Bienville’s Dilemma and the Founding of New Orleans – Episode #53

Cover of Bienville's Dilemma, written by Author Richard Campanella
Bienville's Dilemma, by Richard Campanella
Cover of Bienville's Dilemma, written by Author Richard Campanella
Bienville’s Dilemma, by Richard Campanella

Bienville’s Dilemma and the Founding of New Orleans

In the Spring of 1718, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville presided over a small ceremony on the banks of the Mississippi River and officially founded what we know today as the City of New Orleans.

How did Bienville come to choose this site for New Orleans? What were the other options and how do those decisions impact New Orleanians today?

In today’s episode we explore Bienville’s Dilemma with noted author and geographer Richard Campanella. In Richard’s book, Bienville’s Dilemma, he explains the factors that led to the decision to place New Orleans at its present site, rather than at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

You’ll learn the important differences between a good site and a good situation, and why that mattered to the French. We also settle the question of whether New Orleans is predominantly above or below sea level.

As we move forward in time, Richard and I discuss how decisions made at the very beginning of New Orleans continue to impact the city today.  Richard also explains how even today you can use subtle clues to retrace the past, including the former boundaries of the plantations that lined the Riverfront from below the French Quarter all the way Uptown to present-day Riverbend in the Carrollton neighborhood.

Join us for a nearly 300 year journey from Bienville to post Katrina New Orleans. You’ll be rewarded with a new understanding and appreciation for the Crescent City.

All this and more on today’s show!

Time Stamps

4:45     Bienville’s Dilemma – safest site or best strategic location?
8:15     Site versus situation
15:15   Trace Bienville’s route as you exit Jazz Fest
16:35   Truth or Myth: is New Orleans mostly below sea level?
20:15   Ooze and the development of the land we now call New Orleans
23:30   The earliest days of New Orleans
36:35   New Orleans is founded
29:20   New Orleans first hurricane
31:20   What is an arpent?
33:10   Plantation lot lines and why New Orleans streets don’t always line up
38:20   Grand Avenues and Pocket Parks
43:20   Battures and scours
45:50   Creole and other ethnicities in New Orleans
55:00   The White Teapot
57:50   Ever wonder why New Orleans feels like a small town?


You can find Richard on line at You’ll find excerpts from all of his books, as well as a wonderful collection of images of New Orleans.

Richard’s books are available at local New Orleans booksellers, including Octavia Books, Garden District Book Shop and Maple Street Book ShopYou can also purchase an autographed copy of Bienville’s Dilemma directly from Richard. Send him an email at:

For scenes of New Orleans life as well as a steady stream of articles about the city, be sure to follow Richard on Twitter (@nolacampanella).

Want to Make Your Trip to New Orleans the Best Ever?

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You complete a brief questionnaire to help us get to know you and the experience you want to have in New Orleans. Next, we set up a 20-30 minute phone or video call. During the call, we get to know you a little better. We can clarify any questions and bounce a few ideas off of you to make sure we ‘re on the right track.

Finally, we prepare and deliver a pdf document with our recommendations for your trip. Depending on your needs the report will contain specific places to stay, eat and drink. It will also offer suggestions on things to do and see, all based on your budget and interests.

Sound good? Just go to for all the details and a link to order the service.

Thank You

Thanks to Richard Campanella for joining me on the podcast. His lens as a geographer helps me see New Orleans in an entirely different light. I’ll never wander the streets of Uptown New Orleans again without appreciating the subtle curves, the slices of green space, and the streets that sometime jog left or right when you least expect them.

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