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.


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.


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 Even assuming that the website is out of date, there were over 4,000 residents pre-Katrina and less then 1,000 at the 2010 census.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.


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?


When Levees Break – A Poem for Katrina Survivors Thursday, Mar 24 2011 

Before the levees break, only the sound of the wind

relentless as a freight train, glass shatter, and the rain, always the rushing rain.


Before the levees break, you know water.

Here where you are born, raised to the river, scent of magnolias

the last lingering note of a jazz tune.

Here where you drink in this thickness

with your first gulp for gulf air, carry it rich in your blood.


Before the levees break you are getting prayed up,

prayed up to God, and God please, God please, God please.

You fill up your tub with tap water, as instructed.

Let me be a vessel.


When the levees break with a boom, boom, boom,

You think they may have been blown up by the army.

It has been done before and after all,             if they can kill

a president, rig an election, or two, how hard

to drown a few thousand poor black people?


When the levee is breached by some hulking mass of barge,

an unexpected nightmare birth and water breaking

the levees break with water you climb

and pray, climb and pray higher:

your top step, your first floor window ledge, your attic, your roof.

your sign: The water is rising  — help us please!

When the copters fly by you wave

a red flag, a white flag, your help us please.


When the levees break the holidaying rich find it ironic.

Humanity Street is flooded, and the Circle Food Store is underwater.


When the levees break your neighbour floats

for three days, strapped to some beer kegs.

You tell him to stay strong, he’ll make it,

try to pass him some food, but you can’t reach

can’t swim, and another body floats by.


When the levees break, not just the levees break1

The truth pulled taut and thin snaps, an over-stretched elastic band

skipping lies and rumours, across dark waters

like flat, sharp stones, lodging in the vigilante heart.


When the levees break, herded in the Superdome like cattle in

some floundering land-locked ark.

No food, no water, no medicine (no rape, no murder, no mayhem).

Only the spirit of the people clapping it up

Your song and praise, shining, This little light of mine

and the big lovin brother who leads the parade.


When the levees break with a boom, boom, boom in Algiers,

spitting out white fear, untruth, racism with the buckshot,

they are hunting young black men for sport, like pheasant.


When the levees break, you, a vessel in the water

with a tire, an old door, refrigerators, your cousin’s boat

pulling the people, up and out, up and out

You, who stayed with your grandparents, saving.

But too late for Eddy, the guy next door

a body floating by, swolled up

two times larger than life.


When the levees break, you got nowhere to go

Stranded on an overpass, passed over, turned away at gunpoint.

Everywhere water: too much and not enough–

the tub you filled, washed away with your house–

And anything for a drop of rain on the tongue, a drop

of water that never comes.


When the levees break in Algiers

they are shooting young black men for sport, like pheasant.


When the levees break, not just the levees break

Your disappointed question, Where is my government?

Shopping, tasting, on the ranch: Gourmands Gone Fishing.

The despicable Bush, despicably absent

tells jokes, plays air guitar, looks out the window.

And nothing from FEMA, no drop

of water from FEMA, Fuck FEMA.


After the levees break, the buses that never come:

folks lined up on the sidewalk, cracking in the sun

waiting for days and four days waiting.

Pinning a note with your name and number

to your Mama slumped

dead in her wheelchair, waiting.

Though you push her body aside

she will always be waiting

slumped beside you.


After the levees break, not just the levees break

The violence of your rescue, ripped in two, four, six

on the block, refugeed away from home.

You in Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, your sister in Colorado.

And your precious child, where is your precious child?


After the levees break, you don’t know where you’re at

which pile of rubble is your house, which row of piles your street,

the corner where the old men drank their beer.

The insurance company offer: more money for your shed than your home.

You take pills to turn off your dreams, but they don’t work.

How you will find yourself, weeping.


After the levees break, the mourning after, your return

Here to the slow side shuffle step

the jazz funeral dirge down debris’d streets

Here where the Hot 8 Brass Band danced

the 2nd line parade in joy.

Here to the beat of the Mardi-Gras Indian drum

your return, your rebuild, your revive2


Years later as I watch your levees break,

Dry on the screen, not just your levees break

Mine break too.


Let me be a vessel.


  1 – See Not Just the Levees Broke: My Story During and After Hurricane Katrina, Phyllis Montana-Leblanc

2 – See When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee

By Daphne Paszterko, March 20, 2011.

 I wrote this poem to process, and to recognize the images and stories of Katrina survivors (mostly as depicted in When the Levees Broke which I found to be a very powerful and disturbing film).  I find that writing a poem can help me to express how I feel about a situation.  I often have questions (as I do in this case) if a poem is always fitting, especially with a catastrophic event like Katrina.  I also worry about appropriating voice, and the problems of trying to represent/capture someone else’s experience. So in the end this poem can only be incomplete,  just me relating to others’ stories.   — Daphne

West Ship Island, MS Tuesday, Jul 6 2010 

In May, Pascal and I took the second group of NOLA students to Mississippi to go to West Ship Island.

They had only opened the week before for the season and had already had tar balls and dead animals wash up. Tar balls have continued for some time, and on Thursday July 1st they had oil wash up. The information update says in part…”As of July 1st weathered oil has washed ashore on Ship Island…Beaches within Gulf Islands National Seashore, including West Ship Island, have been affected by the oil spill and oil is on the beaches and maybe in the water adjacent to beach areas.”

We took the students there so they could enjoy one of the most beautiful natural barrier islands in the Gulf. So fragile that they ask you to pack on/pack off your garbage, and to not pick any grass or flowers since they hold the island together.

Here are a few more photos of a once beautiful island..hopefully it can be that way again.

Oil Spill – Grand Isle Wednesday, Jun 16 2010 

Omnipresent in the minds of all down here is the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and resultant oil spill from April 20th 2010. We’ll likely never know how many gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico but it is in the multimillions.  By conservative efforts about 40 million as I write this post or by super generous over 230 million gallons. I use the handy oil spill calculator to figure this out.

Today I went out into the Gulf of Mexico with a few others to see the oil. We left out of the Sandpiper Marina in Grand Isle, Louisiana with Captain Robert Vegas at the helm.

We wanted to see oil and boom, and we weren’t disappointed. We also saw dolphins, most swimming freely but one that was in distress; in too shallow and with oil on its dorsal fin.

We saw birds, most ok, some covered in oil; brown pelicans so a little hard to tell.

The beauty of the Gulf is being marred by this tragedy. It will continue to be destroyed for months and years to come.

This tragedy is best explained through photos.

The signs are everywhere…

But sadly, so is the oil….

The coloured booms trap the surface oil from coming ashore. The white booms absorb the oil. If they are placed properly, if there is enough (there is a shortage), if they don’t drift or wash ashore.

When the oil gets through because the booms aren’t there or aren’t working, animals and birds get hurt.

This dophin was covered with oil and thrashing because it was caught in shallow waters. We tried calling the number for reporting oiled animals – it was a BP sub-contractor in Houston who didn’t even know where Grand Isle – one of the largest hubs of response – even was.  Eventually we reported it to the Coast Guard and Fisheries & Wildlife and they went to rescue it.

Some of the birds had oil on them, but note the stained grass – the brown is oil that has washed up on the nesting grounds of the brown pelicans. Only recently removed from the endangered list I wonder if they will get added again soon.

All in all a very interesting and intense day.   Soon I hope to go out from Venice to see another area that has been badly affected by the oil.

Fundraising…send a student to NOLA Wednesday, Mar 10 2010 

Hi all

This is a fundraising appeal to help send students to New Orleans this May to take part in rebuilding work. They will be rebuilding housing and replanting wetlands as well as other community participation initiatives.

Donations over $20 that require a receipt should be made out to Ryerson University. Donations that don’t require a receipt and under $20 also welcomed. You can also make a donation via PayPal using Visa or Mastercard – (If you need my mailing address for a cheque, let me know).

For my American Friends – you can donate directly to the organization on our behalf and get a tax receipt and put Ryerson University in the designation or dedication lines. This will go to their expenses but without funds there would be nothing for us to do when there 🙂

This trip is part of a course that I teach at Ryerson (co-teaching (now yay!) with Pascal Murphy). We are taking two groups of students – 20 in each class – for two weeks each. Just to give you an interesting breakdown of numbers:
* there are 5 York students, 34 Ryerson students (including continuing education) and 1 non-student.
* there are 4 male students and 36 female students (grl power!!)
* just over 1/2 have taken or are taking the homelessness course
* almost 2/3rds are students of colour (despite the racial make-up of New Orleans this is rare for volunteers).

Bios for students are on our blog at as well as info about our experience last year!

Students are available to do a presentation after the trip in the GTA area. I am able, with past students, to do a presentation before the trip if you have a potential fundraising opportunity.

There is also a video made by some of last year’s students (about thirty minutes in length total) available at:
Part 1 –

Part 2 –

Part 3 –

Part 4 –


PS Tweeters and bloggers – please spread the word!!

New Orleans Blacks don’t live as long as North Koreans Saturday, Sep 19 2009 

New Orleans…third world country or part of one of the richest countries in the world? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

“The life span of African Americans in the “Big easy” is 69.3 years, almost as low as Korean life expectancy. The average life span of Blacks living in the state of Louisiana is 72.2 years. This is well below that of the average Vietnamese, Colombian and Venezuelan denizen.”


Katrina pain index (11 days) Wednesday, Aug 19 2009 

How do you count the impact of a Hurricane? Bill Quigley and Davida Finger think they have a way. Davida Finger is a justice lawyer and clinical professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer on leave from Loyola now serving as legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Some examples:
Number of hospitals in New Orleans providing in-patient mental health care as of September 2009 despite post-Katrina increases in suicides and mental health problems. (Source:

Percent of 134,000 FEMA trailers in which Katrina and Rita storm survivors were housed after the storms, which have had formaldehyde problems. (Source:

Percent increase in rents in New Orleans since Katrina. (Source: Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, Metro New Orleans Fair Market Rent History (2000-2009), at

One Hundred Sixty:
Number of units which will be public housing eligible in the new St. Bernard area after demolition and rebuilding. St. Bernard was constructed with 1400 public housing apartments. Only a small percentage of the 4000 families in public housing in New Orleans before Katrina will be allowed to live in the new housing being constructed on the site where their apartments were demolished.


Save Charity Hospital Tuesday, May 26 2009 

While we were in New Orleans we went to a community protest meeting organized by ACORN and other community groups focused on saving NOAH, an adolescent mental health facility. However, the issue of Charity Hospital and other community health facilities were raised by many speakers.

A message was sent out today from Save Charity Hospital saying in part….”Because of your support, the campaign to save Charity Hospital now has more momentum than ever. There are two crucial events this week that will define the next phase of our fight — and we need your help.

In the past month, we’ve learned the details about the current proposal for the LSU Medical Complex — that it would take more money and more time than rebuilding Charity, that it unnecessarily destroys an historic neighborhood, and that the new site would abandon downtown New Orleans.”

There is a call in the message for local residents to go out to a public meeting on Thurs May 28th from 4-6pm sponsored by the City Planning Commission. Tell your NOLA friends to go out to that meeting

As well, state legislators in Baton Rouge are considering new legislation – Bill 780 – that will “prevent LSU from prematurely seizing private property in New Orleans and putting taxpayers on the hook for hundreds millions of dollars to finance LSU’s flawed plan.” A bus trip is being planned for tomorrow to help lobby Louisiana legislators. Those with a LA address can click here to lobby legislators . This site only works for those with a Louisiana address. Those outside of Louisiana can find legislators here.

You can also watch the Save Charity Hospital video to “learn why rebuilding Charity Hospital is the best option to rebuild downtown New Orleans”.


Florida Ave Townhouses Friday, May 15 2009 

There is a set of beautiful townhouses on Florida Avenue in New Orleans.

florida townhouses

This is an area that has undergone many changes. A pre-Katrina housing authority article summarizes some of those changes. The demographics prior to Katrina were consistent with many public housing buildings in New Orleans.

Surrounding these townhouses were concrete fragments of removed houses.
florida town houses blocks

When we arrived in the city there were only three rows of townhouses left. Now there are two.

florida town houses 1 row gone

Today when I drove by I noticed that the boards had been removed from all the windows (glass lying smashed on the ground) and the doors were wide open. It seemed like an invitation.

The townhouses are multilevel. Upstairs the only damage is man-made; caused by the search teams or by removal of fixtures, appliances, baseboards, flooring etc. The flooding didn’t reach all the way up the stairs. The black mold shows what flooded.

florida town houses inside stairs

The living room, as seen through the front window, is destroyed but similar rooms upstairs are fine.

florida town houses inside living room

I did venture inside. It broke my heart to find this room….

florida town houses fan

florida town houses clock

florida town houses mardi gras

These were people’s home. People already living on the edges of civil society; pushed away by racism, classism and other forms of discrimination. Why are they being destroyed when it would be so easy to renovate the main floors……

%d bloggers like this: