Rebuilding New Orleans Post-Katrina, 8 Years Later

Part of the reason I wanted to visit New Orleans was to see how the city has re-built itself after Katrina.

I didn't do any structured observations or in-depth ethnographic interviews, I just kinda ended up taking a visual tour mixed with incidental conversations induced by waiting around in public spaces or commercial transactions.  Though I have heard about the privatization of schools and other issues, I didn't interact with any people firsthand who would make a comment about this.

There's no real verdict I can make other than to say that people have their stories before and after Katrina, and that people are resilient and will try their darndest to recover. 

The physical condition of the city is hard to really categorize as one thing or another.  While some utility poles look like they were knocked over as a result of Katrina, some things simply look old and perhaps "historic."

Some houses were really re-built, especially in the Lower 9th, others left in disrepair.  I felt that in my district, the Bywater, with much less attention, there were a lot more vacant houses left for dead rather.  Perhaps it is the deadness that has awakened the creative minds, a lot of them white.  

Though the neighborhood we stayed in (Bywater) is mixed, it feels somewhat less integrated.  By "less integrated" I mean that different people didn't seem to interact with each other so freely.  Black with black, white with white.  St. Claude Ave. the main road was full of black folk, whereas in the smaller streets we would see bicyclists, license plates from other states, the art, and the sometimes-political messages.

Katrina is still something people talk about.  And why wouldn't you talk about something that might have or actually did take away your material possessions, your family members, or your ability to "go on as normal."

When we first got into New Orleans from LA, someone was already talking about how since Katrina, bus service had simply gotten worse.  According to her, everyone bought a car to get around.  In the absence of public transportation, I observed lots of taxi cabs, charging upwards of $45 to get to the airport, whom another bystander remarked that they were simply looking for tourists.

We avoided taxis as much as possible and experienced the inconveniences of public transportation first hand:  we had to wait 30 minutes for Bus 88 to take us to where we thought we could catch the bus that would take us to the airport.  However, that bus, the E2, did not run to Downtown New Orleans on the weekends, and we would need to take yet another bus to that E2 bus.  We waited another 1 hour for that bus.  And then 20 minutes for the the bus that would take us to the E2.  All in all we had to plan to spend at least 4 hours to make sure that we could get to the airport.  

However, overall, with a modest itinerary each day, we didn't need much motorized transportation during our stay.  With a flat landscape, sharrows, bike signage, we were able to bike around somewhat comfortably on our cruisers. 

Our interactions with people were mostly short, but usually welcoming, which was a pleasant surprise to this Angeleno accustomed to the UCLA Bruinwalk-type of interaction (i.e. non-acknowledgment and avoiding eye contact).

One of the first conversations we had was a new transplant to New Orleans from Compton.  He talked about how he had been eying property to buy in New Orleans before Katrina and how lots immediately after Katrina, even near the tourist-heavy French Quarter, were going for cheap.  Not as much anymore, but still, a lot cheaper than LA.  I noticed that (re-)construction seemed to be alive and booming in the 7th and 9th wards.    

One chance conversation alerted me to the fact that Katrina robbed people of not just their material possessions.  

We talked to a man named John whom I ended up buying a lunch of jambalaya.  He was a man looking for a meal.  Testing this proposition, I offered to take him to lunch instead of accede to his demand of $2.

I learned that he was a repairman who as a result of Katrina, had become temporarily paralyzed.  He'd lived in New Orleans for a long time.

Apparently, he was able to shake off his paralyzation, contrary to what the doctors' had diagnosed for him.

He was now walking, and was simply happy to do that.  However, he was unable to resume his day job and we found him begging at the French Quarter for change. 

One of the most memorable interactions was at the French Quarter with a black elderly vendor lady named Mable.  She sewed dolls and sold incense on the weekends.  We learned that she worked for the New Orleans public school district for 30 years and was now retired.  She came to the Market to make some extra money.

We told her that we were just visiting and happened to be staying in the 9th ward.  She said that she'd lived in the Lower 9th Ward her whole life.  She was part of the 9th Ward Homeowners Association and its Crime Prevention team.  

She told us that there were a lot of people volunteering and helping to make the neighborhood better.  I got the sense that the volunteers, mostly non-black, were a new fixture of the city, as my significant other and I were asked us if we were volunteers.  

However, Ms. Mable noted that these volunteers were more so in the first 4 years after Katrina.  She'd be booked for meetings and interviews.  She traveled everywhere including to New York.  Nowadays she'd spend her day sewing, while making her hand-sewed products.  She wasn't doing it for money, but simply to get by.

I only got to stay for 6 days and got to talk to a chance few, but I feel that I needed to see it, not to diagnose what went wrong, not to pass judgment on agencies, or groups of people, but simply to be at the level where I too, could temporarily feel, see, and hear the rhythms of a daily life where people are trying to make it back.

The Upper 9th Ward

7th Ward
The Lower 9th Ward

Live from the 9th Ward in New Orleans!

It is 8 o clock CT in the morning.  Signif other is asleep.  Just finished our 3rd day out of 6 days in New Orleans, which has consisted of mostly of getting lost, biking, complaining about how hot and humid it is with each other, eating whatever anyone recommends, freely and randomly engaging in conversations with locals, dealing with any work that needs to be done back home by night.

We've pretty much spent most of our time around the French Quarter.  Yeah, yeah touristy ish, but hey I'm pumping money into the city?

Today we will see something that I don't think I'd be able to see anywhere else, something they actually, openly sell tours of:  plantations.

On deck some time in the next few days will be a tour of the Lower 9th Ward.  Luck/God permitting, a bike tour.

The first night we were here we didn't know where to go or what to do.  We got off the 88 Bus, which we'd waited a good hour for, after taking the E2 bus from the Louis Armstrong Airport in Metairie, which is about 10-15 miles West of New Orleans.  The 88 Bus flashed "Lower 9th Ward" as its destination.  A local pointed out where we would get off:  right before a bridge, incidentally, that contains a sharrow.

This is the St. Claude neighborhood.  Just about 8 blocks or so away from the Mississippi River.

I am staying in a house that I found through Airbnb that sits just right before the bridge that separates me from the Lower 9th Ward, the section of the city that has been said suffered the most devestation after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The main host of my house hasn't been around, but has probably thought of everything, providing us with a room, bed, privacy (or so we think), our own bathroom, maps, toiletries, and most importantly, fairly-cheap but fairly functional BIKES (with locks).

View NOLA in a larger map

The area we are staying in is really unique.  One way streets, neighborhood bars, restaurants, creative spaces, a mix of clearly re-modeled homes, vacant, condemned lots with graffiti on them, or simply old ass houses.  Gun to my head, if I absolutely had to make some kind of LA reference it feels like Silver Lake when I first got there as a 5 year old in 1989, way before we knew what hipsters were.

One walk across a Poland St. with as much light as a film development room and boarded up, or deteriorating structures and little people, "had the makings of a scary movie" said the significant other.

We decided no on Church's Chicken because shiet, we could've gotten THAT in LA.  We asked around, then we discovered that local eateries were closed other than Church's Chicken, and a liquor store.  The liquor store had take out food, but there wasn't any left.  At about 9:30 PM We had to retire our search, our bellies empty since we'd left my mother's house at 6:30 AM PT.

A lot of waiting + hungry in a place known for its food + no food places open in walking distance  - reliable vehicle - knowledge of place  = disappointing first night.

We decided that to get the most out of the trip, we would need to get out and about earlier.  So we struck out early the next day, and have been on a tear from Louis Armstrong Park to the eateries of Magazine St.

First impressions of New Orleans:  a lot of good sitting there with a lot of bad.  The locals were very open and easy to talk to.  Everyone's trying to help, whether it was people simply extending courtesy, recommending food, or yes even talking about buying properties in the NOLA.

Haven't been here that long but I feel like I've experienced a lot of what I wanted to experience being here (don't care that much about mardi gras).  Here are a few of my first impressions, mostly about the different infrastructures, utility and some social:

  • I had in mind before the trip that New Orleans was an opportunity for privatization.  Make public schools into charter schools, cut out public transportation.  The locals I took to en route to the house, complained about how long the bus took.  One lady told us about how after Katrina, everyone got cars.  This got me thinking about all the taxis I saw crowded at the airport and how much they charged.
  • There are no public water fountains, not at Louis Armstrong Park, at least nowhere we've seen it
  • You do not know when to walk across the street because there are no signals whatsoever signaling for you to walk or not walk.
  • You will see utility posts that look like they are about to fall over;  I just assume that it's about to fall because of Katrina, and remains unfixed because of the slow growth.

  • Surprised at the bike-friendliness of the NOLA --- sharrows and bike lanes.  Share "dat" lane.  The signs are on the utility posts as if they are , particularly on Magazine St.
  • Tourism in the French quarter is alive and well.  Sad to say, but that's where mostly anyone who is not black will usually be staying, unless of course they went through Airbnb and chose to room with creative types. 
  • Everyone has a Hurricane Katrina story and for the most part are willing to share it with you.  From the man who moved from LA to New Orleans for the cheaper property to the native Louisiana repairman who was paralyzed as a result of the floods.  Stay tuned for more!

A Letter to the Driver of the Ford Explorer Who Threatened to Break My Fingers

Dear Driver of an Eastbound Metallic Gold Ford Explorer, License Plate 6RK979, Eastbound towards Signal Hill on Willow and Long Beach at Around 6:30 AM on Thursday, July 11, 2013 with a Dodgers Sticker on the Bumper, Who Got Out of His Car, Challenged Me to Fight Him, Yelled at Me Calling Me a Faggot, and Threatened to Break my Fingers,

We probably didn't get off on the best foot.

99 times out of 100 had I met you in different circumstances, person to person, I probably would've been cool with you, and probably you would have been cool with me as well.

I don't have beef with you, I don't even know you.  And unless your a government agent who is confusing me for Eric Snowden, you don't know me either.

So let me take this opportunity to explain everything:

I think any type of anger is due in part to unfulfilled expectation.  You expect the street to have only cars in it.  I violated your expectation by biking on the right-most lane.  I expect drivers to know a bit about driving laws, especially in a city that wants to call itself the "most bike-friendly city" and go around me.  You violated that expectation by technically getting around me, but driving so slow when in front of me, and getting out of the car hoping you as a 6 foot something man could push me around.

The middle finger I stuck up at you:  it was impersonal, but a not-so perfect solution to expressing my discontent.

Its a compromised, crappy reaction but it communicates this:  I belong on the road.

How do I know I belong on the road?  California law.

Me lifting my middle finger is a "compromised reaction" because usually drivers just speed up:  there isn't any time to have any conversation, you're moving at 20-45 MPH.  You can easily forget anything I say or do as a bicyclist.  I drive too and I easily forget the crappy moves I make.  I don't expect you to remember, me sticking up my middle finger is just a general way to get you as a motorist who likely isn't a bicyclist to remember.

To some motorists, I am the slow-moving bicyclist who is the obstacle causing traffic to move even more slowly.  I think it shouldn't be that way.  Now that I'm actually on a bike myself (and have been for the past 4 years, which is relatively recent), I actually sympathize with bicyclists on the street and make it a point not to rush them when I'm behind the wheel.  I also sympathize with motorists and make it a point to make clear that I am a vehicle and by abiding by the traffic laws --- that means I don't skip lights or run too many stop signs or red lights. 

You didn't seem to expect me to be on the road, much less put up a fight. 

I just encourage you for the sake of your sanity and your driving record that you simply expect bicyclists to be on the road as a PART of traffic.

I generally hate biking on Willow St. especially near Signal Hill, but the law says that I am allowed on the road and this was the quickest route to work.  As the video from a few months ago shows, this wasn't the first time I've had problems on this street as a bicyclist amongst motorists.

I only got off the road and into the sidewalk while "having a conversation" with you because I don't know what a person in rage might do, inside a protective box, behind a set of wheels that can go 80 MPH, while my vehicle weighs about 20-30 lbs and doesn't offer a big box, a big bumper, shocks, or air-bags.  If you hit me with your car while I'm on my bike, chances are its not going to end well for me.  And as a believer in karma, it wouldn't end well for you either.

I was just trying to get to work, I don't need any kind of physical disability as a result of a few seconds of anger.  You are entitled to still think of me as a "faggot" as you wish, for not fighting you, but really I was just thinking how hard it would be to go to work with broken fingers or any other broken limbs.  It would really set me back as an economically-unstable student with all kinds of odd part-time jobs and no real access to health care unless you count my mom, the nurse.