As we lay another year to rest it is hard to resist the urge to speculate on what lies ahead. As a travel planner this comes with a built-in complication. 2015 is in many ways past all speculation.  Trips have been announced, itineraries set.  Boatloads of hard work and preparation are still to come but an essential aspect of ‘what’s next’ for the coming year has long since been decided.  So it is in these waning days of a difficult, yet personally rewarding year, that I find my speculation lies not in 2015 but in the year beyond that, in the still distant 2016 and with new and newly interesting places.  Along with all the known-to-be-wonderful cities like New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and London, some new spots have been increasingly on my mind.  My short list right now has on it two resurgent American cities--New Orleans and Detroit--and two cold, northern European cities--Helsinki and Reykjavik.
Even for a travel planner it is a bit early to make decisions about actual destinations for the year after the year not yet arrived.  These cities are not  ‘under consideration’ so much as  ‘caught my eye’ or ‘found myself thinking about’; places where the cultural energy just seems to be bubbling up in new and interesting ways.  Places where things are not yet set so there is the extra promise of the new and the unexpected.
With only room and time to write about one city per post, I’d like to start with that most festive of American cities in honor of tomorrow night's fun.  That town is, of course, New Orleans.  Detroit, Helsinki and Reykjavik—we’ll come back to you in the new year...
New Orleans—so does it really take a travel planner to point this one out?  No and yes.  I—like two centuries worth of other people—have always had a weak spot for this beautiful destination, a food town, a fun town, a music town, a visual stunner, Degas’s ‘other city’—who could not love it?  
It has also been—and long before Katrina came to town to just about finish it off-- a very tough place to live with its high crime rate and its crumbling infrastructure.   I have to admit to wondering in the wake of the hurricane’s destruction if this would be New Orleans’s coup de grace.  Maybe this below sea level port city was designed to flourish in centuries and economies that have now passed.  It happens to cities.  In fact, it happens all the time.  But nine years after Katrina, it seems clear that there is an ever-increasing gathering of cultural steam.  
Beasts of the Southern Wild was my first clue though I am sure the evidence was all around if only I’d been paying attention.  This 2012 independent film--the one that introduced Quvenzhane Wallis to the world--was made by Court 13, an artists/ filmmakers/everything collective based in New Orleans.  The film has a particular blend of raw energy and visually sophisticated power that could only spring from this native soil.  Post-apocalyptic and really interesting.  It made me wonder what else was happening down there.  I have since increasingly come across things that further piqued my interest. I’ll mention just a few.  There’s the really engaging ‘musical architecture’ (The Music Box;  The Music Box: The Kiev Outpost; Chateau Poulet) being done by New Orleans Airlift,  another only-in-New-Orleans artists collaborative that blends a street art sensibility with residencies for artists of international stature. 
The Joan Mitchell Center, an arm of the  Joan Mitchell Foundation, is now permanently headquartered in the Treme section of New Orleans and it also has a focus on artist residencies.  
Since 2008,  New Orleans has hosted its own biennial—though since it happens roughly every 3 years it is usually referred to as its ‘biennial’.  The exhibitions in the current  Prospect 3 are up through mid-January and while this iteration has been met with decidedly mixed reviews, it continues to be big and ambitious and, perhaps equally  important, it continues to use venues throughout the city. I always think this ‘we’re all involved’ is good for any city’s soul and I don’t remember it being much a part of pre-Katrina New Orleans with the obvious exception of Mardi Gras.  The Inside Arts New Orleans site now lists 15 art museums and institutions in addition to the city's flagship New Orleans Museum of Art as well as a staggering 48 galleries.  Many of these galleries are located in the newly revitalized Warehouse district as is the Contemporary Arts Center and the new, wildly popular National World War Two Museum. 
There is an equally new something going on with the food scene. I’ll mention a few restaurants that seem to be in the groove of ‘only in New Orleans meets post-Katrina’.   Doris Metropolitan is a sleek new steak house with a menu that successfully and somewhat improbably draws on the co-owners’s Isreali heritage. The menu at Oxalis’s  is a lively blend of  gastropub fare with  Cajun flavors and Peche is giving older oyster bars in this bi-valve-obsessed city a run for their money with its impeccable sourcing of all sea living things.  Peche has also just won two James Beard awards.  Ryan Prewitt for Best Chef in the South and the establishment for Best New Restaurant (as in 'the nation'…). Move over Galatoire’s, Camellia Grill and Central Grocery.  There’ll be no laurel-resting in this town no matter how fine these old school spots remain.  There is a new style of cooking come to town and it is at its best and most creative…

It is heartening in its own way to know things aren’t all prettied up yet either. This new iteration of New Orleans now nearly 10 years in the making still has plenty of foment and mystery.  Take it from Court 13.  As it says on their website, ‘Court 13 exists where life is mysterious and springing wild’.

I most definitely could not have said this better myself…

But this I can say--Happy 2015 and to all that lies ahead!

Cheers and now have some oysters...you'll be glad you did.