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 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.

Part 2 – DR404-12 SWLAFLD Saturday, Mar 17 2012 

Second day with the Red Cross up in Carencro, Louisiana. For some great photos of the flooding (to the extent that pictures of a disaster can be called great) see here and here for an article  and videos about people still trapped in their homes.

We were getting ready this morning to go out to a couple homes to do casework when one of the Damage Assessment Teams called in to report a neighbourhood in need of clean-up kits. So we loaded the car and headed out. Sure enough, there was extensive flooding. The street was on a hill so those at the bottom had more flooding than those at the top. One house had four feet; most had two-three feet.

We met Miss V. first. She lives closer to the top of the street. Her lawn was covered in clothes. They belonged to her neighbours. Many of them. She was washing clothes and helping out in cleaning as much as she could. I mentioned this to my bf Joey and he said something like “That’s the way we do it in Louisiana.” I knew that, but at the same time it’s so great to see it in action.

We went door to door, talking to folks and handing out the cleaning kits. At the bottom of the street we came across Miss C. She had incurred four feet  of water in her house and showed us some pictures. When the flooding came she evacuated grabbing only her purse, her dogs, the clothes she had on and her car keys. When she got to the top of the street she realized she couldn’t go any further. All the exit roads were blocked with flooding so she spent the day there.

But she told us that she’s lucky; she has flood insurance, most of her neighbours don’t. Yet, as she told us her story, and pictures of her houses –she and her husband have already gutted it four feet up all around the first floor– her eyes welled up several times. But at one point, she said “If I had a choice, I would sell. I don’t want to go through this again” and started crying. Yet, she also admitted that it’s been less than a week and that her feelings may change.

Later that day most of the houses on that street were declared as having major damage so we were able to go back to start providing financial assistance. We only had time to do two houses and went to Miss C.’s house first.  Red Cross, when a disaster meets certain criteria, is able to provide disaster-related emergency assistance in certain areas; for this disaster that includes clothing/shoes, food/groceries, storage containers and bedding.

As I mentioned yesterday, 91% of Red Cross spending is for humanitarian services and programs. The amount of funding isn’t huge; it is, after all, intended to be emergency assistance. Red Cross is very cognizant that their funding, as an NGO, is from individuals; “donated by the American public” is a catch-phrase I heard yesterday and found myself using a couple times today.  What strikes me about important in terms of Red Cross funding is that it doesn’t require a ton of hoops on the client’s part. Once the damage has been assessed and Red Cross has determined its level of involvement, casework can be done in 45 minutes to an hour. At the end of that time clients are given a special credit card. While some people in this flood may get insurance money down the road – it is just that, down the road. People need help now and Red Cross is there to help today.

Miss C. and her husband were so grateful for the assistance we were able to provide. One question that we ask at the end is “Would you state that the Red Cross has been able to meet all of your disaster-related emergency needs?” Miss C said “oh yes, it’s more than I imagined we could get.” And started crying again. She gave us each a long hug as we left to head to the neighbours, saying “Thank you. thank you so much.”

Tomorrow we go back to the same street to provide assistance to a few of her neighbours. Can’t wait!!

From the Red Cross website: “The American Red Cross is where people mobilize to help their neighbors—across the street, across the country, and across the world—in emergencies. Each year, in communities large and small, victims of some 70,000 disasters turn to neighbors familiar and new—the more than half a million volunteers and 35,000 employees of the Red Cross.”

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 

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

Japan…Katrina redux Monday, Mar 14 2011 

I am sure many of you share the horror I am experiencing as the images and stories come out of Japan following the earthquake and Tsunami on Friday. The continuing aftershocks are larger than many initial earthquakes that hit around the world; the potential remains for ongoing damage.

The death toll is officially over 2000 right now; realistically it will be in the tens of thousands. There will be a large number of bodies never found after being swept out to sea.

It was interesting to be in New Orleans following the earthquake. As I went to bed Thursday night, my phone flashed a message “earthquake in Japan”. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I started watching news coverage, but when I woke in the morning I turned on CNN.

Within minutes I was crying; my PTSD flared up. I soon realized that I wasn’t alone. Many of my friends in New Orleans told me that they were unable to watch TV or read the news. Some weren’t tuning it at all, while others were peeking in at as much as they can handle.It was good to not feel alone; to be surrounded by those who also experience emotional upset at a different level than the general public watching the news.

There are similarities with Hurricane Katrina. The devastation…the surge of water pushing away everything in its path…the destruction of housing, livelihoods…the loss of life… the images published by Google Earth before and after Katrina and before/after Japan are similar.

Large-scale disaster is not uncommon. The earthquake in Haiti last January saw (most likely) a greater loss of life, as did the Indonesian Tsunami. I saw a news report on the weekend that said many thousands of lives were likely saved by the emergency preparedness that exists in Japan.

NPR reports:

Income inequality rarely matters so much as it does when it comes to surviving earthquakes. Japan is a wealthy nation that can afford to build structures capable of standing up to sustained shaking. But places like Haiti, which was already one of the world’s poorest nations before its devastating earthquake struck, can’t.

Japan faces enormous recovery and rebuilding costs, but it can afford to pay them, says Roger Bilham, a University of Colorado geologist. “Basically, when you have an earthquake in developing countries, they die,” he says. “In the developed countries, they pay.”

In poor countries, Bilham says, badly constructed houses are “an unrecognized weapon of mass destruction.”

The preparedness stems both from having money as Bilham states, but also from lessons learned since Katrina. The vulnerability factor is lessened in Japan; it will be surely shown that the most vulnerable in Japan will suffer the most.

Canadians wanting to donate can text ASIA to 30333  to donate $5 or see here for more ideas.

A random collection of thoughts…my brain still struggles to process, as does my heart. My thoughts and prayers go out to those with loved ones in Japan and all there, trying to survive and find their family members.

 

Judy’s almost ready for NOLA Friday, Apr 2 2010 

Hello!

First and foremost I’d like to thank everyone who came out to our bake sales!! Whether you bought one item or many or simply just made a donation, THANK YOU!!! It would not have been a success without y’all.

So the semester is slowly winding down and there’s less than a month before we fly out to New Orleans. I’m so excited!!! I just finished the three classroom sessions and I’ve learned a lot. More than I knew coming into this class. I now realize that this experience is so much more than just building a house. Though that is important and exciting, this experience is also about leaning about the environmental impact of Katrina, how it could have been prevented and all the social issues currently existing that have affected the rebuilding of New Orleans. From watching films such as When the Levees Broke and Trouble the Water to reading articles about Hurricane Katrina my eyes have definitely opened up to see a bigger picture. As much as I’d like to say that I’m prepared for what’s to come… I’m really not because I know that going there and seeing everything first hand is going to be so different from watching it through a film. I don’t know what’s to come… but whatever it is, I’m ready for it!

-Judy

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