New Or­leans’ re­cov­ery

From the phys­i­cal and emo­tional wreck­age of a city dev­asted by Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, the new New Or­leans has be­come char­ac­terised by so­cial en­trepreneur­ship and putting the well­be­ing of its cit­i­zens at its heart.

Element - - Contents - By So­phie Bar­clay in New Or­leans

When Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina hit New Or­leans nearly nine years ago, it prompted a so­cial revo­lu­tion. An­gered by post-Ka­t­rina poli­cies giv­ing flooded neigh­bour­hoods four months to demon­strate their “vi­a­bil­ity”, and the in­com­pe­tence at the Su­per-Bowl ‘shel­ter of last resort’ where evac­uees were forced to wal­low in the filth of 24,000 peo­ple when the bath­rooms be­came over­whelmed, cit­i­zens soon re­alised that gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance was nei­ther timely nor suf­fi­cient.

Nearly two mil­lion vol­un­teers rushed to the city to help with ev­ery­thing from re­build­ing to pro­vid­ing free med­i­cal care, most sleep­ing in tents, and cit­i­zens be­gan to or­gan­ise amongst them­selves in an un­prece­dented wave of grass­roots en­gage­ment.

Within the Viet­namese com­mu­nity, those with build­ing skills got to work, stor­ing their equip­ment in their churches. The city’s So­cial Aid and Plea­sure Clubs (SAPCs), a pri­mar­ily work­ing-class African-Amer­i­can tra­di­tion of groups of mu­si­cians and dancers that per­form at street fes­ti­vals, mo­bilised, lo­cat­ing all of their mem­bers in just a few days de­spite the lack of cell­phone cov­er­age.

Mu­si­cians and mu­si­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions through­out the world ral­lied to­gether to re­store the cul­tural heart of the city. 72 houses were built by Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity in Mu­si­cians’ Vil­lage and truck­loads of shiny, new in­stru­ments, from pic­co­los to tubas, streamed into the city and were di­rected to the leg­endary Tip­itina’s jazz club. Mark Fowler, who runs the Tip­itina’s Foun­da­tion mu­sic co-op, di­rected them to mu­si­cians who had lost ev­ery­thing; manuscripts, record­ings, their in­stru­ments and their abil­ity to earn a liv­ing.

Tip­itina’s also be­came a make-shift com­mu­nity cen­tre– pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion and re­sources for mu­si­cians and lo­cals. “We had com­put­ers and wifi that no­body had ac­cess to at that point, so we were able to help peo­ple get on line and find out where their families were,” says Fowler.

Um­brella groups like the Neigh­bour­hood Part­ner­ship Net­work (NPN), founded in 2006 by com­mu­nity lead­ers, popped up, help­ing to fa­cil­i­tate co­op­er­a­tion, and not com­pe­ti­tion, among un­der-re­sourced neigh­bour­hoods. Most of th­ese grass­roots groups are still ac­tive; NPN runs monthly com­mu­nity fo­rums and even pub­lishes its own com­mu­nity rag, The Trum­pet.

Re­search­ing the re­cov­ery of the city, As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor of So­ci­ol­ogy at Louisiana State Univer­sity Fred­er­ick Weil, says that de­spite the city’s pre-ex­ist­ing in­equal­ity, peo­ple with fewer in­di­vid­ual re­sources could draw on the com­mu­nal re­sources and so­cial cap­i­tal of their neigh­bour­hoods, and the lead­er­ship of de­ter­mined lo­cals that emerged fol­low­ing the dis­as­ter.

At his in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2010, Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu set about re­vers­ing the trend of en­gag­ing solely with the city’s elites. He cre­ated 17 task forces charged with the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the city and en­listed the help of the new com­mu­nity lead­ers. He also es­tab­lished Louisiana’s ‘Of­fice of So­cial En­trepreneur­ship’, ded­i­cated to “help­ing re­place ser­vices and or­gan­i­sa­tions lost from the 2005 hur­ri­canes with so­cially re­spon­si­ble en­ter­prises.”

Ide­al­is­tic new­com­ers flocked to the city in a phe­nom­e­non dubbed the ‘brain gain’. They joined lo­cals in seek­ing cre­ative solutions to the city’s prob­lems, pro­duc­ing an ex­plo­sion of ac­tiv­ity.

The New Or­leans Heal­ing Cen­tre (NOHC), a project de­vised by a group of cit­i­zens who wanted to par­tic­i­pate in the re­build­ing of the city, is one ex­am­ple. Boast­ing more than 25 busi­nesses, from a yoga stu­dio, to the Street Univer­sity (a com­mu­nity meet­ing space also used to teach low-cost com­mu­nity cour­ses), and an en­vi­ron­men­tal busi­ness in­cu­ba­tor, the Cen­tre opened its doors in Au­gust 2011.

Co-founder Sal­lie Ann Glass­man, who also runs the Is­land of Sal­va­tion vodou store in the NOHC, says the project would never have been fea­si­ble be­fore Ka­t­rina.

“It was ac­tu­ally cre­ated as a re­sponse to Ka­t­rina. We just took a look around us and there were all th­ese bril­liant peo­ple com­ing from around the world to think tank about re­build­ing New Or­leans but noth­ing was hap­pen­ing.”

The Cen­tre is also unique in that all busi­nesses must be com­mit­ted to the Cen­tre’s man­i­festo; to con­trib­ute to heal­ing on some level, and to pri­ori­tise the well­be­ing of the com­mu­nity.

Glass­man says that de­struc­tion caused by the hur­ri­cane and bro­ken lev­ees has acted as an op­por­tu­nity for New Or­lea­ni­ans to fo­cus on mov­ing for­ward to­wards a bet­ter future; “We’ve worked out what our re­sources are and how can we cap­i­talise on what we’ve got here, rather than fo­cus­ing on what we’ve lost.”

New Or­leans was in­un­dated by flood wa­ters as a re­sult of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina.

Blues gui­tarist John T. Lewis ac­cepts his new Gretsch gui­tar from Tip­itina.

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