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6 posts from March 2012

  • 03/31/2012
  • Posted by staff

Alternatives Journal & Podcast: Those Brad Pitt Houses

Interesting piece just out in Canada's Alternative Journal about the Make It Right Project in the Lower 9th Ward. Also, check out the link to the Alternatives podcast, featuring an interview with the author.

By Stephen Svenson

Proof_Feb13_HR-13As we cross over the Claiborne Avenue bridge from the Upper Ninth Ward on Gray Line International’s “Hurricane Katrina – America’s Greatest Catastrophe” tour, local artist Brad Dupuy informs us in his rich voice that we “are about to enter what is known famously as the Lower Ninth Ward.” What makes the Lower Ninth Ward notable, at least for Gray Line and the rest of the world, is that this is where Hurricane Katrina hit the hardest. According to Dupuy, the Lower Ninth “saw a tremendous amount of media attention largely because this is where you would have seen our highest numbers of fatalities, where you would have seen the high- est numbers of people in need of being rescued from their properties.” It is also the place where the most people lost their homes when the levees broke in August 2005.

Looking north from the Claiborne Avenue bridge, we can see the spot where the Industrial Canal levee breached, flooding the Lower Ninth Ward. In all, 4000 homes were lost in the Lower Ninth. As we tour the area in 2008, most of the debris has been cleared and all that remains are a few brick houses scattered amongst the skeletal foundations of countless others. Katrina virtually wiped this neighbourhood away, literally knocking houses off their foundations.

The bus turns in to what was once a neighbourhood near the levee, and we are greeted by the remains of brilliant pink canvas structures. They were part of an art installation called The Pink Project. Dozens of tent-like buildings had dotted the landscape, denoting the spots where houses once stood and, presumably, would stand again. Our guide informs us that superstar Brad Pitt and the Make It Right Foundation had launched The Pink Project a few months earlier. As we drive by Common Ground Relief, a non-profit foundation that initiated the gutting of houses in the Lower Ninth and assisted residents after the flood, a sign greets us: “TOURIST Shame On YOU. Driving BY Without Stopping. Paying TO See MY PAIN. 1600+ DIED HERE.” My companions and I take some solace in the fact that, despite taking part in America’s Greatest Catastrophe tour, we aren’t really tourists. It’s reading week in Canada and our group of university students has come down to help out by giving media support to Common Ground Relief. We’re volunteers and we are staying in the thick of things where Make It Right homes are going to be constructed.

Thom Pepper, the operations director for Common Ground Relief, tells us excitedly about how Pitt’s Make It Right, in collaboration with community stakeholders, is planning to build 150 new, LEED-certified homes in the seven-block area next to the levee. Make It Right has tracked down 90 of 150 property owners, and 75 are interested in having new homes. Even from our bus, we can feel the hopeful enthusiasm that pervades the air. It will take more than the biblical three days, but this part of the Lower Ninth Ward, it appears, will rise again.

Before Katrina, there were two views of the Lower Ninth Ward: that of the general public and that of residents. READ MORE >>

via www.alternativesjournal.ca

Alternatives Podcast: Green Buildings (38.2)

19 March, 2012
[start at 29:13 mark]
Stephen Svenson on rebuilding New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward with 'green' houses (15:30)
  • 03/22/2012
  • Posted by staff

NY Times: Jungleland - The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans Gives New Meaning to ‘Urban Growth’

NYTimesMagazine_coverJungleland?? We're not sure what we think of this cover story in the New York Times Magazine. We welcome the much-needed attention to our ongoing challenge with abandoned lots, blighted properties and illegal dumping. But as we continue to report here, there are many amazing developments happening as well throughout the Lower 9th Ward - setting an example for sustainability for the rest of the nation...and that goes well beyond what's happening at Make It Right. Mr. Richland, we cordially invite you to a complete tour of the Lower 9!

By Nathaniel Rich

“We have snakes,” Mary Brock said. “Long, thick snakes. Kingsnakes, rattlesnakes."

Brock was walking Pee Wee, a small, high-strung West Highland terrier who darted into the brush at the slightest provocation — a sudden breeze, shifting gravel, a tour bus rumbling down Caffin Avenue several blocks east. But Pee Wee had reason to be anxious. Brock was anxious. Most residents of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans are anxious. “A lot of people in my little area died after Katrina,” Brock said. “Because of too much stress.” The most immediate sources of stress that October morning were the stray Rottweilers. Brock had seen packs of them in the wildly overgrown lots, prowling for food. Pee Wee, it seemed, had seen them, too. “I know they used to be pets because they are beautiful animals.” Brock corrected herself: “They were beautiful animals. When I first saw them, they were nice and clean — inside-the-house animals. But now they just look sad.”

The Lower Ninth has become a dumping ground for unwanted dogs and cats. People from all over the city take the Claiborne Avenue Bridge over the Industrial Canal, bounce along the fractured streets until they reach a suitably empty area and then toss the animals out of the car. But it’s not just pets. The neighborhood has become a dumping ground for many kinds of unwanted things. READ MORE >>

via www.nytimes.com

  • 03/16/2012
  • Posted by David Eber

Bayou Bienvenue Slated for Cypress Restoration in State Master Plan

IMG_1184After 6 years of working towards the restoration of Bayou Bienvenue we learned this week of a major victory along this bumpy road to restoration. The State, in the 11th hour, changed the Master Plan to reflect the neighborhood's wish that this area be restored to a Cypress Tupelo forest, rather than what was planned: a mere freshwater diversion. While it is not official yet until the proposed change is adopted by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), our sources believe that the CPRA will adopt the proposed changes by the Governor's commission next week!

The neighborhood has worked very hard to have Bayou Bienvenue restored, and if the master plan had not relfected this desire it would have made achieving such a goal difficult due to the fact that restoration must be done in line with the plan. Having the state reverse course at the 11th hour by making this change is a victory for all of us who made public comments and attended various meetings. Our people submitted over 200 comments in support of the Triangle with government officials, non-profits, universities and residents all working together to say to the State, that this project makes sense. RESTORE BAYOU BIENVENUE NOW!

This time, they heard us, but let's not get complacent because there is still much work to be done to make our dream a reality. Click here to read more about the CSED's work related to Bayou Bienvenue.

We still don't have the money, but we should celebrate this victory and feel proud to know that what we have worked so hard for is moving forward. Congratulations!


  • 03/15/2012
  • Posted by staff

LA Times: Louisiana's Ambitious New Vision for its Disappearing Coastline

By Neela Banerjee

Reporting from Venice, La. — On an unseasonably warm winter morning, Earl Armstrong Jr. eases his airboat out of the slip, past a fishing crew hacking up a shark on the pier and a canal strung with hunting camps on stilts, into the broad waters of West Bay.

Armstrong, 67, kills the airboat's engine and, looking around, remembers a place nothing like this one.

"You couldn't travel through here before by boat," he says, looking at the vast water broken by a couple of small, grassy islands. "Used to be woods here when I was little, that's how thick it was. The grown-ups used to scare us by telling us there were tigers and lions up in here, but we came anyway.

The sea took the forests and marshes of West Bay, leaving mostly open water, as it has along hundreds of square miles of Louisiana's coastline over the last century. But now Louisiana may be about to embark on a highly ambitious project to keep its coast from slipping further underwater, and even restore some of it. READ MORE >>

via www.latimes.com

  • 03/13/2012
  • Posted by David Eber

Japan One Year Later: Echos of New Orleans and Dangerous Comparisions

Pam walks behind Claiborne Ave Katrina stone 29 Aug 07

On March 3rd, 2011 Japan was hit with a 9.0 earthquake, a devestating tsunami and a nuclear meltdown at the now infamous Fukushima Plant. This trio of disasters has truly destroyed certain communities and left many families struggling with the pain of losing loved ones and friends and also facing the challenges of rebuilding their material and emotional lives.  

It blows my mind that some in the media and in our country are still talking about the supposed preponderance of looting and violence that occured post Katrina. Immediately following the storm some misguided commentators made the offensive comparison of the behavior of the Japanese following the disaster to the behavior of New Orleanians, despite ample evidence that cultural and racial biases effect whether or not someone was believed to be looting or securing lifesaving provisions. These comparisons ignore the fact that the vast majority of New Orleanians responded nobly, and that a great deal of the violence and racism was actually perpetrated against residents by law enforcement, their fellow more privaleged neighbors and by city, state and federal government actions and inactions. These commentators reveal more about their own misunderstanding of privalege and race than they do offer insight into comparisons in disaster response from both the Japanese and American governments.

It can be challenging and misleading to compare disasters: the factors that contribute to them, the impacts and  the responses are all different given a myriad of factors from environmental, to sociological, to cultural to governmental. As I mentioned above people often focus on the wrong things, by making stupid comparisons and racist remarks. However, I do believe that comparisons, when given careful thought, can be enlightening. 

Japan and New Orleans both reveal the fact that a lack of proper planning can contribute to the magnitude of the disaster. They both reveal that how the government responds immediately following a disaster makes a huge difference in the amount of lives saved. They both reveal the challenges that residents face in order to rebuild their lives, and both also demonstrate the commitment people have to rebuilding their homes in spite of the challenges. 

My hope is that more study will be given to these similarities and differences and that both of our nations can learn from the mistakes and prepare for a more resilient future. 

  • 03/03/2012
  • Posted by staff

TreeHugger: Protecting Louisiana’s People and Bayou From BP

By Sarah Hodgdon

John Taylor was ten when he first explored Bayou Bienvenue in New Orleans.

"What I found was a special place; the bayou was full of plants and animals to learn about and quiet spots to think in," recalls John, a volunteer with the Sierra Club Environmental Justice Program in Louisiana.

"I've spent the last 50 years visiting the bayou near my home in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, and every year it disappears a little more - today, what was once a healthy cypress forest is now just open water."

John said it wasn't until Hurricane Katrina that he and others fully realized how the bayou had changed over the years. With the bayou's forest gone, Lower Ninth Ward residents and property were exposed to the storm’s full fury of rising flood waters that left lasting devastation.

Then only a few years later, the BP oil disaster set in motion a chain of events that further damaged Louisiana and the Gulf Coast's coastal marshes and waters.

John's New Orleans neighborhood continues to work to restore Bayou Bienvenue as other communities throughout the Gulf struggle to recover from the devastating impacts of the spill, all while BP continues to enjoy record profits. READ MORE >>

via www.treehugger.com