Five years on in the Lower 9th Ward

The Hurricane is constantly referred to and evidence of it still seen all through this city. Five years has cleaned up the damage in the Quarter and surrounding areas, and there is growth seen in the Lower 9th too. But the scars of “the storm” seem to be deep in the bones of the city, where it still aches for its loss.

Mardi Gras Indians heading up the parade

Heading into the 9th Ward on Sunday, we joined with the Second-Line Parade to commiserate the losses from Hurricane Katrina, with every other journalist in New Orleans. CNN trucks, and long lenses blocked the movement that on any other weekend would be a purely local affair. A historic moment, reminding us all of how far the community has come in 5 years; and incredibly moving. The environment is starkly different from what it was before; brightly coloured ‘Brad Pitt’ houses that fill in the gaps of the empty blocks these days, but in these homes are happy families – glad that they have been able to return home to their neighbourhood.

You can see what a difference this has made, and will continue to do so, as more and more of these homes are built for families still exiled. Brad Pitt is somewhat of a guru in this town, despite these houses dividing peoples’ opinions. The Times Cultured Traveler interviewed many in November 2009, who felt that the architecturally designed homes were “alien, even insulting”. Another resident describes the new builds as skyscrapers because they are built tall off the ground to withhold against any further tragic flooding. One of the 13 designs available even floats.

I do appreciate that they are different to the more classic style of design seen in the city, however as much as they are striking, they do have design elements that relate to the New Orleans architecture that is seen on more traditional designs. Wood-paneled sides, porches to encourage a social community, and a loose referencing of the ‘shotgun’ style of home seen all through the city to encourage airflow and natural cooling through cross ventilation. What they also do is provide a forward momentum for a suburb that has been through some incredibly tough times and that should see them into the future. These homes are ‘green‘, with solar panelling, rainwater harvesting, using up to the minute building technologies which will reduce the running of these homes up to 75%,  so helping these families in the long run.

The previous evening we went to celebrate in the music at a benefit put on by The Make It Right Foundation, and Treme, the HBO TV series.What we saw was a great love and passion for its city and people. With memorials comes great uplifting music. At the Treme Benefit, musicians joined together for a night of celebration. The crowd were mostly locals – who came to hear their music. The music of their town played by the Treme musicians. There was something so amazingly joyful to be witnesses there. Personal anecdotes of the storm moved us both to tears at points, but moments later the music urged us to shake our booty to the Big Beat. This bitter-sweet feeling continued as people that have directly benefited from the Foundation’s work came forward to say thanks.

It is easy to judge a city that has lived through such tragedy as being hard-up and to feel sorry for it and its residents. Coming here, you quickly see that there is no room for judgement. This town isn’t looking for any sympathy from anyone – just recognition of what has happened and some action to see these things rectified. By bringing attention to the problems, and not only for anniversaries and presidential visits, but consistently and regularly, we can all contribute. By praising its music and musicians, by holidaying here and by eating all its amazing food, you help support those who live here. As James Andrews or “Satchmo of the Ghetto” said as he was leaving the stage “And too often all those people who think that New Orleans is a place to feel sorry for, you better not get them to come down here, ’cause they’ll never leave” or at least something to that effect. I was dancing too hard to copy it word for word, but the idea is there. Step off the sideline and muck in –  you’ll soon feel the spirit of this city in your bones too.

One thought on “Five years on in the Lower 9th Ward

  1. Pingback: Our American journey: redux | fat food taxi

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