Friday, July 06, 2007

7/07/2007 Community Gumbo

Listen | Democracy Now (7/04/07)
  • We Shall Overcome: An Hour With Legendary Folk Singer & Activist Pete Seeger.
  • Also recommended, Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson Reacts to Bush’s Commutation of Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jail Sentence in Outing of Valerie Plame, on Democracy Now (7/05/07).

Listen | A Gentilly 4th of July

Photo Gallery

It’s difficult to gauge the progress of New Orleans neighborhoods still recovering from the great flood unleashed by the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina.

One of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans was the expansive Gentilly neighborhood. Despite the vast devastation caused by floodwaters over 8 feet deep, there are at least some reports which suggest the neighborhood is on the rebound.

There were, for example, encouraging conclusions drawn from a Dartmouth College survey of just over 16,000 Gentilly properties in March. Researchers reported that just 4 percent of those properties remained untouched since Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, 31 percent are occupied or completely restored.

On the other hand, the Dartmouth researchers calculated that 57 percent of homes are gutted or under construction. As everyone in New Orleans knows, however, there’s a big gap between gutting a home and rebuilding it.

After fighting with insurance companies, after wading through the red tape of federal rebuilding grants, the inflated price of materials and contractors makes rebuilding all the more difficult.

That fact that there are 2500 FEMA trailers in Gentilly might be taken as a sign that the neighborhood is being re-populated, but that’s a relatively small number of trailers. Moreover, the presence of trailers might suggest that the neighborhood is being repopulated, but many of those trailers don’t appear to be regularly occupied.

Again, there were signs of promise in a recent study which reported that the New Orleans population has grown to 262,000 residents, a 17 percent increase from July of 2006. On the other hand, there are still 200,000 residents who haven’t returned, and now, almost on the eve of the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, these are very likely some of the city’s most productive residents – homeowners who may have started to build careers and lives elsewhere while their lives here in New Orleans remain on hold.

Because statistics can be deceptive, and because there’s a lot to learn by listening to individual narratives, I decided to set out for the Gentilly neighborhood to find out how residents were celebrating the 4th of July holiday.

I hoped to find more activity in Gentilly on the 4th of July. I really hoped to find some backyard barbecues.

What I found instead was a piece of America still under siege. It isn’t an inspiring sight. On the other hand, as with most things in New Orleans, what inspires is not the work yet to be done, but the spirit of tenacious citizens fighting to reclaim their own little piece of land, despite the odds, despite the difficulties. Like the homesteaders of another era, these New Orleanians are 21st century pioneers, creating new homesteads out of the wreckage of a devastating flood almost two years ago. These too are proud Americans … struggling to reclaim their neighborhoods … and the heritage of their city … on the 4th of July.

Corps flood risk assessment

Dartmouth survey


Coleman Warner, "Survey shows Gentilly on the rebound," The Times-Picayune, 4/26/07.

Bruce Eggler, "New Orleans population reaches 262,000 in May," The Times-Picayune, 6/28/07.

Mark Schleifstein and Sheila Grissett, "Corps releases flooding risk maps," The Times-Picayune, 6/20/07.

Music Played:
Pete Seeger, "You are My Sunshine," American Favorite Ballads, v. 4, Folkways, 1961 (re-issue).

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, "Tryin' to Win," Midnight Special, Fantasy Records, 1977.

Johnny Cash, Troublesome Waters, "Ultimate Gospel," Columbia Nashville Legacy, 2007.

The Staple Singers, "A Better Home," Great Day, Milestone Records, 1975.


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