silt deposits inland from the Mississippi and the London Avenue Canal, which actually forms the northern boundary of the area as a whole.
Thing is, the 7th sits real close to the hip and happening Creole bar and shopping streets of well-known Faubourg Marigny. It seems like the obvious place for visitors who want to explore those more off-beat parts of the city. On top of that, there’s a rich human heritage here, because loads of New Orleans’s big-name jazz folks have their roots in this part of the metropolis, whether that’s singer Germaine Bazzle or songwriter Frank Ocean.
Don’t go confusing this one with the beloved Sunshine State. One’s a whole other US territory, replete with shimmering quartz beaches and bumping spring breaker towns on the Mexican Gulf. The other is unquestionably one of the most dangerous places in New Orleans, known sometimes as, simply, the Projects – hey, we’ve all seen The Wire, right?
With less than 1,500 permanent residents, it’s pretty shocking how much crime occurs in this small enclave of Marigny in north NOLA. Increasing almost 15% every year for the last couple of years, the violent crime rate here now hits a disconcertingly high level of about 105% more than the city’s overall average and more than 500% the national average. That contributes to an overarching general crime level of 2,347 incidents per 100k head of population – more than Baltimore!
Basically, don’t go here. The area is known as a hotspot for petty theft and pickpocketing but also way more serious offences like murder and rape. It’s not the sort of thing you want to encounter on your trip to the home of riverboats and jazz. Thankfully, the hipster hub of Bywater’s downtown area on the riverbanks isn’t far away. It’s about 30 minute’s walking to the south, offering cool wine bars and edgy music joints, just in case you get lost and wander Florida’s way by accident.
Finally, we head across to the Saint Claude quarter of Marigny. Again, it’s on the northern side of New Orleans. And again, it’s ridden something of a rollercoaster in the last 17 years since Katrina; peaks and troughs that have seen crime rates spike but also some good things (more on those later). First, though, the bad news…
Saint Claude sees much higher than average theft and petty crime levels, it counts 2,285 crimes per 100,000 head of population, which is only a smidgen off the four other most dangerous places in New Orleans that top this list, and there are hugely significant records of assaults in the region, to the tune of something like 10 times the national average!
Now that’s over with, the good stuff…Saint Claude is definitely on the up these days. A post-Katrina influx of artists and students, musicians and painters, has ensured that the area is slowly but surely establishing itself as something of a creative hub. There are new and exciting venues and workshops to explore, like the May Gallery and the vibrantly colored Aquarium Gallery N Studio, all supporting new takes on Creole culture and whatnot. Watch this space!
The most dangerous places in New Orleans to know about – our conclusion
Many of the most dangerous places in New Orleans you should know about as a traveler are in the northern part of the city, straddling the Marigny area, between the wide estuary waters of Lake Pontchartrain and the bends of the Mississippi River. Some – like Florida – we’d say to avoid entirely, because they don’t really have any POIs that make them worth the extra risk. Others do have some enticing things to see and do, like the food halls of Saint Roch or the art galleries of Saint Claud, however you will have to be extra careful if you do decide to venture in.