Everything changed on August 29, 2005: when the federal levee system failed during Hurricane Katrina, leaving up to 25 feet of water for three weeks across a community that once housed 19,000 people, hundreds of businesses, churches, schools – making it the worst man-made disaster in U.S. history. That was then. Today, the Lower Ninth Ward is recovering – slowly – to a bright new future of sustainable homes, neighborhoods and living.
Located just east of New Orleans’ French Quarter, the “Lower 9” has long enjoyed rich cultural traditions, classic architecture and an independent spirit. Framed by the Industrial Canal to the west and St. Bernard Parish to the east, along with Bayou Bienvenue and the Mississippi River from north to south, this area represented the final eastward expansion of the old City of New Orleans in the early 1800s. Landmarks include the Jackson Barracks (1834), St. Maurice Church (1857) and the grounds of the Holy Cross School (1859). Truck farms supplied fresh produce to many restaurants and open markets in New Orleans up until the 1940s.
Although dealt a heavy blow from Hurricane Betsy (in 1965) and steady economic decline in recent decades, the Lower Ninth Ward remained a proud community of close-knit neighborhoods, filled with gardens and pecan tree groves, access to fishing and other recreational activities on the bayou, thriving churches, commerce on the river, and a rich tradition in the arts. Community activism rose as well, with creation of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association in 1981 and many other organizations.
Despite overwhelming odds, the Lower 9 is returning – block by block – with new gardens and businesses, reopened schools and churches, and a renewed sense of community and the arts. Today, sustainability here means:
- Community-wide weatherization and energy efficiency initiatives
- Continuing one of the largest ongoing volunteer efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans
- Growing partnerships with top national, regional and local non-profits
- Advancing research on wetlands, environmental justice and sustainable preservation
- Supporting transit alternatives, renewable energy and LEED neighborhood development
More than ever, the Lower 9 remains a place of courage, of resilience and survival. There’s a respect for the past here, combined with hope for the future and the vision of a strong, sustainable community that endures.