While in New Orleans I attended the 6th Anniversary Memorial and Celebration of Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward (the neighborhood hardest hit when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast). In the stifling August heat we stood to honor the past and then march forward into the future. The place felt very much a ghost town with just 5,500 residents (1/3 its pre-Katrina population) having returned and notoriously overgrown lots.
There is hope though thanks to people like actor Brad Pitt and his Make It Right Foundation, which is rebuilding 150 affordable, storm resistant, LEED-certified houses for working families who had resided in the neighborhood when Katrina hit. Working with green design expert William McDonough (his book Cradle to Cradle is awesome and frightening), Cherokee (North Carolina based investment firm specializing in brownfield redevelopment), and several of the world’s most renowned architects, the Make It Right Foundation is recreating a part of the community. They are bringing back neighbors.
An estimated 47,000 homes in New Orleans remain blighted (decaying, but people in NOLA used the word “blight”) waiting to be torn down. Everywhere I went I saw people working on their homes (not just in the Lower Ninth, but everywhere). I met a woman who sat for days with 17 family members on her roof and then was confined to the Superdome (the only thing worse, a “living hell”) for three days before being evacuated. I heard of unspeakable acts and of great and tragic heroism. I saw people smiling and brave, determined to at the very least survive. I cannot imagine where the strength came from or know if I would have it and pray I never need to. This country needs New Orleans, of that I have no doubt – as a moral compass, a shining star, and reminder we not only need to expect more from our government now, but to fix its past mistakes and transgressions.
The whiter section is where the concrete floodwall of the Industrial Canal was breached, when this happened a surge of 8-9 feet of water rushed into the Lower Ninth Ward. The water sat at four feet for days.
Councilman Jon Johnson, State Sen Cynthia Ward-Lewis, and Rev. Oswald Pierre-Jules of St. David Catholic Church led dozens onto the Claiborne Avenue bridge for a prayer and to throw a wreath into the canal.
Celebrating the future.
A foundation for rebuilding.
Making it Right.