Mid-City Geo-Politics

I’m pained by what I read on a couple local blogs this morning.

Jim Louis writes:

I have been more or less geographically rejected by the Mid-City Association and will not in the future ever refer to my neighborhood as Mid-City. I have in fact only been doing so recently as a convenience to outside readers who may need a little geographical crutch to picture my area. This exclusion makes me not even a little bit sad. I live in the Bienville Corridor or my self-named Faubourg Louisville, and don’t want to be, nor did I ever, want to be, associated with the politics of Mid-City.

Laureen writes about her meeting with Jim Taylor, the president of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization:

I really wanted to ask him about this area, the Iberville Corridor, Louisville, which has always been included in Mid-City but never really seemed to be represented in the organization. I just had to put it on the table. I knew what the answer would be. Taylor said he’d like to see the boundary stop at Broad for Mid-City proper. The two neighborhoods are starkly contrasted with the gentry up there near the park and the Iberville and Lafitte housing projects at the southern boundary. It was going to take a great effort to bring the two together for this viability thing and I just didn’t see an effort on the part of the organization to extend a hand… Taylor also said they are conducting surveys in Mid-City on their own to determine the number of residents there but you won’t see them down there below Broad.

I don’t want to defend the MCNO’s choice of geographic boundaries. They were established years ago, from what I can tell, and frankly I don’t care for them. My cognitive map of Mid-City embrace the blocks from Broad all the way to Claiborne. The Falstaff Brewery and Deutches Haus and Dooky Chase and Betsy’s Pancake House — aren’t these all in Mid-City? But it’s confusing, because people often use the term Mid-City to embrace a very large area, too big to be a true neighborhood. I’ve argued the MCNO should extend its outreach to Galvez or Claiborne, but I don’t think this will happen.

Nevertheless, the block where I live feels like it has more in common with the block where Jim Louis lives than the area above Jeff Davis.

In fact, the city’s 2005 Action Plan defines this as one of seven “strategic improvement zones”:

Mid-City/Bienville

The area is bounded by N. Claiborne Avenue – N. Jefferson Davis Parkway – Canal Street – St. Louis Street

Maybe we should form a Bienville Corridor Neighborhood Association. Jim, MaPó, you interested?

“Students may be the optimistic people in New Orleans”

The Washington Post published an article titled Amid Katrina’s Ruins, Black Colleges Survive:

Xavier University, the nation’s only historically black Catholic university, expected half its 4,100 students would return this semester; instead 3,110 are back on its restored campus, surrounded by uninhabitable houses and boarded-up shopping centers.

Until I read this article, I hadn’t thought about the fact that 3/4 of our students are back, but only about 1/3 of the city’s residents have returned.

“A Familiar Third World Story”

An oddly-titled article, “Katrina sweeps us pride” by Tushar Charan, has been published in the Asian Tribune. The “pride,” I gather, is in regard to how countries in Asia have responded to recent disasters. I was fascinated to see how the Katrina debacle is viewed from foreign shores.

Choice quotes:

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has amply exposed the vulnerability of the United States and showed to the world that the US is more at home attending to problems like deficiency of democracy in distant lands than the travails of disaster victims within its own walls.

And:

People in the condemned Third World need not derive any ‘satisfaction’ from the tragedy in the US. In fact, every country should draw lessons from what Katrina has done to the Americans and why. It appears that it was the system that failed in the US and the poor persons had to pay the price for it. Oh, but that sounds like a familiar third world story.

Rats

I don’t think I’ve mentioned anything about our next-door neighbor, Craig. His house was pretty badly damaged by the flood, and he does not plan to return to New Orleans. He’s not sure what he’s going to do with the house, which is only a few feet from ours. He retrieved some belongings in December and went back to Texas.

So the house is just sitting there, full of mold and who knows what else.

The real problem for us is the huge grapevine bramble in back of the house, which covers his shed and comes right up to the edge of our (second story) deck. It’s dead from the flood, and it looks like a giant bird’s nest. Indeed, a flock of sparrows has taken up residence there. As a result, the vines and our deck are bespeckled with bird droppings.

Rat's Nest

That was bad enough, but last night I noticed an inordinate amount of rustling in the bramble. It was a rat climbing around on the vines. The longer I looked, the more rats I saw.

Those grapevines have got to go.

My first impulse was to buy a chainsaw and some serious pruning shears and take it out myself. I think I could do it. But upon further reflection, I’m more inclined to hire someone to do it. It’s going to be a tough, dirty, nasty, exhausting job. And it’s not even on my property.

I talked with Craig on the phone this morning, and he said he’d be willing to share the cost with me as long as it’s not exorbitant. He also advised me to get a structural engineer to look at our house. He’s convinced a lot of these flooded homes will have structural problems in the years ahead because of sitting in brackish water for an extended period.

So many worries…

De-Clicked

The roofer came back and fixed the clicking whirly-fan. Hooray. And they only charged $400 total for the two-fan job. That included the hardware, the labor, everything. They took a looong time to get to me, but once they got to me, they proved to do be both competent and honest. I don’t know if they’re licensed or insured, but they have a fun name: When It Rains It Pours. And the main roofer guy’s girlfriend is from Bloomington, so you know they’re OK. Plenty of people still need roof work in New Orleans. So give me a holler if you want a referral.

It’s Getting Hot in Herre

According to NASA, 2005 was the hottest year on record.

2005 Chart and Map

These numbers are alarming, and that’s just the tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg. 2005 wasn’t even an El Niño year.

It is no longer correct to say that “most global warming occurred before 1940″. More specifically, there was slow global warming, with large fluctuations, over the century up to 1975 and subsequent rapid warming…

And of course this is related to the killer hurricane season we just had. Warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico create stronger hurricanes.

Donald Kennedy, in an editorial for Science, puts it in rather strident terms:

We know with confidence what has made the Gulf and other oceans warmer than they had been before: the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human industrial activity, to which the United States has been a major contributor. That’s a worldwide event, affecting all oceans. When Katrina hit the shore at an upgraded intensity, it encountered a wetland whose abuse had reduced its capacity to buffer the storm, and some defective levees gave way. Not only is the New Orleans damage not an act of God; it shouldn’t even be called a “natural” disaster. These terms are excuses we use to let ourselves off the hook.

[emphasis added]

Meet the Neighbors

Xy talked to some of our new Mexican neighbors. Turns out they’re from — drum roll, please — Indiana!

We’re from Indiana too, in case you didn’t know. What are the chances? It’s like this little block in Mid-City New Orleans is being taken over by Hoosiers.

I talked to one of the guys, Antonio. He said he graduated from a high school in Indianapolis (on 38th Street?) five years ago. I was surprised, considering his shaky command of English.

I’m not sure if they’re American citizens or not. I didn’t ask. But I’m guessing they are here legally.

As for the family living on the other side of the Mexicans, it turns out they’re Guatemalans. We met a guy named Benito, a woman named Maria, and some others whose names I didn’t catch.

Xy Meets the Neighbors

Xy brought some toys and school supplies, rescued from Habans, for the kids. They especially appreciated the bilingual books.

They’ve been good neighbors thus far. Early to bed and early to rise. Hurricane Katrina brought them here, just as it dispersed our neighbors. They came for the rebuilding work. And the Mexican guys were listening to some Latin hip-hop the other day that I thought was really cool.

Xy knows just enough Spanish to communicate. I’ve been thinking I should learn the language ever since we moved here six years ago and were befriended by Hondurans. It seems like an even better idea in Nuevo Orleans.

Fans

The roofer I’d been waiting on for weeks finally arrived Monday. He critiqued Quickdraw’s work and gave it a big thumbs up. He was a little surprised that “a guy from the neighborhood” had done such a good job.

I couldn’t leave well enough alone, though. I wanted better ventilation for our attic. It’s almost 1,000 square feet with only a single (powered) fan. After some discussion, I asked him to install a couple “whirlybird” style fans on our roof, one in back and one in front.

Fan on Roof

The job was done yesterday, while I was at work. The front fan is barely visible from across the street, but the back fan is easily seen from the back deck.

And now I’ve got a case of roofer’s remorse. I’m second-guessing myself. I’m a little alarmed at the appearance of this big silvery thing erupting from the surface of our roof. But more importantly: Was this such a smart idea after all? I just had two more holes cut in my roof. I’m nervous about holes in the roof after my old fan was ripped out by Katrina. Isn’t adding more fans just asking for more trouble?

The idea, of course, is that by exhausting hot air from the attic, it will help keep the whole house a little cooler and cut down on our AC bills. The fan pictured here is installed over our kitchen, which always was the hottest room in the house. Hopefully the fan will make a difference. But our AC bills were never that high to begin with. Why did I bother?

And shouldn’t it be installed a little higher on the roof? Hot air rises, after all.

Whirly Fan

Another misgiving: the lack of adequate intake. We have no intake vents at all. I discussed this with the roofer too, and his opinion was that, given the structure of our roof (no soffits), our only option was for big frog vents (I think that’s what he called them) which would be prohibitively expensive. But he also observed that old roofs like ours are never airtight, so some air would always be drawn in through the numerous gaps.

Also, the damn thing makes a click as it rotates. I’m sure that will annoy me when I’m trying to sit out on my back deck and read a book.

Maybe I’m worrying too much.

My Block from Space

Google Maps recently added two zoom levels to their satellite views, and made other improvements that make it even more fun to fool around with. I immediately took a gander at where I live. Here’s my block in Mid-City New Orleans:

My Block

Several observations:

  1. I can actually see our back deck
  2. The imagery would seem to be pre-Katrina. Happier, cleaner days. More living grass. And I can see the abandoned cars in the neighbor’s driveway, which were hauled away before the storm.
  3. The grid in my neighborhood is about 45º off the compass points. No wonder we don’t reference North South East West much in the city.
  4. Dang, but the houses are packed in tight on our block.

Death of a Political Fantasy

I was sad to hear this morning that The West Wing has been cancelled.

This was the only current broadcast television series that I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought the writing and acting was brilliant. And I only tuned in for the last two seasons, when the quality had supposedly fallen off.

I am also thoroughly sheepish about my devotion to this show. Why? Because the premise of the show contradicts some of my most deeply held beliefs about the American political scene.

The show offers a basically benevolent take on the presidency. Power brokers are generally depicted as well-meaning and decent. It’s a comforting, paternalistic vision. The people in charge will take care of us.

Maybe that’s the appeal of the show: It’s political fantasy.

Last night’s episode was a perfect example, and one that hit home. There was a crisis at a nuclear power plant that threatened to become a full-scale meltdown disaster. President Bartlett was competent, compassionate, conscientious, involved, on top of everything.

The parallels to Hurricane Katrina were unmistakable. It sent a chill down my spine. Yet what a contrast to the reality of the Bush administration’s management of the real disaster.

But I don’t relish The West Wing because it makes Bush look bad. I don’t buy the fantasy, period. I’m a complete cynic. I don’t think we can afford to trust our leaders. They serve themselves. And I never met a presidential administration that I liked.

But it’s fun to watch The West Wing and pretend.

Fridge

Adding to my innertube frustrations on Thursday: We were supposed to be getting our new refrigerator delivered. We bought it last month. But Sears never called me, and when I called them, it got very confusing with the departments and the voice menus and the busy signals and the unanswered extensions and the contradictory runaround. They didn’t seem to have our fridge or know anything about it.

Then I got a e-bill from BellSouth, for current phone and internet services. What the hell does this mean? I don’t have phone or internet.

It turns out that these two things are related. The reason I didn’t get a call from Sears was that they tried my land line, which hasn’t worked since the flood.

Yes, Sears and I finally connected. For a bit they were suggesting that the fridge had already been delivered that morning. “Are you sure it’s not there?”

Indeed, the delivery guy had come by the house earlier that morning, while I was at work. They sent him back around, and we got our fridge.

New Fridge

I had to sign for it, and as I did so, I noticed that the delivery guy had made a note when he stopped by the first time: Entire block is abandoned.

Even so, there are signs of life on our block tonight. The Mexican guys have fixed up another house and a whole Mexican family seems to have moved in, complete with children, and tonight they’re having a party, and the block is ringing with loud music for the first time since the Big Storm.

It’s almost like the old days, except the music is mariachi and corrido instead of hip-hop and R&B.

Sweet Ride

Here’s me on my new bicycle:

P1150008.JPG

Originally uploaded by Michael Homan

It’s a Raleigh Venture 5.0. Extra large Atomic 13 butted aluminum frame, SR suspension fork, Hayes HMX-2 disc brakes. Sweet. I bought it to replace my old bike, which was flooded.

(People have told me that my old bike was salvageable. I don’t know about that. It sat in salty water for a couple weeks. I gave it a ride around the block, and figured it would never be the same. So I put it on the pile. Xy’s bike too. When I came back the next morning, they were both gone. I guess someone was willing to put in the effort to fix those bikes. More power to ’em, and good luck.)

Got the bike last week. I’ve been riding to work since, which has been a joy, despite the rather depressing surroundings of the flooded neighborhoods of Mid-City and Gert Town. I’ve ridden to work pretty much every day for the last five years or more, and this hurricane business really messed with my routine.

The Culprit

Wednesday I caught my first flat. Ran over a damn nail. I tried patching the tube yesterday morning, but the patches wouldn’t hold. I guess the damage is too severe. I’ll have to replace the tube.

So I’m riding Xy’s new bike instead, a three-speed Sun Drifter. I’m glad she opted for blue rather than pink.

Why I Came Back

I’ve never articulated, publicly, why I came back to New Orleans. But I’ll try.

I own property here. I have a job here. In some ways, coming back was the path of least resistance. Also, New Orleans is a unique city that I’ve come to love.

All of which is true enough. But property can be sold, and I could find another job elsewhere. There are other cities, other places I could connect with and even love.

The truth is I came back for another reason. I came back because of curiosity. I came back because I’m interested. The rebuilding of New Orleans will surely be one of the most significant stories in the nation’s history, certainly the most significant of my lifetime. I used to think the terrorist attacks of September 11th would be the defining event of this age. Maybe they were. But Katrina looms large, and decades from now I believe we will still be looking back at the disaster in awe and dread. Hopefully we’ll look back at the recovery in a more positive light.

Anyway, I couldn’t imagine sitting on the sidelines. I couldn’t imagine watching the reconstruction from afar. Perhaps if some great opportunity had presented itself elsewhere — but it didn’t. And so I felt I had to come back. And right now there is no place I’d rather be.

To my friends who are not returning to New Orleans, or who are here but are planning to leave: I understand. It’s a tough decision. I wish you the best, wherever your destiny takes you.

MLK

Xy and I ventured to the Lower Ninth Ward Monday morning. Caffin and Claiborne is where the Martin Luther King Day parade traditionally begins. In the past, this parade has seemed like a rowdy dress rehearsal for Mardi Gras, almost completely detached from anything recognizable as a legacy of Dr. King.

But this year things were different. The official parade was moved to another location. The event in the Lower Ninth Ward was mostly attended by white political activists. (We were solicited on behalf of the Revolutionary Communist Party as soon as we arrived.) Considering that the Lower Ninth Ward is such a celebrated black community, I found this pretty depressing. Of course, the setting was also depressing. The Lower Nine is in bad shape these days. Houses are falling over or falling apart. Many have floated off their foundations and sit cockeyed, in another yard or in the street.

MLK Day March

All of this might have been offset by messages of hope, but those were few and far between. Most of the voices raised were raised in anger. People were angry about many things, but mainly at the suggestion that the Lower Nine might not be rebuilt. King’s demand for justice resonated, but his message of universal love was not in evidence. I understand the anger, and the confusion, but I’m skeptical that this event and the attendant rhetoric helped anyone much. Still, there was such passion that I think this neighborhood will be rebuilt, somehow, someway.

Meanwhile, at the “official” parade, Mayor Nagin appeared to lose his mind entirely. He claimed to have spoken to Dr. King himself that morning. He said that the hurricanes we’ve suffered through were God’s punishment for our military presence in Iraq. Maybe he and Pat Robertson should form a club.

(You can listen to the mayor’s speech and decide for yourself if he’s crazy or not.)

MCNO

I’ve taken over webmaster duties for the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. I’ve been a little skeptical of this organization in the past, but I decided that I should put aside my differences for a time. We need to work together to rebuild our neighborhood and prove our viability to the city.

I’ve become a big believer in the power of blogs. They make it easy for non-technical people to post content to the web. I ran into Alexander Oliver of nola.com at a recent MCNO meeting, and he agreed a blog was the way to go.

So I installed WordPress on their webhost, and on Sunday gave a quick training session to Jim and Wendy, and voila — We’ve got a new website, one which will hopefully be more dynamic, engaging, useful and up-to-date.

Check out the new site at mcno.org.

Synchronicity

It was stormy this morning. I took a picture out my office window:

Stormy Morning

Then I realized I’d taken an almost identical picture one year ago to the day:

Cold Front

Same story both days too: I knew it was going to rain, so I rode my bike to campus early and beat the deluge.

I hope this does not foretell further recurrent weather patterns in New Orleans.

You Know You’re in Trouble When You Rile Up the Catholic Schoolgirls

New Orleans Protest

Photo by howieluvzus.

Yesterday President Bush visited New Orleans.

Howie’s posted some pix of a demonstration at Jackson Square, where hundreds of Catholic schoolgirls showed up in life vests and wading boots.

I couldn’t make it myself, but I’ve attended a number of rallies over the years, particularly anti-war rallies. I’ve often been frustrated at how the message gets confused or diluted with all sorts of different agendas.

But this rally seems to have been remarkably well organized and clearly focused. The message was unmistakable, because it was repeated again and again on handmade placards: “Cat 5 Levees and Coastal Restoration Now.”

There was very little anti-Bush or pro-Bush sentiment. No partisan bickering. Another popular sign read “Party Affiliation: Louisianan.”

Something about the image of young people making this demand seems very compelling and poignant. I hope it made the national news.

Four Months

According to a story in the morning paper, our neighborhood has four months to prove its viability.

Plan for the Future?

This is according to the new plan from the mayor’s Bring New Orleans Back commission. (Actually it’s supposed to be unveiled this afternoon. I guess someone leaked it to the paper.) It appears to be a compromise between two extremes. Months ago, the Urban Land Institute proposed a “phased redevelopment” plan, which would have held off redevelopment of badly flooded areas, at least for the time being. A lot of people didn’t like that, particularly if they lived in one of those areas. So other folks began to advocate for more of a “market driven” approach: Let people rebuild everywhere, and let the market decide what’s viable. Conservatives seemed to favor the strong government approach, and liberals seemed to favor letting the market decide. Kind of the opposite of what you’d expect. At least that’s my half-baked analysis.

But the new plan is a compromise. It kicks the question out to the various neighborhoods. If they were badly flooded, they will have to prove their viability. They’re using the City Planning Districts; we’re in District #4, most of which was flooded.

So now we’ve got something to prove. I’m not sure exactly how we do that, but I’m thinking the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization will play a role. And I’m pretty confident that our neighborhood will come back, given our central location.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the plan about mass transit and bike paths and so forth, but that will tend to be overlooked right now because all attention will be focused on who can rebuild where.

Of course, this plan is just a proposal. It’s not binding. All sorts of people have to sign off on it. But at first glance, at least, it seems like a “good enough” plan to me. Right now New Orleans desperately needs some clarity of focus for all the efforts that are underway.

I’m sure it has flaws, though. For one thing, what about all the displaced New Orleanians who want to return but who lost their homes and jobs and therefore have no place to live in the city now? How are their voices going to be heard?