Spring Break in New Orleans, Day 1
I’m now back in New Orleans with four other students from Dartmouth’s Edgerton Episcopal Campus Ministry. We spent our first day planting trees and driving around the city, and I’ve posted some thoughts on city beautification, gratitude, and positive news from around the city below. We’re working with the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana’s Office of Disaster Response, where I interned last year. At least nine other Dartmouth groups are in the region right now, one of which is also working with the Diocese of Louisiana. The five of us are staying at St. Andrew’s in the Carrollton neighborhood, where I lived before.
Today was a relatively slow day. We were going to gut a house, but they had plenty of gutters already and needed people to plant trees along Canal Blvd in the Lakeview neighborhood with some West Point cadets, so we did that for a few hours. Two observations. First, city beautification is very important here. 250,000 citizens have moved away, and why should they be expected to come back to block after block of rotting, ungutted houses, a broken education system, escalating crime, and a corrupt police force? City beautification may not improve corruption, crime, or education, but it does make this a more attractive place to live, and that’s a start. The second point is that many, many people driving by honked, gave us a thumbs up, or even yelled “Thank you!!!” out the window. This immense appreciation shows the difference little things, like planting trees, can make on a scale even as immense as Katrina recovery.
We were done planting by lunch, and the gutters said they didn’t need us, so we spent the afternoon driving around the city. The other four wanted to get a sense of the damage, as they’d only so far seen major roads and decent neighborhoods. We drove through the Lower Ninth Ward, Chalmette, New Orleans East, and City Park, and skirted the Upper Ninth Ward, Gentilly, and Broadmoore. Several positive signs stood out to me: 1) The Lower Ninth Ward has traffic lights now! When I left in December, most (though not all) of the major intersections in the Ninth Ward were still broken lights and four-way stops, but now there are actual red-yellow-green lights. It’s so exciting, and improves the traffic flow! 2) Many more homes in the Lower Ninth have been demolished, including a few I used to point out each time I gave volunteers tours. There were also more FEMA trailers then before, so you know folks are slowly returning. It’s a sad but positive step to see Lower Ninth lots finally being cleared. It’s tough to lose a life like that, but it’s got to happen in order to move forward. I doubt all the owning families wanted to have their property cleared, but if you don’t get yourself on a gutting waiting list in time, the city swoops on in, and there’s plenty of warning. 3) Several new neighborhoods are springing up in St. Bernard Parish, and more houses in New Orleans East had been cleaned up than I realized, which is great.
This is not to say the city has taken huge strides forward – so much damage remains. The four folks in my group, who have not been here before, were all shocked. Parts of the Lower Ninth are still deathly quiet. You’ve read my tirades about FEMA, local government, and the Road Home program. The city is currently suing the Army Corps of Engineers over past failures and future accountability. It’s just nice to know that it’s not all bad news. :)
I took a few pictures, and freshman Adrian took many. I’ll post some when I get them uploaded.