Pothole Potential

A look at this underused New Orleans natural resource

New Orleans made national headlines last summer when residents along Esplanade Avenue were photographed using a giant pothole in that street for a swimming pool. Given the relentless heat, it was a small stroke of genius.

From an entrepreneurial standpoint, though, this was an opportunity missed. Surely other residents would have gladly paid for a dip in those refreshing waters; one can envision lines stretching several blocks down the neutral ground. Why did no one open a concession stand selling summer beverages and snacks? Or develop and market a line of streetwise swimwear, accessories and pothole pool toys?

Given that potholes are pretty much everywhere in our swampy city, they deserve more attention as entrepreneurial resources. Beside neighborhood pool (or in summer, hot tub) opportunities, other options could include:

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Pop-up crawfish boils. Why lug those giant pots around when there is a conveniently located boiling vat near you? Throw in the mudbugs, add the corn, potatoes and sausage, season to taste, and the afternoon sun will have everything simmering in no time. Shrimp, crabs and/or palmetto bugs could also be boil options.

Underground cave tours. As deep as some of the potholes go, they must link to subterranean sites ripe for exploration. A little tunneling could expand the tour lengths, and even link one pothole to another. Why not pothole pub crawls? Think of the artifacts that could be discovered: everything from brothel tokens to Rex scepters, from discarded dueling pistols to voodoo ritual relics. There would be spectacular underground bead formations to observe, and even finding an antique car or two would not be out of the question.

Greenhouses. Our subtropical paradise encourages lush foliage of many kinds. Tapping into that rich subsurface soil would make for a great plant nursery. Plus, the next time the state increases the number of medical marijuana growing licenses, these facilities could be in demand.

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Oil wells. It’s a wonder that none of our potholes has yet been observed gushing up that black gold, but oil cannot be that much farther down. Entrepreneurs pursuing this approach might want to start with those divots closest to various gas stations, both operating and abandoned. With the former, this would facilitate ease of product delivery; with the latter, there is always the possibility of tapping into one of those old gasoline storage tanks that somehow never quite got cleaned up.

And who knows what other marketable resources might be accessed from these yawning chasms? From paving supplies like oyster shells to any number of fertilizers (see greenhouses, above), from lead leached out of the water pipes to enough bricks to build several houses, New Orleans potholes are an endless resource.

Athletic facilities and courses. Jumping skills are a part of many sports; leaping across, or in and out of, potholes would be excellent training for these athletic endeavors. If enough potholes could be found in proximity to each other — a distinctly likely scenario — a world-class steeplechase course could be set up, offering an exciting new alternative to regular road races.

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Mobile axle repair and alignment services. For entrepreneurs not interested in diving into the potholes themselves, myriad auxiliary opportunities abound. The most obvious is fixing those unfortunate vehicles that drive through these devastating divots. Setting up a specialized repair van nearby could be very lucrative. A little surreptitious rearranging of traffic cones and barricades could help increase customer volume.

As long as New Orleans streets continue to be one giant Whac-a-Mole game, with two potholes opening up every time one is filled, these gaping gashes in the pavement will remain a remarkable natural resource. Put your entrepreneurial creativity to work, and you, too, could be in the national news!

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.


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