Blog#4: Progression of Community Development Tuesday, Sep 20 2011 

This blog is about 3 projects I saw in action in New Orleans that contribute to community development. There are many other projects I could include, but the main three I want to talk about were inspired by the same person so I will focus on them. The three projects I am talking about are “I wish this was…”, “Before I die I want to…” and Neighborland by Candy Chang and friends. Candy Chang is an artist from New Orleans that does work she hopes will help people feel more comfortable in their city. Below I will talk a bit about her projects and how they have spread across communities.

I Wish This Was:
Started in November 2010 with the Ethnographic Terminalia exhibit, this project took the “Hello, my name is _______” sticker idea and altered it to “I wish this was _______”. These stickers were then made available to citizens across the city in cafes, salons, stores and public places. The idea was that citizens could take these stickers to the many abandoned buildings around the city and write what they wanted to see these buildings become. This is a great community development project because it allows citizens to both share their hopes and imagination, as well as influence incoming development. All while using a “low barrier tool” that was made widely available.

The answers I saw were quite diverse and ranged from funny (Sparta), to crude (a whore house), to depressing (on fire), to knowledged (what it was), to hopeful (a grocery), and more. These stickers are now available internationally and have led to other forms of public discussion elsewhere. For example Candy used this idea in New York with post-it notes for people to share now much they are being charged rent and see if they were being ripped off. Below are some of the stickers I found around New Orleans!

I wish this was 1

I wish this was 1

I wish this was 2

I wish this was 2

MORE PICTURES AVAILABLE HERE:

http://candychang.com/i-wish-this-was/

http://iwishthiswas.cc/

Before I die I want to:
Started in February 2011, I feel that the “before I die I want to” wall is one of Candy’s “I wish this was” stickers come to life. With the help of some friends Candy essentially turned the side of an abandoned building into a giant chalkboard. They then stenciled “Before I die I want to _________” many times across the board for people to fill in. Once the board is full from people sharing, Candy takes a picture and then erases it for more people to share.

This means that instead of having yet another abandoned building in the city. One of them has now been transformed into a centre for sharing community goals and dreams, and getting people to think about what they want in life. A question that may still ring deep for New Orleanians after many were shown just how fragile life can quickly become. I decided to make my own addition to the wall by putting “Before I die I want to live in NOLA.” I don’t know if Candy stated this idea or not, but I found that it is used by other artists as well, and has spread around the world. Below is a picture of one of my dreams in writing (2nd column/3rd from the bottom), amongst many other people’s dreams.

Before I die 1

Before I die 1

Before I die 2

Before I die 2

Before I die 3

Before I die 3

MORE PICTURES AVAILABLE HERE:

http://candychang.com/before-i-die-in-nola/

http://beforeidie.cc/

Neighborland:
Still in “alpha testing” as of August 2011 (when I saw their presentation at the Rising Tide conference), Neighborland evolved out of the “I wish this was” project. Candy started to see that not only were people sharing their hopes and getting to see other’s hopes, but people were also responding to each other. The following is one example of the many conversations that arose: first came “I wish this was a grocery”, then a response to this hope “If someone can clean it out, I can provide the fresh produce”, then came “I would be happy to clean it out” and so on.

Neighborland is a website that brings all these conversations together in one place. Instead of going to each abandoned building around the city to see what people want in different areas, developers can now quickly see perhaps 12 people want a grocery in the Lower Ninth, 7 people want a theatre in Midcity, and so on. It also enables people to ask for things that were unrepresented with the stickers. Things like more buses in St Bernard Parish, fixed potholes on N Prieur St in the Lower Ninth, or a safer way for bikers to get across the Claiborne Bridge (see my first post for more on this one).

One big advantage of this website is that people can also share information on subsidies, or how they have overcome tricky building laws in the city. So if someone wants to start-up a restaurant they can learn from other restaurant owners what has worked and what hasn’t worked in order to save a bit of time and money. In some cases this could help make a difference between someone not opening a store because it seems to tricky and deciding to fulfill a dream because they have received support.

Finally I just wanted to touch upon something I saw come up at the conference that is also becoming an indirect benefit of the website. Someone had posted I want StoreX (I can’t remember the name) to reopen in Midcity on the site. To which someone replied StoreX is not in Midcity…its in this neighborhood. Upon hearing about this interaction on the site many people at the conference started stating that it was hard to tell the difference between certain areas, yet people get so defensive about where they’re from. The moderator took this as an opportunity to go around the room, ask everyone where they were from, and wrote a quick sentence on what that area meant to them. If that post continues we can obtain a better understanding of how New Orleanians see their neighborhoods and have another source for community development.

http://candychang.com/neighborland/

http://neighborland.org/

Hope y’all enjoyed this special piece, look for my next blog on the grand opening of the healing centre and an update on the food coop this weekend!
Bryan McGill @ YorkU

Blog#3: Smoking New Orleans Friday, Sep 16 2011 

August 24, 2011 I’m standing outside watching the sky. There is a storm going on like I’ve never seen before in my life. It is not raining at all, and after taking off my sandals and feeling the grass with my bare feet I find it hasn’t rained (would have been nice after 114°F temperatures that day). I look back at the sky and am amazed by the lightning filling the sky with light. This is a storm like none I’ve ever seen because: first, there is no rain; only endless lightning. Second, the lightning never seems to strike the ground, but travel from cloud to cloud like a dance of light. I don’t know why, but I find this storm so interesting I sit there and film the sky for 10 min and then call my girlfriend to tell her about it. She tells me it’s called heat lightning and is common, lol.

Anyways a few days pass and I wake up on August 27th or 28th smelling smoke and thinking the house is on fire. Apparently some of the heat lightning did strike ground on the 24th, out in Eastern New Orleans. A fire burned in Bayou Sauvage (located near I10 & I510) for a few days until it got out of control and started covering New Orleans and surrounding areas with smoke by August 28. Below are some pictures that Tanya and I took of the smoke billowing towards the city and choking the sun out of the sky on the 28th.

Swamp Fire

Swamp Fire

Swamp Fire 2

Swamp Fire 2

Blocking out the sun

Blocking out the sun

It only continued to get worse from there. On August 29th Tanya had to go to Baton Rogue for Red Cross paperwork before going to the east coast. When she got back she said she could smell the fire all the way there! (FYI, Baton Rogue is roughly 80 miles away from New Orleans). When I went to Eatin’ at Holmes’ for lunch that afternoon I also saw news coverage on the blaze. The coverage included an abundance of Facebook messages from concerned parents, that their children were having respiratory problems. Yet it seemed like the cities desicion was to let the fire keep burning as it was in a swamp and would eventually reach water.

I did find out recently though, that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality did declare the 29th an Action Day for the high levels of pm2.5 in the air. Then on the 30th the mayor declared the fire as an emergency and said it would start looking at possibilities to distinguish it. According to NOLA.ca, the fire had already burnt 2300 acres of land (equivalent to two and a half times the size of City Park) by that point. That day I trully felt the need and urgency of eliminating the fire. I was working with St. Bernard Project, demolishing a house in Midcity, but about an hour in, the wind started bringing the smoke our way until it filled the air. I started having problems breathing and by lunch time I had to call it quits. I went home and had to sleep for 4 hours on my last day in New Orleans. When I woke up my throat fealt rough and scratchy, and my clothes still smelt heavily of smoke. Below are a few pictures of the smoke covering my worksite that day.

Smoke behind the Demo

Smoke behind the Demo

I wasn’t going to write a blog about the marsh fire until I was emptying the rest of my suitcase the other day and could still smell smoke in it. I decided to look up online what became of the blaze and was shocked that it was only eventually put out the day before on September 11. However warnings continued to advise people with respiratory problems not to travel to NOLA because of air quality for another few days.

I was in NOLA during many heat warnings and an air quality alert and can say that I definitely felt the effects of both. But I don’t have any respiratory problems and was only there for one of the two weeks the fire burned before flying back to cooler Canada. I can’t imagine how rough it gets for the elderly, younger children with asthma and anyone with respiratory problems. Especially in a city that is already so hot, and has a large number of people that suffer respiratory from mold issues after Katrina.

Being made more aware of how true it is that “Heat Kills” I feel that heat emergencies should be taken more serious and there should have been stronger plans and attempts to put this fire out sooner. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the fire wasn’t taken as serious as it should have been, especially with the outcry of all the concerned parents. I encourage you to read some more blogs/news on the fire, and tell me what you think!

Bryan McGill (York University)

Blog#2: A taste of the culture Saturday, Sep 10 2011 

Food & Restaurants
Everyone that has been to New Orleans or done some reading on it knows it’s cooking is heavily influenced by its Cajun and Creole origins. Some of the more popular munchies include gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, po’boys, muffalettas and beignets. But where one culture’s influence stops and another starts is hard to say.

Po-Boys and Muffelettas at Arabi Food Store

Po-Boys and Muffelettas at Arabi Food Store

In fact, this was one of the topics I heard the “New Orleans Food: Continuity and Change” panel discuss at the 6th annual Rising Tide conference. They brought up the point that after Hurricane Katrina, it was just as easy for a new chef to establish themselves as an older chef. This meant that many chefs had the opportunity to take the traditional ways of cooking to new places. This re-invention of the New Orleans’ food scene in the past few years seems to have opened the door to more ethnicities being represented as well. Making the food in NOLA even more unique and diverse.

Eatin’ at Holmes’: Alright, so let me just say…E@H is where it is at! Maybe it’s just that I love breakfast food and this place gives you endless breakfast options at amazing prices, but I will never go to New Orleans without hitting up this place. “YOU CAN GET TWO SLICES OF BACON FOR $0.99, FOUR SLICES OF BACON FOR $1.98, OR SIX SLICES OF BACON FOR $2.97!!!”. Moving on, not only does this place offer almost anything you can think of for breakfast (including deep-fried PB&J) at reasonable prices (most things are $1 each), but it also has a real homey environment and great jazz oil painting on the wall. Check it out at 5340 St. Claude Ave in the Lower Ninth Ward!

Eatin' at Holmes' Main (but not full!) Menu

Eatin’ at Holmes’ Main (but not full!) Menu

The Joint: Another great restaurant and very unique place. Their motto is “The Joint…always smoking” as they have a smoke pit out back that they use to cook the meat (and draw you in!). Their restaurant looks and smells like a shack that my French Canadian grandfather built, but that’s part of what makes it so great! Their food is soo great that Playboy voted them to have the best ribs in the country; as my friends and close family know…I don’t care that much for ribs, yet this place has pulled me in more than a couple of times to enjoy the experience. Check it out at 801 Poland Ave in the Bywater!

All Hail THE JOINT!

All Hail THE JOINT!

Sno-Ball Stands: Sno-Balls are like snow cones, but apparently the difference is that they use shaved ice instead of crushed ice. I don’t know if there is a REAL difference…but to me it SEEMS the difference is that: At the end of a snow cone you are usually left with a clump of ice, but no syrup or flavour. Whereas with a sno-ball you are usually left with tons of syrup and flavour, even after the ice has long melted. What I do know about sno-balls for fact though is that the stands almost never offer less than 40 different flavours to choose from, and some stands can boast up to nearly 200! Check them out at…well, all over the city and St Bernard.

Floras: This restaurant threw me off a bit when I finally found it. I heard about it front a friend at The Green Project; she was eating some rad nachos and told me I could get some of them, or really good burritos at this place called Floras. So the next day I didn’t package a lunch and decided I would check out Floras. Well I was expecting a Mexican restaurant, and ended up walking by Floras a few times before I found out it was a small cafe on the corner of a street. When I entered I learnt that not only was it a cafe instead of a Mexican restaurant, but it had a great New Orleans feel. I ended up getting the biggest burrito I have eaten in my life and really enjoyed the atmosphere as I ate my lunch. Check it out at 2600 Royal St. in the Bywater!

The Big Fat Burrito I got at Floras (After a few bites out of it!)

The Big Fat Burrito I got at Floras (After a few bites out of it!)

Bayou Beer Garden: A pretty chill place I went to with the Green Project for a going away party for one of their staff. It’s more of a bar so I wouldn’t recommend going here for dinner or anything. Three points of interest that stuck out to me were: 1. It’s got a cool private patio out back for throwing parties 2. Since they didn’t have pitchers of beer, they sold buckets full of ice and bottles of beer at discount (this may be more common in New Orleans, but I have never seen it anywhere else) 3. They have the closest thing to poutine that I can find in New Orleans. Check them out at 326 N Jefferson Davis Pkwy in the Midcity.

My "Poutine" from Bayou Beer Garden (Or "Disco Fries (omg!)" as they called it)

My “Poutine” from Bayou Beer Garden (Or “Disco Fries (omg!)” as they called it)

Crescents Pie and Sausage Company: Gets its name from selling both meat pies and pizza pies that are quite yummy. It was great to get away from generic chain pizza and have a fresh stone baked pizza with interesting unique topics. Also, most of the bars I’ve been to in Toronto will offer up to 15 kinds of beer and I find this overwhelming. But at Crescents I was presented with over 30 kinds of beer to choose from. I like to tell myself that us Canadians (who are notorious for drinking beer) simply have the best beer already and don’t need other options…Yet the beer I had there goes toe to toe with any I’ve had in Canada and my hat goes off to anywhere that can provide you with a 2-4 and every bottle can be a different brand! Check it out at 440 Banks St. in the Midcity.

The Wing Shack: As many of the reviews online bring up, this place is so deep in DA HOOD that their featured drink is called ghetto punch, and you are served through revolving bullet-proof windows (although I heard rumors these windows were just as much for keeping their weed in, as for keeping crime out). It’s about this point where I bet you are wondering why I would suggest this place. Well, with 20+ flavors to choose from that all seem to be better than the last, this place is truly a hidden treasure in New Orleans. The wing shack brings all da boyz to da yard, and they’re like it’s better than…Yeah I fail…but trust me, check it out at 759 N Claiborne Ave in the Seventh Ward!

Music & Clubs
Cajun and Creole roots have had their influence on music as well as food, creating the genres of zydeco, swamp pop and rockabilly. However, to me it seems that New Orleans is more known for its music that has been influenced by African-American roots. During the slave trade, New Orleans served as a foci for Black artists trying to establish themselves in the ragtime music scene. As this scene developed and grew to include jazz, blues, and eventually hip-hop, music became so intertwined with the heart and soul of New Orleans that it is now inseparable.

Various Artists at The New Orleans Healing Centre: Tanya would probably wring my neck if she found out, but I can’t remember the names of the two artists I saw at the Healing Centres grand opening. I don’t want to say much about the grand opening since I will be writing a whole blog about it sometime this month. But I will say that I NEVER dance, yet when the second artist started playing “Down in The Treme” even I was up and grooving.

Show from the New Orleans Healing Centre

Show from the New Orleans Healing Centre

Lower Ninth Brass Band at Katrina Memorial Event: This was the first time I actually slowed down, relaxed and listened to a full brass band song with my undivided attention. I must say, it’s really amazing what they do. With the songs being so long and energetic I would get tired just holding the instrument up that long. But they not only keep it upbeat the whole time, but also dance around to get the crowd involved and hyped up.

Lower Ninth Brass Band

Lower Ninth Brass Band

Second-line on Tennessee St: One of the highlights of my trip was getting to be part of a second-line on the main street where all the Make It Right houses were built in The Lower Ninth Ward. The second-line was done in remembrance of those lost during Katrina and included a few Mardi-Gras Indians. I don’t know what else to say besides I came closest to feeling like a true New Orleanian as I marched down the street among brass instruments, Mardi-Grass Indians and other New Orleanians.

My First Second-Line!

My First Second-Line!

Mark Growden at Chickie Wah Wahs: From my understanding Mark is Tanya’s favorite artist in New Orleans, and I can see why. Mark is a truly friendly person who interacts with the audience before, during and after his show and seems laid back about it. Probably true to most of the music scene in New Orleans I’m sure…but Mark also seems to play for his love of the music, rather than any money. My favorite part of his shows has to be the number of instruments he plays (including BIKE HANDLES! Where else can you see someone seriously play bike handles?).

Mark Growden Playing BIKE HANDLES!

Mark Growden Playing BIKE HANDLES!

There were a few other parts of the culture I wanted to bring-up, but this post is getting quite lengthy so I will try to bring them up in other blogs. Or if anyone has any questions or comments please bring them up sooner!

Bryan McGill (York University)

Blog#1: Getting around is fun, but often stressful, and sometimes just dangerous! Tuesday, Sep 6 2011 

This is my first of six blogs and it is on travelling and transportation more generally. I’d love to just rant endlessly about how every time I take a plane it seems to get delayed or cancelled for the most unusual reasons I’ve heard of. For example, in 2008 my flight to Toronto via Chicago was delayed over night because Air Force One had to close Chicago O’Hare and land George W. Bush due to bad weather on his route. And don’t even get me started on buses and their tendency to be hours late (no joke, HOURS on multiple occasions). Anyways, my main point on travelling is that it often depends on a system of tight coupling between buses, customs, connecting flights, and an array of other random things like weather and whether or not your luggage shows up. If one small part of this system falls out-of-place, chances are everything will be effected, making part of your trip hectic and stressful. However, if you go into travelling expecting something to go wrong, you prepare yourself and won’t be stressed out as much if something does go wrong, and if nothing goes wrong then you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I have traveled quite a bit so I have more stories to share, however, I am done talking about how stressful travelling can be, and I want to talk about a more serious topic regarding transportation in New Orleans specifically. I am talking about biking in the city. Biking around downtown is fine, but once you start taking side streets, the side walks disappears in spots and if you ride on the road you have to avoid potholes, and cars avoiding potholes. I had a few cars come much too close because they were swerving out of the way of potholes.

The real death trap though, is for any bikers that need to cross the St Claude bridge. Which is the only way to get from the Upper Ninth to the Lower Ninth on bike without taking over an hour detour north. When I was in New Orleans in May we went across that bridge in big vans and liked the bumps Pascal made the bridge do. But as I saw bikes go over it I wondered how scary it would be to bike across it. I even remember seeing signs that someone put up that said “be kind, share the road” and had a picture of a bike.

Anyways a couple of months go by and I’m back on this bridge, but this time with a bike. YIKES! Let me tell you, going over that bridge on a bike felt illegal. There is not enough room for a bike and a car to cross at once, let alone a van or a truck. So to go over you have to hold up traffic behind you at the middle funnel; I had at least 3 cars honk at me, and once I got through they sped past me. I quickly rode to the end of the bridge thankful to have my life and decided I wasn’t going on that bridge again. On the way home I rode my bike under the bridge, carried it up some stairs, walked it through the pedestrian walkway, and then down the stairs on the other end. I stated to think that maybe bikers were supposed to use this walkway too and only those who were in a hurry took the bridge. So I asked someone who has lived in the city for 20 years, works for Sierra Club and is an advocate for biking in the city (in fact he put up some of the signs I mentioned earlier). He said not only are bikers not supposed to use that walkway, but that it was actually illegal!!!

I was debating whether or not I wanted to include this post on travelling and transportation, but 3 days after I got home Tanya sent me an email on a police report about a man on a bike was hit and killed after being thrown from his bike on the St. Claude bridge.
http://projectnola.com/police-alerts/view-all-nopd-e-alerts/157765-nopd-investigating-fatality-on-the-saint-claude-avenue-bridge-new-orleans-police-de-partment-public-i-nformation-office-
I find it extremely scary that somebody died in the same spot I feared for my own life only weeks ago. This is obviously saying something about the bridge and I feel something has to be done. However, I don’t want to end any of my NOLA blogs on a downer. So I will end by encouraging everyone who is going to New Orleans to be safe on your bike (or be kind and share the road if your driving) and to watch out for free guided bike tours from Daryll Malek-Wiley. Or swing by his Sierra Club office and pick up a Lower Ninth Ward Self-Guided bike tour pamphlet (Darryl.Malek-Wiley@sierraclub.org).

Look for my 2nd blog “taste of the culture” later this week.
Bryan McGill (Env. Studies @ YorkU)

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