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?

Why heavy rains make me think of NOLA… Thursday, Jul 11 2013 

Guest post by Isaac Coplan, MES grad student at York University and former CINT 912 student at Ryerson University.

Two nights ago I took an hour and a half to get home (usually a 45 minute commute). I ran through heavy rain and arrived at my lobby to find that the power was out.

 

Shortly after the rain started, York Commons, York University. Photo by Tanya Gulliver.

Shortly after the rain started, York Commons, York University. Photo by Tanya Gulliver.

I climbed up the stairs to the 8th floor while I swore out loud. When I got to my place, I looked out past the balcony at Wilson ave. and Highway 401, both bumper to bumper. They remained perfectly congested until 930pm. My partner and I sat without power and ate sandwiches. Our stove is electric. We only have one blueberry scented candle and a wind-up flashlight that was giving my partner a headache by the end of evening. All in all it was kind of fun; we played chess and then crazy eights and hung out by blueberry candlelight. Our water was still functioning (though I think the hot water was out by 10pm). Our iPod touch was able to function as our alarm when both of our cell phones died. When I went to sleep, I had a brief moment of thinking that the lights and power may still be out in the morning when I woke up, what would I do then? Our AC had been out for hours and we were starting to get a bit muggy, our food probably wouldn’t last more than a couple of days in the freezer.

Flooding on King St in Toronto. Photo by Steph Vasko.

Flooding on King St in Toronto. Photo by Steph Vasko.

Throughout Toronto, hidden waterways that used to mark the landscape prior to colonialism, development and re-development reached out their swampy arms and flooded the Gardiner Expressway and basements throughout the downtown core. The water systems reminded us that they are there, and that they can’t really be tamed or routed. Sure enough, at 230am the lights flickered back on and scared us. The returning electricity saved our food and allowed us to plug in our cell phones. Other than the stoplight out at the end of our street and wet pavement, the events from the day before were hardly a memory by the morning.

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans probably started in much the same way as this heavy rainfall. It wasn’t the largest hurricane that had passed through the region. Many people start off by having hurricane parties and meeting up with friends. It all probably started off pretty fun, but then at some point, that panicky feeling that things may not get better ended up being true. People ended up losing family homes and suddenly being without places to stay. Displaced, they were reaching for inexistent assistance from people in other states and from their own government. People drowned in their attics, or in the flow of water. The news referred to them as refugees and the media began immediately to blame the victims. The infrastructure that was supposed to protect those people in the Lower 9th ward and St. Bernard Parish was insufficient and the storm surge reminded everyone that it was in charge (not the Army Corps of Engineers). FEMA trailers were lined with asbestos and other harmful chemicals for those who even qualified. The remnants of Katrina are still in New Orleans. Those who lost people, places and signifiers to the storm surge of Katrina will think of it when they see every new storm coming.

Now, heavy rains make me think of this displacement and temporality of shelter as I know it. I look outside and it forces me to think about the privileged position that I am in. I live high above the water level if there ever is a flood. I may or may not have power, but my living space is cool enough and I am consistently hydrated. I have food to eat, even if there is a chance that it will go bad. I have a place that I can return to when the rain falls quickly. I have a place that is safe, where I have dry clothes and a support system. In Toronto, there are lots of people who don’t have that. There are lots of people displaced who are threatened by severe weather. People living in unsafe housing or outdoors whose possessions are at continuous risk of being destroyed, stolen or “cleaned up”. For those people, every rainstorm can be as devastating to them as Hurricane Katrina. Their ‘heavy rains’ may not even be tied to weather, they are tied to social, political and economic positions that they are placed in often through no fault of their own. We have an obligation to make sure that everyone has safe housing, and that there are adequate supports for those who are displaced. When the heavy rain is over, and my power is back up, I have the privilege of breathing a sigh of relief.

It really is time for change, to end displacement as we know it.

It doesn’t take a dream, it just takes a commitment.

 

DRO 734-2013 — Hurricane Isaac Wednesday, Aug 29 2012 

For the last two years I’ve been responding to a disaster that has impacted the US around the anniversary of Katrina. Last year I attended a couple Katrina related events and then left for my deployment as a shelter manager in Vermont. My current deployment with the American Red Cross is in my own backyard.

So, an update after the first official night of Hurricane Isaac. I spent Aug. 27th in the Red Cross COOP (Continuity Of Operations Plan) office in Madisonville on the Northshore. It’s a 15 minute drive from my house in bad traffic. That’s where the Southeast Louisiana chapter shelters during a storm. We were extremely short staffed so while my official title is Community Partnerships Lead I helped out with government liaison, staffing, training, and sheltering. I slept on a cot in the photocopier room to stay warm (they kept the building soooooo cold so if the power went out it wouldn’t hurt as quickly) for about 5 hrs.

After getting woken at 5:15 to troubleshoot a shelter issue I decided to get up and at ’em. I did an initial interview with a producer at CTV and some social media but was asked by my leads if I would change roles and head to the town if Franklinton in Washington Parish. I’m embedded at the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. I’m in the headquarters which has reps from the Fire dept, sheriff’s office, health dept, national guard, parish staff, EOP staff etc. The Parish President and council members drop by as do folks from other departments, especially at National Weather Service briefing times.

The storm is moving very, very slowly. We haven’t been hit hard here yet, a few hundred homes without power, some trees down, light to moderate winds and some rain, heavy at times. In other words, a normal day in Louisiana. The storm is coming, it’s just slow.

Other areas haven’t been so lucky. About half a million homes are without power across South Louisiana. Lots and lots of rain and heavy winds. The storm sat over Grand Isle (one of the centers of damage during the oil spill) for hours and hasn’t moved far away. In Plaquemines Parish (also affected by the oil spill and basically wiped off the map in Katrina) damage is wide spread.   There is either a breach or levee overtopping and ppl are reporting 12 ft of water in homes. Ppl are trapped, but rescue efforts are hindered by the weather conditions.

New Orleans has been slammed since last night. Winds of 50-70 miles an hour. Several inches of rain. The storm may continue to affect it with hurricane or tropical storm conditions for another 24 hours. There is street flooding, power is out almost everywhere in the city, and will likely be out at least another couple days.

It’s likely that we’ll get hit soon so I’ll sign off. More when I can. I’m tweeting @TanyaMGulliver and will continue while we have power/signal. We do have a generator so hopefully I’ll have phone or texting capacity.

2 years later – Reflections from Chris Monday, Aug 22 2011 

In May 2009 my group was the initial group to go to New Orleans to help with the rebuild, and there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about our experience there. It’s been 2 years and I still can’t get it out of my mind. Do I want to get it out of my mind? NEVER!! But it’s also sad to think about New Orleans because the time spent there can never be duplicated. I think everyone whoever’s been there as a class can resonate with this feeling.

We were there to rebuild homes and that’s what we did. I can remember the first house we did, and we polished that off in a day, when it was supposed to take two. It was a lot of hard work, but it was also a lot of fun. We were rewarded with a lovely lunch (who remembers that carrot cake yum!!!) I can remember the demolition crew and us killing ourselves in the sweltering heat, but it was all worth it for that final moment when the shed came down.

Jeanette's first wall - 4 years after the storm. Shown (L-R) Jeanette, India, Lily, Chris, FM

The damage that we witnessed 4 years after Katrina was insane, I don’t think any of us believed it would still be that bad, and I think that was a motivating factor that kept us pushing, day in and day out. It still baffles me how a country such as the United States could abandon its own. The images that I witnessed on tv when the disaster was taking place, only hit me harder when visiting the same places that were destroyed.

Fong-Ming, Rojyan and Chris planting trees to aid in wetlands redevelopment.

I may not see or talk to anyone as much as I would like, other than randomly seeing Ahmed or Said downtown, but we’re still a family. Our second mom Tanya had it pretty rough, in those days there was no Pascal so she had to deal with all of us, and we stressed her out (you know what I’m referring to). But for her to put together this brilliant idea still amazes me. In many ways, the tragedy of Katrina brought together a group of people who may have never met before to accomplish so much.

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

Ola’s on the way! Thursday, May 12 2011 

The day is nearing and there’s so much to do still! Well what needs to be done here is nothing in comparison to the work we have coming up. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty and work with everyone. I hope that what we do makes a great difference in someone’s life and that it inspires others to help those suffering, even if the suffering is not close to home. Although the reasons for this trip are due to the serious nature of disasters that struck the city and state, I know we are all seriously determined to make the biggest impact that we can as well. And maybe the impact we have as well that of past and future volunteers will someday outshine the disaster itself.

We will find many ways to make this trip as successful, life-changing and fun as possible. With the amazing group of students that are coming along we are definitely on the right track to making this a memorable two weeks. From demolition to dry-wall and flooring, the possibilities are truly endless. Maybe I should practice some demo before I leave.. just kidding. Although maybe some weight training would have prepared me for the coming days.

The next two weeks are going to go by in a blur and my goal is to soak in as much as possible and not let any opportunity pass by. This trip is a wonderful opportunity I am so grateful that Pascal and Tanya allowed me the opportunity to be a part of it. All of the anticipation and day dreaming will come to an end in 2 days and then a new journey begins. I cannot wait and see you all there!

P.S-My pre-NOLA departure planning so far has included finding all the places close to us that “Diners Drive-in’s and Dives” has visited and attempting to prepare my iPod for the amount of energy and motivation it will be providing us for the next two weeks.

See you in the Big Easy !

-Ola

One year ago… Thursday, Apr 28 2011 

A year ago today I woke up in Birmingham, Alabama and went to sleep in New Orleans; I had officially moved.

Today, several tornadoes have ripped through Alabama.   Several group two NOLA students (those arriving on May 14th) were planning to go on a Civil Rights field trip to Alabama. Some of the areas hit today were amongst those I planned for us to visit, or at least pass through.

I was going to post today about my experiences over the past year, but instead, my mind is caught up with the images and news coming out across the south. This has been a bad year for storms; a bad year for tornadoes. We have had several hit the Greater New Orleans area, including in St. Bernard Parish where I live.

A few weeks ago, this was my phone weather alert system going crazy:

The more I study disasters, the more news like this hits me hard. It is part of my PTSD for sure; it’s part of knowing more about the impact. And sometimes it is personal. My friends Jess and Fred are from Alabama. Their hometowns have been hard tonight. Jess has heard from all her family; Fred hasn’t. I was just talking with him today because he is arranging a sound system for the van I will be using for tours with the students. Statistically speaking, it is likely that Fred’s family is fine. But, dozens of people have been killed and thousands more affected. Regardless, my thoughts are with Jess and Fred tonight, and with all those who are waiting to hear from those whom they love.

I have never lost someone close to a disaster, but the suddenness with which they occur reminds me of the loss of my brother Tyler. That unpredictability, that instant loss; the way life changes within minutes.

I’m really just feeling quite sad tonight.

TMG

Bike Blog Monday, Nov 15 2010 

PWAC member Bob Bott is almost ready to depart. His blog is just about up to his New Orleans visit — keep track here.

 

It’s been lots of fun having him here, and busy. We did local dinner on Thursday and then down to the Quarter for dinner on Friday with a brief walk through Bourbon Street. I gave Bob a Katrina tour on Saturday. He explored the PoBoy Festival on Sunday. Now it’s raining so he’s been working and blogging.

 

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