Do You Want Fries With That? Friday, Aug 28 2015 

TW K10

When the McDonald’s opened on Judge Perez in Chalmette in May 2012 I was pretty excited (especially for an environmentalist). To me it represented growth, change and recovery. In fact, you could say that McDonald’s represented hope to me:

  • It was going to be open 24 hours a day in the heart of Chalmette.
  • It has free wi-fi providing access to people who can’t afford it.
  • It has “healthy” food (hey, it’s the south. McDonald’s has salad and yogurt!)
  • It was the third location to open in da parish.

It was the last point that was most important to me. I can’t imagine a multi-national corporation investing capital/supporting a franchisee to build a new location if they didn’t think it would be sustaining. The large number of other fast food chains popping up support this logic too.  Sandwiched as it is between the Lower 9th ward — which has almost nothing by way of groceries/restaurants — and New Orleans East — which is also a food desert, St. Bernard is experiencing a recovery of sorts economically, even when on a personal level people are still suffering.

St. Bernard Parish was about 50% returned as of the last census, maybe 55-60% now. It’s a changed community. Lots more green space — where houses used to be — and not everyone is home.

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So many people have moved across the lake to St. Tammany Parish that its nickname is now St. Tamm-Bernard. So certainly, recovery does not mean restoration to a pre-Katrina state. That is, unfortunately, never going to happen.

But the McDonald’s made me think…and these are questions I’ll be asking in my dissertation research…

  • What are your signs of recovery?
  • What was the marker (or what will it be if it hasn’t happened yet) that let you know your community is in recovery/has recovered?
  • What makes you feel like your home is back?

Because I feel like we have a lot of “fake signs of recovery“. Take this “lovely” social housing project for example.

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Known as Marrero Commons, these houses, just a few blocks away from me on Martin Luther King Blvd are supposed to replace BW Cooper/Calliope. Until Katrina there were 1,550 units. Construction started in 2008 and people moved in four years later. According to the HANO website there are 250 units, of which 143 are public housing. Phase One cost of $158 million. Even assuming that the website is out of date, there were over 4,000 residents pre-Katrina and less then 1,000 at the 2010 census.

Or what about this lovely patch of green grass and fresh mulch on the neutral ground on Claiborne in the Lower 9th. I was workers out laying this on August 19th and 20th 2015…just in time for the President and all the media that is descending for K10.

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I guess it’s important that the L9 looks good this week, but it doesn’t matter how the community feels about it the rest of the year. Are they not important enough for nice grass?

So tell me GNO folks. Have you a personal marker of recovery? What is it?

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Why We Came Home Wednesday, Aug 26 2015 

TW K10 – The K10 anniversary has produced so much media coverage and reminiscences that it has become overwhelming. Instead of writing and posting I wanted to hide. And I wasn’t even here during Katrina. Hence the trigger warning.

A couple weekends ago I was driving to Mississippi with my chosen-sister Alexis. She was 10 during Katrina and lived in St. Bernard Parish. I was explaining to her the nature of my PhD research and its focus on examining resiliency and recovery in order to figure out why people return after a catastrophic disaster.

She looked at me like I had two heads. “Because it’s home sissy. Where else would we go?” This perfectly sums up what I’ve heard from everyone in the 7 years I’ve been visiting New Orleans. Because it’s home. (Now to turn that sentence into a 100 page dissertation!)

Picture by Amanda Fotes

Picture by Amanda Fotes

Last night I read an article by Lolis Eric Elie who I had the privilege of meeting several years ago at a Resurrection After Exoneration fundraiser. Lolis is a brilliant writer and this piece captures the spirit of the city in a way unlike I’ve seen anyone do. “Why We Came Home” looks at the good and the bad, the positive and negative, the hope and despair. New Orleans is not a perfect city and never will be, but what city is? It is vibrant and full of hope though, while at the same time teetering on the edge of depression and sadness.

Like my sister Alexis said it’s about home. The piece isn’t worded “Why We Came Back” because that leaves out the essence of New Orleans. It’s “Why We Came Home” because home = NOLA.

do you know what it means

For those who have never been to New Orleans I hope this piece captures some of the vibrancy of the city and yet explains its underbelly. For those who have visited my wish is that you see pieces you remember in Lolis’ words. For those who returned and are rebuilding your lives and your city I hope the author captured your reasons and if not, please share yours in the comments to continue this discussion. For those, like me, who have moved here since Katrina, I’m sure this piece reminds you of your reasons for planting roots in NOLA. For those who evacuated and have yet to make it back, come home soon, we need you here.

Unforgettable Thursday, May 17 2012 

NOTE: Was unable to post this on the day it was written. These words reflect my thought process on Thursday, May 10, 2012.

As I sit in the driveway of the opportunity house we have been working on this week (which others in our class worked on last week), I find myself daydreaming about the family that will one day purchase this home and begin a new life here. Will they have children who play with chalk in the driveway? Will they have a car? And if so, what type of car? Maybe they’ll set up a BBQ in the backyard and have neighbours over once they settle in. Although we do not have the opportunity to meet the home owners of this house (tragically they passed after Hurricane Katrina in 2006), I am fulfilled knowing that our hard work will benefit someone’s life and provide them with the opportunity to come home.

A man who owns the lumber yard in St. Bernard Parish struck up a conversation with me in the Family Dollar parking lot the other day and remarked that in life there will be ups and downs no matter what and one must be prepared to fall down into the valley when hard times hit and be willing to WORK to make it back to the top of the mountain as no one – even God, if that fits your beliefs – will lift you up if you are not positive and determined to make an effort to climb your way out of that valley.

To quote a lovely gentleman I met at the The Green Project last week (he was searching for wood-framed screens for his home), “You only live once, might as well live right”. Luck (or whatever you want to call it) comes and goes, seasons change, lives are birthed and lost… but with ALL this comes a new beginning. The areas in New Orleans that flooded after Katrina hit are now once again experiencing regrowth, rebuilding, reintegration, and return. Being here has caused me to really appreciate the meaning of YOLO.

My back reached a point of exhaustion two evenings ago (I experience chronic pain due to minor scoleosis, a curve in my spine) and screamed out for me to take a rest and pay more attention to myself. Part of me feels selfish and a bit useless – which is quite frustrating – but I know that taking it slow will be beneficial in the long run. Everyone has been so kind and supportive (walking to get me pizza when I stayed in one night, buying supplies from the drug store to help ease the pain, making my bed for me since bending under the bunk was quite taxing at first, checking in to see how I’m doing etc. etc.) and I just want to take this moment to give a shout out to y’all! Thank you so very much. Your concern and understanding has helped me keep my cool and avoid feeling guilty for having to take time off from our primary mission in NOLA as student volunteers.

I am itching to get back to work so I will quickly finish this reflection and continue painting the flat ends of the shoeboards in the last few rooms of this house on Seville in Gentilly. Miniscule work compared to some of the larger jobs that are taking place around me (in that the progress made is much more noticeable), however I continue to repeat the St. Bernard Project motto in my mind and I feel gratified with my work: “Quality, not quantity”. Although timing and deadlines are important, it is essential that these homes are built with care so that the family that moves in can be proud of their home and enjoy it for many years to come. As Pastor Randy said, you may really want to get that 2×4 up and get as much work done as possible in a day… but if the homeowner or another resident comes by and starts to speak to you, give them that time to have a conversation as they may need you more than that 2×4 needs to be installed. Toronto2Nola… forever in my heart.

Peace, love, happiness, and social justice… JMN

Something from nothing…

… and back to the earth.

From the Big City to the Big Easy! Maria’s Going to NOLA ☺ Tuesday, Feb 7 2012 

Welcome to my blog! My name is Maria and I’m one of the lucky few who are taking part in Ryerson’s 2012 Community Field Experience in New Orleans. I’d love to say I’m a seasoned blogger but, truthfully, this is my first one! The aim of this platform is to share my thoughts, questions, knowledge and insight on my upcoming New Orleans trip!  This May, a group of 22 multi-disciplinary students and I are heading to New Orleans, Louisiana to aid in post-Katrina and BP Oil Spill relief efforts. Over the next few months, we will be fundraising, publicizing and educating as many people as possible on our goals for the trip, as well as share some bits of New Orleans from our studies that may be new to some of you.

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Baby Aiden from the D.R! Loved this little guy!

As a 3rd year Criminology student at Ryerson University, I’m no stranger to being exposed to new and unfamiliar material. The vast majority of my studies include learning about people, places and circumstances that I have never seen nor experienced before. And while theoretical knowledge is useful in many academic respects, I find that some of the best learning experiencing I’ve had were the ones where I got my hands dirty, so to speak.

While this is my first time to New Orleans, I participated in a similar trip, a few years ago. In 2006, a group from my community and I ventured to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and assisted in relief efforts in some of the area’s poorest villages. We met the locals, listened to their stories and had the opportunity to do some really great work with some wonderful people who just needed a few sets of extra hands to get by. It gave a group of small town kids the opportunity to connect with people that we would have, otherwise, never had the privilege of meeting and connecting with.

Trips like these bridge gaps, open minds and allow for a deeper understanding of cultural, economic and environmental issues around the globe.  I’m sure our two weeks in NOLA will fly by, but I intend to soak in as much of the experience as possible. I believe it’s important for our NOLA group to understand the hardships that the community of New Orleans have undergone as a result of Katrina and the BP Spill. However, I also think it’s equally as pressing to work together and formulate plans that will aid in regaining their sense of pride in their community to move towards a brighter future. My upcoming New Orleans experience is one that I’ve been pining for since getting accepted into the course, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to not only be a part of it, but to share my reflections and experiences with all of you, along the way.

Take Care!

Maria 🙂

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NEW ORLEANS! I’m gonna blog the crap outa y’all! Monday, Aug 29 2011 

Rebuilding the City

Hey Everyone!

Hope everyone is well! As some of you may know, I have been back in New Orleans since Aug. 19th and will be staying here until the 31st. I must say it has been another roller coaster ride of experiences and emotions as I get pulled deeper into the vibes and rhythms of the city. But I am going to keep this short and sweet…for now 😉 Just wanted to get everyone excited by letting y’all know y’all have 10 blogs coming from me over the next few weeks on my adventure here and different things I have come across. I will definitely be writing a blog about Robert Christy’s welcoming home party as well as topics including “Neighborland”, The New Orleans Healing Centre Grand Opening, and a brief look into the interviews I did with some citizens. If anyone would like to see any specific topics PLEASE let me know and I will get them in there! ❤ And everyone please comment and share what you think about what I have to say and share it with friends. The more help everyone gives me with this series of blogs, the better my next set will be from my next visit!

Bryan McGill (5th Year Environmental Studies Student @ York University, Toronto)

My Katrina Anniversary Project Saturday, Aug 27 2011 

I’m heading to the East Coast on Monday or Tuesday to work with the American Red Cross response to Hurricane Irene. Not sure where I’ll be placed yet or any real details beyond the fact that I’ll be working as a Shelter Supervisor. Wish me luck…

New Orleans: A collection of photos Tuesday, Aug 16 2011 

I’ve been back to New Orleans now 3 times since my first trip down in 2009, with one more visit planned for the end of the month. I still can’t explain what it is about the city that gets under your skin and refuses to leave your head, but it has to be something about the character and personality of New Orleans, the spirit and resilience of its inhabitants. As a volunteer, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to meet people from all over the world who are just as baffled as me. How can this place seem so much like home? How can spending any amount of time here change your life so completely? In all honesty, if I could, I would pack up and move there for good.

I last spent months at a time living in the Lower Ninth Ward, but with every visit, no matter the length, I am still as completely captivated by the neighbourhood as I was the first time I stayed there. There is a quiet, eerie beauty. With every intersection, another empty lot. Around every corner, another house sitting abandoned. But the pace of change surprises me. A year after my first visit, a small community has popped up with more houses than empty lots at one intersection. Granted, the recovery is soon entering it’s 7th year, and with the anniversary of Katrina looming around the corner most residents of the city should be home. This isn’t the case, so I try to see every individual homecoming as a small victory. People haven’t given up trying to come home yet, and I can’t help but feel optimistic.

Skyline

Claiborne Bridge

Spray paint and storm walls

Austin

nrobertson

Florida Ave.

Roots

Stairs

Florida Projects

This is a series of photos taken since 2009, mostly in or around the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.
© Amanda Fotes 

Do You Know What It Means? Monday, Aug 15 2011 

A two year out reflection from Stephanie – one of the 2009 NOLA students.

post-installation - Stephanie cleaning

Stephanie Cleaning post-insulation installation. Her favourite job.

This is my attempt to fully articulate  the impact New Orleans has had on me. First of all, I’ll start by admitting that going to New Orleans was tough, but coming back was a lot tougher. Preparing for this trip took more courage than I ever imagined and I really had to step outside of my comfort zone in order to pursue this two week journey. I went back and forth debating whether or not I could actually go through with it until one day I bought a plane ticket and locked myself in… No regrets since that day.

I’ll begin by saying that I have extreme anxiety when it comes to flying and I’ll never forget my traumatizing experience flying home from NOLA. It was a small plane, a lot of turbulence, and we went through a thunder-storm.

Royjan, Stephanie and Jo land in Buffalo

Royjan, Stephanie and Jo land in Buffalo after an eventful plane ride

I cried a lot that day, but when I sat down and reflected on that experience, I felt selfish. How could I possibly feel traumatized traveling by something that is way safer than being in a car? How could these irrational feelings actually compare to the devastation, physical and emotional trauma the residents of New Orleans almost 6 years ago? How could anything I’ve ever been through compare to the pain and suffering thousands of people endured at this time?

So what do you say to someone you meet in New Orleans?
Nothing.
You listen.
You listen to the individual experiences people have prior to Katrina, during Katrina and their ongoing struggle to maintain the bright spirits that they have today.
You listen to the stories of strength, hope as well as what it takes to truly survive something so catastrophic.
You listen to how they were able to overcome obstacles that many of us will never have to experience in our lifetime.

You might even wonder how they can possibly be the most optimistic people you will ever meet.

Prior to leaving for New Orleans, I remember looking at as much footage as possible in order to prepare myself for what was to come.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. I remember thinking that after 4 years, every single house should have been inspected and at least well on their way to repair. There was an overwhelming amount of houses that had not been searched, or had been searched, but abandoned. One of the most intense moments for me personally was to see a yellow sided house that read, “Lisa + Donnie R OK” in person. This is an image that came up in several types of media and at this moment, I was actually standing in front of the house. It was so surreal.

One of the first days that our group was in New Orleans, we were touring around, taking in the scenery and I can’t even count how many people offered to grill us something on the barbecue or drive us where we needed to go. On our first day of work, we met a lovely lady that was rebuilding her house.

Prepping for insulation work...L to R: Ahmed, Chris, Stephanie, Tanya, Kealey and AmeriCorps guy

She was STILL living in a FEMA trailer and while we were putting up insulation in her house, she made us nine different Louisiana dishes (from her trailer). We definitely did not ask  her to do this for us, but we were grateful that she did. I know that it exposed me to many dishes that I might not have been able to experience and it allowed me to fully understand what Southern hospitality was…first hand!

Miss Rebecca's meal for the students

MIss Rebecca's meal...

Over the course of two weeks, I met so many people who were willing to share their stories with me and I brought them home to my family and friends. For the first two months after coming home, all I did was talk about New Orleans. Over 2 years has gone by and it’s still a regular topic of conversation.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
I do.
Everyday.

Sign on the wall of St Charles Guesthouse

A Reflection After 2 Years — Isaac Coplan Thursday, Aug 4 2011 

A view from the mini-van mirror. Isaac is in the red shirt in the middle.

I was part of the 2009 group, the maiden voyage. Even after two years, I feel like NOLA is still with me, or maybe I’m with NOLA. When I’m walking around, and I see something I think of something that happened in NOLA. The other day I was having a discussion with a friend who I met in NOLA on the trip, Ahmad Taib. We decided that individually, our group had done a fair amount of work; however, the real change is coming through the dedication of Pascal Murphy and Tanya Gulliver who are amplifying the experience of our group through continuing the program. There is need for this to continue. Change, in this case really can start with a small experiment. This trip allowed me to be part of a group who cared about the world. I was dedicated to taking whatever actions I could to make things at least a little better. I was also motivated by curiosity and a desire to learn through experience; I invaded NOLA hungry to devour everyone’s information (and a few po’ boy sandwiches along the way).

The 416/647/905 to the 504 boy band – Isaac, Said and Chris.

There have been a lot of questions in my mind in the last two years about the volun-tourism industry. There is significant evidence that shows that in some circumstances, NGOs can bypass state plans and enforce top-down agendas on communities. However, what we did in New Orleans was very different. We were rebuilding houses that had stood there before the hurricane. A Hurricane that SHOULDN’T have done the damage it did. I didn’t arrive in New Orleans with answers, I arrived with questions.

In a strange way, if there had not been a Katrina I would not have met so many people. I would not have had the opportunity to go and work in the Lower Ninth Ward. Since I do believe in the ripple effect, I can say that Katrina has also changed my life. In response to the storm, I was part of a group of students and professors who share a similar compassion for the world.

Isaac and pals work on a house in the Lower Ninth Ward, May 2009. Left to right: Isaac, Chris, Said, Kevn and Ahmed.

I will be returning to New Orleans, Louisiana.

There, I said it publicly, no take-backs.

Countdown to 6th Anniversary Tuesday, Aug 2 2011 

Hard to believe it has almost been 6 years since Katrina. Over the next month, I’ll be blogging – along with some of the past NOLA students – about recovery and on-going work that continues. New Orleans and St. Bernard continue to suffer the after-effects of a storm long past.

If you have questions you want answered, topics you’d like to see covered, or picture requests, please post them in the comments section here and we will do our best to respond.

Lower 9th ward, January 2011

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