Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana
During this visit to New Orleans, I spent an afternoon in the lower ninth ward photographing the general area and gathering specific photos for a volunteer organization working to raise funds and rebuild the community. (location) Hard to imagine what the community was like before Hurricane Katrina and still hard to imagine what the rebuilt community will look like when all of the current projects reach fruition.
Thom Pepper and his group of volunteers from around the world have operated in the Lower Ninth Ward since the destructive days of Hurricane Katrina 5 years ago providing counseling, advice, guidance and support to the on-going relief efforts in that area. Speaking to Thom, he is proud of his organization’ s achievements so far and the work of the 20,000+ volunteers who have provided assistance and gained personal hands-on experience as they have moved through the demolition and clean-up stages into the now active rebuilding and education phase of their on-site efforts. For more information about this organization’s efforts, successes and on-going projects, please visit their Common Ground Relief website at: www.commongroundrelief.org/.
The non-profit organization, “Common Ground Relief” uses the blue building on the left as its current headquarters in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. The pink house on the right is their current model home to showcase what can be done or needs to be done to meet current standards for home construction in the Lower 9th Ward. In addition to enabling 20,000+ volunteers to assist in the demolition, clean-up and restoration of numerous homes in the ward, the group is now providing training opportunities and hand-on experience, advice and guidance as the reconstruction phase gets strongly underway.
Workers put the finishing touches on the model home designed to be economical while incorporating latest code requirements with respect to withstanding future hurricanes.
Rather than having rainwater flow off into the street sewers, Common Ground Relief are advocating the installation of Biocells incorporating a sunken pond-like structure somewhere in the yard. These ponds will then experience periods of wet and dry based on the amount of rainfall. Planted with native Louisiana vegetation such as rushes and irises, the cells will both reduce the load on the sewer system as well as provide a focal point for moisture loving flowers and plants while at the same time reduce the need for heavy-maintenance lawns. “Common Ground Relief” is advocating the use of local plants and materials for all of their projects so have started this test plot with plantings of native Louisiana grasses, rushes and irises. The Irises were just beginning to flower and the rushes were well established in this test plot planted only a few months earlier.
A few blooming azaleas brightened a small spot in the construction zone of the Lower Ninth Ward – a nice addition.
With new construction underway on a number of homes in this one corner of the Lower 9th Ward, getting around the 1/2 tons and construction vehicles was a bit tricky.
Whenever I mentioned FEMA in New Orleans, the reaction was fairly consistent – I think this photo speaks a few words on the matter. Clearly federal response in the initial stage was seen to be a bit tardy.
Canals are a necessary part of the New Orleans landscape and this canal located next to the Lower Ninth Ward is no exception. The initial effects of Hurricane Katrine were magnified by a breach in the levy along this canal allowing flood waters to flow freely into the Lower Ninth Ward. The levee has been repaired and strengthened but the Lower Ninth Ward rebuilding process will still take years to complete but now, five years after Katrina, much progress is happening.
New higher, stronger levee walls are being worked on and completed throughout New Orleans and the surrounding counties. This particular wall replaces the Industrial Canal levee that broke open during Hurricane Katrina leading to the total flooding/immersion of homes and businesses in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.
As I found out, bridge work and road repairs in the area can screw up some travel plans based on the best map reading skills :-).
Signs of on-going construction and rehabilitation are in evidence everywhere in the Lower 9th Ward, but the efforts are far from completion. Each day, school buses transport children from home to school past vacant lots and abandoned or condemned buildings, but, each day, there are also more and more examples of work underway to restore the neighborhood to a viable entity.
Visitors to the 9th ward are now greeted with a mix of newly constructed homes, vacant lots with tall grass and boarded up homes awaiting decisions on their future.
Awaiting its fate: Although many lots are now standing vacant following the removal of the debris and remains of the previous home, some buildings, such as this one, still stand empty awaiting their fate. Depending on the amount of damage and structural integrity many homes were gutted to the studs and then completely refurbished from the inside out while others needed to be destroyed.
Some homes being erected in the Lower Ninth ward are using the most advanced technologies including energy saving methods and energy production technologies. Buildings such as these ones must be elevated to a defined height based on new codes introduced following the Katrina disaster. A number of different architects have come up with some pretty interesting designs and many of the new homes incorporate solar panels necessitating a design that allows the roof-top panels to face the sun for the greatest period of time.
New construction is all “Raised” design with the main floor elevated to levels decided upon based on satellite imaging and determination of water levels reached in specific spots following the Katrina Hurricane and subsequent levee breaching.
One advantage of raising the living space above potential high water levels is the parking and storage space that it provides.
Much work still needs to be done but progress is being made. Away from the main centre of reconstruction activity, many streets bear little resemblance to a once inhabited neighborhood save for the concrete slabs and roadways.
In this area of the Lower 9th Ward, a string of cement slabs show where a series of homes used to be. For the most part, debris has been removed and decisions on reconstruction continue to be made. Once manicured lawns and boulevards have been taken over by weeds and wildflowers.
One of my reasons for visiting the Lower 9th Ward was to gather some ‘progress’ shots of the Garden of Eatin’ project at Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for a California group doing some fund raising to help with this project Lighting Up The Sky .
Common Ground Relief’s Garden of Eatin’ Program is based at the Martin Luther King Jr., Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Students from the School’s 3rd and 5th Grade classes meet twice a week after school with two of the Common Ground Relief coordinators, Kira and Megan to learn about all aspects of food production, from plant science and nutrition to food systems and sustainability. Students are able to gain an understanding of how food gets from the farm to their plates and learn which foods to eat and why, while planting a garden of their own at the School.
Viewed from the school to the playground, this shot shows the area of the school yard set aside for the garden project.
In this half of the garden students have planted various vegetables and herbs which will be harvested as the summer progresses. Raised box beds allow the students easier access during most weather conditions and will be easier to maintain.
While I was photographing the garden, one of the students asked me about the composting process and I explained how bacteria, etc. would eventually turn the banana peels back into usable compost which they could then add to their gardens. I got the feeling that he might have already known that and was just testing me :-).
In the foreground of this photo, the students have planted a selection of native trees and bushes which will become their mini- forest. Further back is a strawberry mound and various flower gardens.
Strawberries are coming along nicely. It will be interesting to see who gets the ripe berries :-).
Plants chosen for the project are those which will survive the temperatures and rainfalls expected in a normal New Orleans growing season.
Reflections at Bayou Bienvenue, Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans: Not hard to imagine that this is likely one of the most photographed cypress stumps in New Orleans. I definitely wasn’t the first person to visit the new Bayou Bienvenue viewing platform with a camera. The new viewing platform provides a panoramic view over the acres and acres of this Bayou. The bayou used to be a viable Cypress swamp but lost out to the encroachment of salt water and the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The native cypress are valued for their rot resistant wood but are very salt intolerant when it comes to their growing environment. The bayou is now home to many cypress stumps and cypress “knees”. Work is underway to try and return this area to a living cypress bayou.
Even though progress is being made, there is still much to do before the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans will be back to a bustling residential community. This road once had houses on either side of it before Hurricane Katrina and its after effects changed all of that. Hard to imagine what it was like before Katrina, during Katrina or in the 4+ years following Katrina but progress is being made and I was happy to volunteer my time to document a small point in time in that community’s recovery.