Blank Screen

When I was a teenager, I used to read the comics section of the newspaper on a fairly regular basis. For some reason I’ve gotten into the habit again over the last couple months. The comics have gotten smaller and my eyes have gotten worse. Some of the strips are mildly amusing, while others seem like a waste of paper. I like the form; I like how a miniature story can be conveyed so briefly, with just a few images and words. One thing I find interesting, these days, is how I see general themes of cultural commentary that are common across multiple strips. For example, social media and text massaging are popular targets. Every now and then, one strip or another will drop something that makes me do a double-take.

I have to admit that “Hi and Lois” is not, generally speaking, one of my favorites, but it is certainly familiar. This is a strip I grew up with, and the characters seem almost like distant family members.

So… that brings us to a certain strip that ran last week. Let me recreate the basic plot.

Hi Flagston walks into the living room. He sees his wife sitting in front of their flat-panel television. He asks her, “What are you watching?”

Lois replies, “Nothing!”

Hi seems mildly concerned: “You’re not just saying that, are you?” He notices something isn’t quite right.

Lois answers: “Staring at a blank screen is like meditating.”

That’s right, the television isn’t on.

"Staring at a blank screen is like meditating."

To top it off, Lois is wide-eyed and smiling, looking vaguely desperate or blissed-out — I’m not sure which.

I believe staring at a blank wall is a practice in Zen Buddhism. I would love to see Brian and Greg Walker explore this new direction for Lois. Maybe she could start busting out some koans (like Zippy the Pinhead) or startling Dawg with a particularly piercing katsu.

Thoughts on the Death of Jeremy Galmon

When I was changing planes in Philly I got two pieces of bad news from New Orleans, the second of which was so harrowing it made the first seem trivial.

First, I learned the Saints suffered their first defeat of the season, in overtime, no less; to the Atlanta Falcons, no less; at the Superdome, no less.

Next, I learned a that a young boy had caught a bullet and had been rushed to the hospital. When I landed in New Orleans I read the news that he had died. His name was Jeremy Galmon. He was two years old.

That certainly does put things in painful perspective, like Cliff says. It’s hard to get too worked up about a football game when you’re confronted with such an atrocity.

And yet when I picked up the paper Monday morning, what did I see? Yes, the story of Jeremy’s death made a front page headline. So did the football game. But the football headline was two or three times as big. I felt a painful dissonance, looking at that front page.

In the days that have followed, we’ve had more coverage of the story of Jeremy’s murder, the grief of his family, the circumstances of his death, the response by authorities, the arrest of one suspect, the hunt for another. We’ve also had plenty of continuing coverage of how the Saints are responding to their loss, bringing in other kickers, and so forth. I haven’t done a serious analysis, but it’s clear that more ink has been spilled on the latter story over the last four days.

I’m sure the folks at the TP would say that they are giving the people what they want. I buy that, but only to a certain extent. Does our media reflect our culture or create it? I believe it does both. It may be true that, as a society, we are more concerned with professional sports than the murder of a child. But this is a time for our media to exercise some leadership. This is a time to provide some in-depth reportage on the underlying causes of violence. Look at the amount of analysis that fills out the Sports section every day. If we had half that much analysis of social problems we’d surely make some progress.

The tragic death of Jeremy Galmon is a story that people will respond to. Such tragedies are also learning opportunities, and we desperately need to learn some lessons. Across the political spectrum, people understand that violence is a problem. We also need to share an understanding of the root causes of this endemic social problem, if we are to come to consensus on solutions.

I’ve been beating up on the media here, but I want to be clear that the real villain in this story is whoever pulled the trigger. Yet the media do have a role to play, and it is a vital one. They need to engage the issues when the public is engaged, and this story is an example.

And why does Jeremy’s story move us so? Every loss of life is regrettable, regardless of age. If a victim is 20 or 200, it’s still tragic. But there’s something especially wrenching when a toddler is a victim of violence. Few of us are completely innocent; we’re all caught up in a web of social complicity to some degree; we all bear some guilt for what we’ve allowed our culture to become. The main exception to this is children. They are truly and unquestionably innocent. (And please don’t talk to me about “original sin.”) I know very little really, about Jeremy, but I can guarantee you this: He never hurt anyone. He didn’t deserve this.

Katrina Time

Day 43

It’s that time of year when remembrance dominates our minds and the media. For some it can be painful and even oppressive, for others it is necessary and therapeutic. But no matter your attitude, it’s virtually inescapable.

Because humans have five fingers on each hand, this anniversary gets special attention, and the remembrance is not a strictly local phenomenon. Across the nation people are being reminded of what happened on the Gulf Coast five years ago.

But down here it’s even more intense. A superficial glance at this morning’s paper reveals no fewer than eleven Katrina-related headlines on the front pages of the various sections, including the Metro, Living and, yes, even the Sports sections. And I’m probably missing a few. I haven’t even looked at the arts and entertainment Lagniappe supplement.

This has been building all week.

If it feels like more than five years to some of us, that’s because disasters apparently make their own time. As with youth and grief and travel and certain psychedelic drugs, time seems to slow down.

This is called time dilation. When everything you take for granted is ripped out from under you, it forces you to slow down and live in the moment.

Those first two weeks after Katrina lasted about two years. The next couple months, another year. I’m not sure exactly how long the following year lasted but it was surely much longer than 365 days. Time has only slowly come to heel.

All in all, I’d say Katrina happened about 15 years ago. Anyone who’s lived through it knows I speak the truth. But because we are ruled by the calendar and not our hearts, five years it is.

A funny thing happened almost exactly halfway through those five ostensible years. We had a baby. I used to think our lives would always be defined in terms of before and after Katrina. But it turns out that having a child has been an even more profoundly transformative experience. In some ways, at least, our post-Katrina era is being eclipsed by the Age of Persephone. We’ve spent two and half years in each.

From this point on the eclipse will just become more complete. I never expected sorrow to be eclipsed by joy like this, but there it is. If I wasn’t a parent, I’d still feel satisfied with our personal recovery. But I wouldn’t feel this clear and definitive break with what came before. It would be a long gradual subsidence rather than this sudden inoculation.

I know my personal experience is just that — personal. Time has not healed all wounds. We still face manifest challenges as a community and as individuals, both here on the Gulf Coast and in the diaspora.

My heart goes out, at this time especially, to all those who are still struggling with Katrina, to those who have been displaced yet still yearn to come home, to those who have not been made whole, to those who still feel the heartbreak and loss.

I hope, in time, you find some measure of peace.


Photo by Gary Martin, licensed under Creative Commons

Comiskey Shot

Comiskey Park Brandsource Community Center

Now that school’s back in session and my daughter’s back in daycare, I’m back to riding on the Jeff Davis bike path each morning on my way to work. That takes me past Comiskey Park and a sad tableau of signage for a community center that never materialized. I thought to myself a couple times over the past couple weeks that I should stop and take a photo. It would be one of those shots that tells much of the story all by itself.

Then, yesterday morning, I opened the paper to discover Eliot Kamenitz beat me to it. Imagine — scooped by a professional photographer.

So on the way home yesterday I snapped my own version. Better late than never.

I remember in late 2006 that a company named DNA Creative Media approached Mid-City Neighborhood Organization with a somewhat unusual proposition. They wanted to make a “reality show” about building something in New Orleans. One idea being floated was a community center at Comiskey Park in Mid-City, but they were also looking at other sites. MCNO rallied a bunch of neighbors to turn out and greet the producers when they visited Comiskey on November 29th of that year. I stopped by on my way home from work to support the cause. Many neighbors had made signs with slogans like “DNA + Mid-City = A Perfect Match.” In short, as a community we pulled out all stops to land this deal.

Apparently the producers were impressed by the warm reception. In some other neighborhoods they’d visited, people were more skeptical.

Perhaps we should have been more skeptical too. The whole thing struck me as bizarre. But remember, we were still in full-on recovery mode. Our future was far from clear. We were still living in a surreal landscape of destruction. We were desperate.

For a while things looked like they were proceeding according to plan. It was announced that Louis Gossett Jr. would host the show. Neighbors developed a wishlist for features they wanted to see. Soon, plans for a beautiful community center were unveiled. Here’s a description from the neighborhood discussion group:

The center will be a 2-story building which will include an indoor NBA-sized basketball court; a 4-station kitchen with commercial grade appliances (to be used for cooking classes and demos); and a general purpose room for meetings, theater, dance & exercise. A state-of-the-art computer lab with Internet access will encourage research by students of all ages as well as allowing families and friends still divided by the Katrina evacuation to keep in touch by email. The contract between DNA and the City was signed on February 6th. Demolition of derelict buildings on the site and construction of the new center is planned for later this year.

You can even listen to Damon Harman of DNA describe the project.

Some preliminary work began. In May of 2007 I took this photo.

Cranes on the Skyline

Some time after the piles were driven, work stopped. In October we read in the paper that the project was bogged down in governmental red tape. In March 2008 we learned that DNA was filing for bankruptcy. They were also facing a lawsuit from Paul Davis National, the contractor (based in Wisconsin) they’d hired. Paul Davis claimed DNA still owed them money for work completed.

And that’s brings us back to yesterday’s article by Masako Hirsch and Gordon Russell. It seems the City of New Orleans will have to pay the $700,000 owed to Paul Davis National.

Doesn’t seem quite right, does it? What I have to wonder — was the whole thing a scam from the beginning, or was it an “honest” bit of incompetent business, or did this run afoul of the global economic downturn, or did government bureaucracy slow things down so much it wrecked the project?

Vnad Ladlkj Faldkfj

Here’s a shot of the Times-Picayune, Section C, May 29, 2010.

Vnad Ladlkj Faldkfj

Oops.

I still remember when I discovered the existence of typos and other such mistakes, at the tender age of eight or ten. I was so taken by the concept that mistakes could make their way into print that I began to collect them. I kept my clippings in a box for a black light bulb, which was labeled “Black Light Blub.” In fact, I think it was that “Blub” that first sparked my interest.

The collection is long gone, alas, but I still take a perverse delight in seeing mistakes in print. I’m sure this was an embarrassment to someone at the Times-Pic, but it provided me with a brief moment of amusement. So, thanks.

Books vs. TV

I am pretty excited about HBO’s new series, Tremé. I still haven’t actually seen it yet, but I feel like I have, almost.

It premiered Friday night, and I had a couple invites to see it in some venues that would have been fun. (Like the Charbonnet Funeral Home in Tremé. That would have been a trip.) But the time-slot was late, and there’s no way I was going to keep my girl up past her bedtime. So that meant either Xy or I could see it while the other person stayed home and played the responsible adult.

I got stuck being the responsible one.

Since we don’t subscribe to cable television, I couldn’t watch the show, but I did “tune in” to Twitter where I watched a veritable deluge of commentary pouring forth — thousands of tweets, far too many to read in real time. I’d say comments were 90% positive, but it is hardly a scientific sample.

In the other 10%, one remark in particular caught my eye, from local author and luminary Poppy Z. Brite:

Read a Book

As noted, I don’t quite share her perspective — but I respect it. And in fact I think it provides the perfect springboard for a workshop I’m doing next week on Goodreads.

Different media have different affordances. Despite the convergence exemplified by technologies like the World Wide Web, there are still some relevant distinctions to be made. You can’t beat television for live coverage of a sporting event, for example; I’d argue that’s the ultimate application of that medium. You just can’t watch the game on a book.

As for dramatic narrative? That’s one reason Tremé is interesting to me, as it seems to be a best-case scenario. It’s not an adaptation of a book but a dramatic narrative straight-up written for television, involving lots of very talented people who have a great track record. If it’s anywhere near as good as The Wire I’m sure I’ll love it.

However, I still think theater and cinema and books are better venues for dramatic narrative. Television can aspire to the same level of quality as the best of those, but can it do anything unique? Is there anything a TV series can do that a film or a book can’t do? I don’t think so — beyond perhaps a heightened sense of social immediacy.

And that’s where Goodreads comes in. It adds that dimension of social immediacy to the reading of books. Or you can just use it to keep track of what you’ve read and what you want to read. I think it’s fairly handy, and of course, I’m on there so feel free to add me as a friend.

I’m curious to know what others think about dramatic narrative on the small screen. Is there anything a TV series can do that a film or a book can’t do better?

Such a Brutal Lifestyle

Yesterday’s front page story really captured our attention. All credit to reporter Sarah Carr. I’d never heard of the school she focused on, but the parallels to Xy’s experience are striking. I’ve quoted the story at length below, interspersing some of my own thoughts where relevant.

Early every morning, Akili Academy’s teachers gather for a daily bonding ritual.

Clutching caffeinated beverages, they offer praise to one another for achievements large and small: calming down an upset student, teaching an outstanding lesson on “realistic fiction” to kindergarteners, sorting out unspecified “bathroom issues.”

For the finale, the charter school’s staff pulls in closer for a quick huddle, like a sports team preparing to take the field. “Who are we proud to be?” one teacher asks. “Akili Academy of New Orleans!” they shout in unison, sending their arms flying. They then head to class before the students arrive.

But this is no casual competition or recreational game. It lasts at least 10 hours every weekday, often spills over into the weekends, and, at times, consumes the lives of the mostly young Akili staff.

“I’m totally tired, and if I’m still working this many hours next year, I maybe wouldn’t work a fourth year,” said Francis Giesler, an Akili teacher. Giesler, 24, a 2008 graduate of Loyola University, grew up in St. Louis.

While Giesler praises Akili for its supportive work environment, she gives voice to a nagging concern of school reformers and charter leaders across the city and the country. How can a movement predicated in part on superhuman exertions of time and effort sustain itself and grow in the long term?

As Giesler puts it: “How good a school are you if you have really strong results, but can’t take that model anywhere else because it was solely reliant on the bodies in the building, and kills people after two years?”

If the model kills people after two years, what do they become after, say, thirteen years? Do they become zombies? Or are they just miserable?

A growing number of schools, particularly charters, embrace a “no excuses” or “whatever it takes” attitude toward closing the achievement gap between poor, minority students and their wealthier peers. Poverty isn’t an excuse for school failure. Neither is bad parenting. Or insufficient school funding.

But to overcome these obstacles, a school’s staff and students must work harder — in the evenings, on weekends and through the summer — and give up some of their personal lives for their jobs.

Arguably nowhere is this trend so pronounced as in New Orleans, where charter schools mushroomed after Hurricane Katrina and hundreds of ambitious young educators like Giesler now live and teach. A looming question facing school leaders is how to maintain momentum as teachers and administrators inevitably grow up, burn out or move on.

Of course not all schools provide such a supportive environment, but the general approach of overloading teachers seems to be ubiquitous. Our schools are currently running on the efforts of the young and idealistic. Of course one has to wonder: What about the not-so-young, the veteran teachers who’ve been around the block, whose idealism may be a bit ragged, but who also have the experience and (dare I say it) the wisdom? Actually I don’t wonder, because I’m married to such a teacher, and I’ve seen what this trend is doing to her first-hand, and it ain’t nice.

“You’re going to run out of people willing to work an 80-hour week,” [principal Sean Gallagher] said. “Everyone here is single; no one has a kid. That’s just not (replicable). I want us to look like something any school in New Orleans could do. Right now, we’re not there.”

Gallagher said he tried to recruit a diverse teaching staff: young and old, novice and experienced, natives and transplants.

But the time commitment proved a deal-breaker with most veteran, New Orleans educators.

At one recruitment fair, a job-seeker stopped by Gallagher’s table.

“Longer school day? Longer school year?” the man asked.

When Gallagher nodded, the teacher quickly walked away, saying, “Don’t need to talk to you.”

We’re not sure but we think the job-seeker was our friend James. I remember when he did that.

Educators will probably always debate the importance of experience, some of which boils down to the contrasting philosophies of school leaders. Some emphasize the importance of building a family-like school culture, where children can develop lifelong relationships with teachers who attend their churches, live in the neighborhood and might even have taught their parents. Others say they care about continuity, but will do whatever it takes to build a high-performing school, even if that means higher teacher turnover.

A growing group of educators and policy wonks say they are not particularly concerned about chronic teacher turnover in urban schools, as long as there’s a pipeline of bright workaholics to fill the vacancies.

And with Teach for America, that pipeline looks inexhaustible. These kids are too young and fresh to realize they’re being exploited. Maybe it’s a viable model; maybe our schools are so screwed up that we have to resort to such measures; I really don’t know. But I do know that it sucks to have the terrain shift beneath your feet, so to speak. It sucks to have your chosen career slowly turned into something you can no longer do. We seem to be moving in the opposite direction from the reforms we truly need.

“I don’t think turnover is inherently bad,” said Andrew Rotherham, publisher of Education Sector, an education policy think tank. “Planned turnover or turnover you can deal with without yielding quality is fine.”

Translation: It’s OK to use and abuse people so long as there’s more fresh meat to victimize tomorrow.

Others stress that more value should be placed on making teaching a viable career for those who do not meet the typical Teach For America profile: young, well-educated and unattached.

Andre Perry, CEO of the University of New Orleans’ charter school network, said he worries about relying too heavily on young teachers from out of town. He notes that schools that burn out their teachers after a few years must repeatedly reinvest in replacements. “It just seems inefficient,” he said.

Perry encourages school leaders to foster the notion that “teaching is a way of living” that can coincide with having a life outside work.

“We are not creating that enough here in New Orleans,” he said. “It’s such a brutal lifestyle. We’re so focused on performance in such a specific way that we’ve become robots.”

Perry’s quote brings tears to my eyes. “Such a brutal lifestyle.” It resonates because I’ve seen Xy ground down over the years by the increasingly unreal regimen. It’s like an endless demand for more that can never be filled. It’s never enough.

The kicker came at the very end of the article.

Still, Giesler can’t imagine ever balancing her 31 students at Akili with a child of her own.

“I couldn’t imagine doing this job with a kid,” she says. “I really could not.”

And that is really what clinches the decision for Xy. She feels like she’s missing out on her daughter’s childhood.

And so that’s why Xy has decided to seek a new career after thirteen years in the classroom.

Needless to say, if you’re interested in this topic you really should read the whole story.

PS: It strikes me that this issue is appropriate to contemplate on International Women’s Day as the teaching and rearing of children has been historically deemed as “women’s work” in our culture. That teachers are chronically overworked and undervalued is perhaps not coincidental.

Saints Metaphor

I was listening to WWL and WBOK yesterday. These two talk-radio stations could not be more different in so many ways. And yet the theme was the same on both — the Saints as a metaphor for this city. Not a metaphor for what we actually are, but a metaphor for what we could be. A parable, an example, a model. And the message is so simple and basic. If we work together as a team we can succeed. We can achieve excellence. It’s like we’ve been beaten down so hard and for so long that very idea of success seems like a novel concept that can move grown folks to tears of joy.

Unfortunately the follow-up talk pretty much demonstrated that we have a long way to go. I could expand on that but I’m not in the mood.

American Profile

My friend Leonardo e-mailed me about this.

Our paper carries a Parade magazine like thing during the week called American Perspectives or something like that. At any rate, today’s cover story is on unusual baby names. The illustration is a dozen ‘My name is’ name tags like you’d wear at a conference. And the name, front and center, is ‘Persephone.’

Five minutes after he dropped a copy in the mail for me, my mother e-mailed a scan of the cover.

American Profile

I thought it was kind of cool, but Xy’s pissed off about it. She thinks a bunch of people will see it and name their daughters Persephone, thus making the name a little less unusual, a little more common.

Ballooning

I was curious as to how Obama’s visit to New Orleans might be covered in the national media. Would it serve to re-focus attention, however briefly, on our recovery efforts? Perhaps the national economic situation trumps concerns about rebuilding one particular city?

As it turns out, though, there just wasn’t much media coverage at all. (Despite a surprisingly harsh write-up by Eugene Robinson.) The media was distracted because a kid hid in an attic for a few hours while a balloon floated around.

The whole thing is now revealed to be a hoax, but of course that doesn’t stop the coverage; it merely multiplies it. Now the hoax is the story. The real joke is on us, of course — all of us. We seem to have lost our grip. It’s almost like we, as a society, are helplessly riding on a runaway balloon, and all anyone with half a brain can do is relax and try to enjoy the scenery as it rushes past below us.

So in honor of Balloon Boy, here’s a mix to accompany your ride.

Of course there is the possibility that we, as a society, are not hostage to a runaway balloon at all. Perhaps we are hiding. In a box. In the attic. Don’t you think it’s time we came down?

Buying It Back

There’s an article in today’s paper on a subject near and dear to my heart. I’m even quoted herein. My comments follow.

Greenway Ahead

by Lolis Eric Elie, The Times-Picayune
Saturday September 05, 2009, 10:42 PM

In a move that could help create the first new public park in New Orleans in two decades, the Trust for Public Land has obtained rights to buy the site of the ill-fated Louisiana Institute of Film Technology.


Rusty Costanza / The Times-PicayuneHikers walk through an overgrown area of the Lafitte Corridor in 2008 during an annual outing.

The city needed the trust’s help with the Lafitte Greenway parcel because federal money the city is relying on to buy the property won’t be available for several months.

“The city’s Office of Recovery Management called the Trust for Public Land and asked us to help them with the acquisition of this property. That’s exactly what we do, ” said Larry Schmidt, director of the trust’s New Orleans office.

“We help cities, states, the National Park Service and agencies like that acquire property. We do the appraisals, the survey work and we acquire the title and hold it while the city’s funding is being assembled, ” he said.

The 18-acre strip, now held by a mortgage company, is part of a mostly city-owned three-mile tract that follows along an unused railway bed beginning near Basin Street Station, continuing along Lafitte Street across North Carrollton Avenue and ending near Canal Boulevard.

The area includes the Sojourner Truth Community Center, a gas station at Lafitte and Broad streets where public employees fill their cars, and the old brake tag station at Lafitte and Jefferson Davis Parkway.

“All these facilities will be repurposed to serve the greenway corridor, ” said Dubravka Gilic, director of strategic planning for the city recovery office.

Daniel Samuels, an architect, is a founding member of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, a three-year-old community group that has been the most visible advocate for creation of the corridor. He said the idea of turning this area into public space is not new.

“City planning documents have recognized the potential of that corridor going all the way back to the 1976 Claiborne Avenue Design Team Study done by Cliff James and Rudy Lombard, to successive phases of the New Orleans New Century Master Plan, which was started in the 1990s, ” Samuels said.

The old LIFT site, one block wide, is the widest part of the three-mile stretch. The rail bed corridor becomes extremely narrow as it runs alongside such privately owned buildings as the Rouses Supermarket and Bohn Ford buildings on Carrollton.

The purchase by the Trust for Public Land will ensure that a city deal could be sealed quickly and that the land would be dedicated to public purposes. The trust expects to sell the land back to the city by the end of the year.


Eliot Kamenitz / The Times-PicayuneLarry Schmidt, director of the New Orleans Office of the Trust for Public Land stands on some of the 18 acres at Lafitte and North Galvez streets that will form the first leg of the parkway.

The city has dedicated $11.6 million of its federal Community Development Block Grant money to the greenway project, Gilic said. Of that total, $4 million is reserved for purchasing the former LIFT site and the remainder will be devoted to designing and building the corridor, she said.

Friends of Lafitte Corridor hopes that the entire space will be developed, not just the plot where the film institute was supposed to be.

“The main thing that I have always kept in mind with this project is that it needs to be a safe, contiguous path, a trail, ” said Bart Everson, president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor. “But if it can have park-like amenities along it then that is value added.”

The Design Workshop, a firm in Austin, Texas, will spearhead the design effort, working with local partners that include Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, an architecture firm, and Bright Moments, a public relations firm.

Before the area was a railway bed it was the Carondelet Canal, linking Lake Pontchartrain to the French Quarter via Bayou St. John.

“We have encouraged our designers to coordinate with the Sewerage & Water Board to make all the efforts to re-introduce the water back into this space, ” Gilic said. “That will definitely be one of the elements of this project.”

Gilic said the designers will conduct five rounds of workshops designed to gain public input into the development.

The property the trust will buy consists of two adjacent parcels that LIFT bought in 2006. Slightly more than half was owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad, while the rest was owned by the city.

LIFT abruptly collapsed two years ago when federal investigators started looking into its dealings. In April, LIFT director Malcolm Petal was sentenced to five years in federal prison for conspiring to bribe a former state official, Mark Smith, in exchange for Louisiana film-industry tax credits. Last month, Smith was sentenced to two years in federal prison for his role in the scheme.

. . . . . . .

Lolis Eric Elie can be reached at [email protected] or 504.826.3330.

Thanks Lolis. OK, it’s me again. Just several points I’d like to add.

  1. This land transaction takes FOLC full circle. We were initially galvanized by news the city was selling this land to LIFT, back in February 2006.
  2. I’m not sure why there’s the emphasis on “park.” I don’t know if TPL has strings attached to this deal where the city has to make it a park. I’m not sure quite what to think of that. I’m in favor (obviously) of a greenway, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as a park, though a park would certainly be compatible. But I know of at least one organization that wants to build a school there, which I think is an intriguing possibility. Most of all, I’d like the greenway to be recognized in the public mind as a source of economic revitalization, not just green space.
  3. And why did TPL have to get involved? Was it because of cashflow issues, as the article suggests? The ordinance by which the city authorized the sale of this land stipulated that the city would have the first right of refusal to buy this land back if the film studio should fall through. But I believe this land was sold at LIFT’s bankruptcy auction, to the highest bidder. What happened to the city’s first right of refusal?

    And therein lies the story behind this story, which to my knowledge no journalist has taken up. Back in May 2006, the City Council passed an amendment (Ordinance #22,241) to the original act of sale (Ordinance #22,197). There’s a lot of obfuscatory legalese in these documents, but when sifted it seems that the only purpose of this amendment was to waive the city’s right of refusal for most of the city-owned acres, all but the so-called “paper streets.” The language is crafted in such a way that I’ll wager most of the council didn’t understand the city was giving up anything. The only conceivable purpose of this little legislative sleight-of-hand would be, presumably, to help LIFT with their financing. LIFT of course has since been implicated in other matters of influence-peddling. So was this another dirty deal? I sure wish a journalist would look into this.

    Oh, the sponsor of that amendment? A certain councilman, voted out in 2006 but looking to make a comeback in 2010. So it would be nice to know if my understanding is accurate or if I’m way out in left field.

  4. Oh, and the city has now allocated $11.6 million for the greenway? Hot dog. The things I learn reading the paper!

P.S.: I just noticed the graphic is wrong. And since it’s attributed to Friends of Lafitte Corridor, I’m inclined to correct it. The parcel being purchased by the city is wider than what’s shown. It actually extends the full width from Lafitte Street to St. Louis. The tract become considerably wider as it approaches Claiborne.

J&B on Howard Stern

Yo, big props to Ian Cognito for unearthing this little snippet from Howard Stern’s show of April 19th, 1994.

Believe it or not, I’ve never heard this before. For the complete run-down on all the media hype of those heady days, see J’s Baked Log.

I can’t help but note that Howard and his crew manage the not inconsiderable feat of making us sound even stupider than we really were.

ROX on KSD FM

When ROX #85 debuted on the internet, we sent out press releases every which way, and we got quite a bit of coverage, from Time magazine to local media outlets.

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but Xy and I ended up on a drive-time radio show in St. Louis, live in the studio. That was fourteen years ago today, give or take a week.

I’m sure glad we hung on to the audio from that encounter. I think it’s worth a listen, not because of our lame attempts at humor, but for what it reveals about how people viewed the internet and the web back in 1995. Times sure have changed.

Closer to the Greenway

From New Orleans City Business:

City moving closer to work on creating Lafitte greenway
Redeveloping 3-mile stretch from Quarter to Lakeview billed as recreation hot spot
by Emilie Bahr, Staff Writer

The city has chosen a contractor to plan and design a long-anticipated greenway for a mostly derelict stretch of land connecting Mid-City, Tremé, the French Quarter and Lakeview.

Proponents say transforming the Lafitte Corridor, a ribbon of land that passes through some of the city’s most historic and storm-damaged neighborhoods, into an alternative transportation corridor would offer residents a valuable new amenity while reinvigorating surrounding communities.

In 2006, Bart Everson helped start Friends of Lafitte Corridor, one of the groups advocating for a linear park that has at its center a paved bicycle and pedestrian path.

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(Photo by Frank Aymami)

“It’s not just a bike and pedestrian path,” Everson said. “It’s also an economic revitalization plan for the surrounding neighborhoods.”

The corridor runs along a former shipping channel that once connected the northern edge of the French Quarter with Bayou St. John. The canal was filled in 1938, and part of the site was converted to a rail line.

Plans to convert the largely abandoned, three-mile industrial strip into a public greenway have been floated since the 1970s, but the proposals never gained much mainstream traction until Hurricane Katrina.

Jake Wagner, an urban planning specialist helping shape greenway plans, said the storm provided the impetus for translating what for years seemed little more than an idealist’s fantasy into a real possibility. Since the storm, a revitalized Lafitte Corridor has been incorporated in all of the city redevelopment proposals.

The city has chosen Design Workshop of Austin, Texas, to do the planning and design work on the project, which is slated to be built in phases. The trail portion of the greenway will be completed in the first phase, said Debravka Gilic, director of strategic planning for the Office of Recovery and Development Administration.

According to FOLC, about $3 million has been set aside for planning, design and construction, including about $2.6 million in community development block grants.

Everson said the eventual cost of the greenway will depend on the scope of the final proposal.

“The cost is so variable depending on how you want to do it,” he said.

Completion of the trail portion of the greenway could likely be accomplished for about $3 million, but more money is needed to make the project “the true community amenity it can become,” said Billy Fields, director of the Center for Urban and Public Affairs at the University of New Orleans.

“It’s the low-hanging fruit,” said greenway advocate Geoff Coats, formerly of the Urban Conservancy, which has worked with FOLC, other organizations and area residents to get the project going.

At a time of deep public frustration over few visible signs of post-storm recovery, Coats sees the greenway project as one city officials can point to as a success story.

“I think it’s one of the most fully baked, fully developed projects,” he said. “There’s no downside to it at all that I can see.”

Planners envision locals using the greenway for recreation and bicycle commuting, while tourists would make their way from their French Quarter hotels to City Park, the New Orleans Museum of Art and Bayou St. John.

Wagner believes the greenway could be incorporated into cultural heritage tourism.

“You can explain most of the major phases of New Orleans history in that small three-mile stretch,” he said. “You’ve got the entire architectural history of the city” represented.

Fields, former research director for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C., said the greenway could serve as a model for trail-oriented development, a concept that plays on transit-rooted development, or the idea that private investment naturally follows public investment in major transportation nodes.

“You see this in New York, in Tokyo, on a massive scale,” Wagner said, referring to the concentrations of commercial development that can be found in those cities around large subway stops.

Charlie Doerr, owner of the Bayou St. John store Bayou Bicycles, is among the business owners hoping to reap the greenway’s benefits.

“Our backdoor opens out basically right on to it,” said Doerr, sitting in his office looking through a window at what is currently vacant land. But he is optimistic that one day, he’ll be watching bicyclists, walkers and runners move by. He’s already started thinking about starting a bike rental service to tap into the influx of new visitors.

“Once the thing is open, people are gonna use it and we’ll be right in the middle of it,” he said.

Nice article. Now if you want to learn more, please come to the upcoming meeting of Friends of Lafitte Corridor:

Design Professionals Explain the Work about to be Done on the Greenway and hear about FOLC’s 5th Annual Corridor Hike

Come join us for the latest Greenway update and news of our upcoming Corridor Hike! The City is about to award a contract for Lafitte Greenway design and Lafitte Corridor Revitalization planning. Learn exactly what that entails and how you can have your say in what the Greenway will be like. Lake Douglas, FOLC Board member and LSU Professor of Landscape Architecture; and Daniel Samuels, architect and past President of FOLC; and current Chair of the Lafitte Greenway Steering Advisory Committee, explain the process and tell you what sort of timeline we anticipate for construction. Also Bart Everson and Jeff Schwartz will announce plans for our 5th Annual Hike of the Lafitte Corridor. – It’s all at the FOLC Membership Meeting – Thurs April 23rd at 6:30PM at Grace Episcopal Church, 3700 Canal St.

Bring a friend & sign up for FOLC membership

Malik’s Money

We got our Malik Rahim campaign sign, and it is proudly on display in front of our house.

I chatted with Christian Roselund a bit when he dropped the sign off. He informed me that Malik’s candidacy has caught the attention of many Greens across the country. Some of them are, as one might expect, a little flaky, bless ’em. But the monetary support is pouring in, and the campaign is using that money for media buys.

Therefore I read with some interest Michelle Krupa’s article in this morning’s paper, about the Republican candidate’s fund-raising efforts. After detailing Anh Joseph Cao’s financial situation and comparing it to William Jefferson’s, toward the end there is a mention of Malik’s campaign.

Jefferson’s other two challengers do not appear to have had much success raising money. Rahim reported that he collected about $2,000 from individual and corporate donors during the six-week period starting Oct. 1, and had pumped another $3,000 of this own money into the campaign. Records show he spent $900 on T-shirts.

But that is substantially less than the numbers mentioned to me by Christian. Sure enough, Christian has since confirmed by e-mail that, according to the SEC, Malik’s campaign raised a total of $10,985. He even supplies a link. He adds that by this time the campaign has raised closer to $20,000.

It’s also worth noting that Stephanie Grace’s recent opinion column made no mention of any candidate other than Cao and Jefferson.

Little-Known?

So William Jefferson won the Democratic Party primary Tuesday, beating out Helena Moreno. But we will have to go back to the polls to vote on this race a third time in December for the actual election.

We could save plenty of money and avoid a lot of hassle if we adopted Instant Runoff Voting or something similar. But I digress.

On the December ballot, I like the Green Party candidate Malik Rahim. It’s my belief that Greens, and any third party candidates, need to make their case at the state and local level. There are any number of barriers to third party success at the federal level, and especially in the presidential race.

But at the local level, we have an opportunity to distinguish ourselves. At the local level, the playing field is a little more level, and we can get our message out a little more easily. At the local level, the Democratic-Republican duopoly is a little less firmly entrenched.

Or is it?

The Times-Picayune ran a story this morning about Jefferson’s primary victory and the December election. Since the majority of voters in the 2nd Congressional district are registered Democrats, the T-P notes:

Jefferson is considered the prohibitive favorite in the Dec. 6 general election against four little-known opponents.

Little-know, eh? I can accept that Malik Rahim isn’t as well-known as Jefferson. After all, Jefferson has been in the spotlight for years as our Congressional representative. Lately he’s garnered even more attention than usual. When the FBI raids your house and finds $90K in your freezer it tends to have that effect.

But Malik has some fame in his own right. Granted, he’s nowhere near as famous as the incumbent. But around here, Malik Rahim is hardly an unknown. He especially shone after Katrina, when he helped found the Common Ground Medical Clinic and Common Ground Relief, organizations which are still active today.

Yet this article in the Times-Picayune goes on to focus on the Republican candidate, Anh Joseph Cao. Now this guy really is an unknown. I’m not disparaging him in the least, but the fact is that if you compare Malik Rahim and Anh Jospeh Cao, the little-known candidate is clearly Cao.

That, of course, is about to change, because Cao has the backing of (drumroll please) Republican power broker Jay Batt. He will be helping Cao raise money and get endorsements.

Cao gets mentioned by name twelve times in the article. Malik Rahim gets mentioned only once, in passing. And that’s a shame.

I was tangentially involved in Malik’s run for City Council back in 2002. Unfortunately that campaign was not well organized and never really caught fire. Running a good campaign is hard work. I’m less involved with the local Greens these days because of other life priorities, but it’s my sincere hope that this campaign is more effective.

Coverage like this doesn’t make it any easier.

Debatable

Since I didn’t get to sound off on these issues on the radio, maybe I’ll just give vent here.

I watched all four of the so-called debates. Mostly they were pretty boring. I thought the last one was the most interesting, but all in all they were disappointing.

The debates frustrate me. Once upon a time they were run by a non-partisan group, the League of Women Voters. But for the last twenty-odd years they’ve been put on (and we’ve all been put on) by a bipartisan commission. The debates are controlled by the two major parties — two of the most powerful political entities in the world — and as one might expect, they are constructed to serve the interests of those parties.

And, face it, those parties are old and entrenched. Yet they’re both trying to sell a message of change. The mind boggles. But I digress.

What frustrates me in the debates is what frustrates me in our national political dialog: The scope is too narrow. The dialog is so tightly circumscribed that we have come to examine and contrast minute differences of policy between Democrats and Republicans, magnifying these differences so greatly that it’s easy to forget that there is a much wider range of possibilities.

To some extent this magnification is justified. The Presidency of the United States is perhaps the most powerful office in the world. I acknowledge that even the smallest differences can have huge effects on all of us.

But surely we are impoverished by not allowing a broader range of political dialog.
Continue reading “Debatable”

Hangin’ with Garland

WWL 870-AM is broadcasting from our campus today. The office of University Media Relations asked me to sit in for a while, so I did. I thought we’d be talking about the debate last night and the presidential race in general. I had some incisive remarks at the ready, about how the debates make a mockery of the democratic process, about public financing for campaigns, about electoral reform. I was also prepared to talk about Mid-City or the Lafitte Corridor. But I ended up talking about my job, and the re-opening of the University in January 2006.

I actually didn’t get to talk very much at all. For one thing, the president of the university stopped by and he kind of takes precedence. Also there were callers and students stepping up to the mic and of course lots of commercials and news breaks, so my hour was up before I knew it.

But it was a great deal of fun hanging out with the host of the show, Garland Robinette. We had some interesting conversations during the breaks. Did you know he received death threats after making some positive comments about Obama?

And of course it was an honor to share the dais with Dr. Francis.