Sunday, December 31, 2006

Get On The Good Foot

Today, the Burbank Gardens neighborhood was completed, and 3/4 of the Sugar Hill neighborhood was completed. Without my list, I can't remember anymore how many neighborhoods we've completed....

Just checked. Completed 10 neighborhoods out of the 22.

  • All of us have coded about 45% of Gentilly properties since December 8. By very rough guess, that would be the properties for about 15,000-20,000 people.

  • 107 assignments to finish Gentilly. Lately each assignment seems to take about 60-90 minutes.

Have a Happy New Year. As we enter 2007, enjoy a bit of "Get on the Good Foot" by James Brown.

Where To?

Take a closer look. Click here. This is how we keep track of what we have done. We update this sheet once or twice a day, and we use this when deciding where to map next. This sheet also provides an estimate of the volunteers we need to finish coding each neighborhood within about 2 hours.
We began this morning with a small group of four in Burbank Gardens, in order to finish what was remaining there. In the afternoon, we are headed to Fillmore Gardens and/or Sugar Hill.
I know many people reading this, including some residents, don't know where exactly these Gentilly neighborhoods are. Here's where Gentilly is. Here's the map we use, courtesy of the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association (GCIA). This other map is even better.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Faith, Community, and Common Sense

I am so grateful that the rain held...
There was hardly a drop most of the morning as we coded the Gentilly Heights Vascoville neighborhood. The weather reports were for storms all morning, culminating in severe weather in the afternoon. Fortunately, we prepared as if it would not rain on us...and I trusted that we'd see the signs to stop before the rain came down strong.
I'm glad we exhibited that kind of faith and common sense. We finished 69 blocks of houses in Gentilly this morning, across three different neighborhoods. We began with Gentilly Heights Vascoville and that neighborhood is now complete. Burbank Gardens is now about 75% done. Mirabeau Gardens is now about 50% done.
There were 25 Gentilly residents volunteering with the five of us from Dartmouth. Much more than I had reason to expect. More than I imagined. More than I recall seeing. It took reviewing the walk list to reveal how many volunteers we had this morning.
For the first time, we had groups from one Gentilly neighborhood helping code neighborhoods that were not their own. A group from Burbank Gardens and two people from Sugar Hill came to assist the coding in Vascoville. After we were all done with their neighborhood, a group of residents from Vascoville then travelled to Bancroft Park to help code that area.
As most of the group moved to map Bancroft Park, a resident from that neighborhood (Clarie) drove me to Mirabeau Gardens. With the storms expected within a couple hours, Claire and I found 9 residents ready to map that neighborhood. That was twice what we expected. That meant shorter assignments for everyone, and we all made quick work of about 12 blocks (250-350 houses) in about an hour or so.
At first, we were making plans to press on even farther. But then about ten minutes later, I felt the wind began to pick up. I decided to call off the additional mapping plans, and begin closing down with what we had done. The skies finally opened up about an hour later, bringing rain as the night came. I began the morning with faith that it would not rain on us, so we could achieve our plans. But it didn't make sense to keep pushing the limits, just because our hopes had been answered.
I think faith and common sense helped build community today. I believed we could finish mapping what we targeted, and with the weather holding we succeeded. Yet we knew when to stop without getting drenched. There were clearly things that I didn't expect, and I was delighted by them.
We had more people than I anticipated on a day that threatened rain And we've never seen groups of residents from different neighborhoods work together to map before. Based on what I've seen today, faith and common sense can be more compatible than what many people assume. And the combination can be amazing.

Here Comes The Rain

A strong storm is on its way to New Orleans. When we reached the office at UNO a half hour ago, it was overcast, gray, with rare sprinkles.

A few neighborhoods were "in play" for us to code today. Anticipating the storm, we're adapting. In a few minutes, we are leaving for Gentilly Heights Vascoville. All five of us from Dartmouth are going. Gwen, the neighborhood president, is looking to bring in 5 residents. At least several others from other Gentilly neighborhoods - e.g., Bancroft Park, Burbank Gardens, Sugar Hill - will be meeting us there. We will code while the weather holds.

If we finish Gentilly Heights Vascoville, we'll move on to Mirabeau Gardens and Burbank Gardens.

Out of the 22 Gentilly neighborhoods, we have finished coding 8 since the launch of this coding effort two weeks ago. We currently have started or priortized 4 more neighborhoods. We already have 3-5 neighborhoods beyond that are ready to go or are in preparation.

Yesterday, we committed to staying a few more days. I'm staying now until January 5. Sarah and Owen are staying until then too. Nick and Zsuzsa are staying now until Wednesday January 3.

Friday, December 29, 2006

34 blocks of houses and counting...

We broke a new record today for coding houses. And we did it by noon.

We finished two more Gentilly neighborhoods (numbers 7 and 8) this morning: Gentilly Heights East and Bancroft Park. Part of it is that we are purely coding (i.e., walking) without entering the data, since our dedicated server at Dartmouth has failed. The other is that the core team is getting lots of help from residents.

In Gentilly Heights, we were joined by residents who are part of an informal walking club. Forget the stereotypes. A couple of people walking with us were retirees, but they walked around and coded 5 blocks of houses with ease. I walked and coded with Mary, and she remarked how easy it was. She would have walked more if we had more assignments!

In Bancroft Park, we had three Gentilly residents (Keith, Tonya, and Charlotte) and one local volunteer (Adam) help us finish coding the neighborhood much earlier in the day than I expected.

Before this walk started, I met briefly with Vera. She's a resident of another nearby Gentilly neighborhood Milneburg. She described walking house to house with a few neighbors to document local needs and rebuilding around Christmas time. The small group was able to cover a lot of the neighborhood quite fast. I wonder how much could be mapped if dozens of people were walking in Gentilly, or hundreds in the city as a whole?

Unfortunately, we got up so early this morning - 5:30am wakeup - that we forgot to emphasize taking some pictures during our morning walk. Maybe Zsuzsa has some. I'll try to do better next time. We have two more neighborhoods scheduled for tomorrow: Gentilly Heights Vascoville and Mirabeau Gardens.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On the move again...

We're out this afternoon with residents mapping in two additional neighborhoods, Indian Village and Bancroft Park. Tomorrow we have scheduled a third neighborhood, Gentilly Heights East. Things are moving so fast that I'm preparing a scorecard so that we show how we are progressing in each neighborhood.

Overall, we count 22 neighborhoods in Gentilly. We have completed 5. We have another 9 neighborhoods that in "active" phase: we have started coding, made contact with residents, and/or ready to code there in within the next day.

Our server at Dartmouth that will allow us to enter and display the results ( is down. The silver lining is that we can concentrate purely on mapping and not data entry. The weak link ws that we lost our ability to generate address lists for about 20-30% of the blocks we have yet to walk and code.

Fortunately, I had a quick brainstorm a couple hours ago with Ben Wilson (Dartmouth class '07) who's been working with the project for many months. We figured out how we can reconstruct the lists we need through a data archive that he sent me about two weeks ago. It's a bit of a cumbersome process, but we can make it smoother using Microsoft Access database software. Then, during lunch, Sarah's husband Owyn saw how he might do things even easier using table functions in Excel.

The intellectual and social capital of Dartmouth is at work here in New Orleans, and I'm pleasantly surprised and delighted every day with the progress we make and the challenges that we are able to overcome.

Open for Business (Again)

We're back at our staging site at the Science Building of the University of New Orleans. This morning, we're doing a lot of set up: creating and modifying flyers, updating volunteer lists, and developing assignments to hand out to volunteers. As the day progresses, there's much communication that we need to do.

We're volunteering passionately for Gentilly. We're busy but friendly. Call us: 504-280-1264.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Orleans Bound!

We're at Boston airport waiting for our flight to New Orleans (Hi back at you, Nel!)

On the drive down, I reviewed what it will take to finish mapping Gentilly. Unfortunately, our server will be down during this trip. We can't input the color codes so that others can see it on the Internet. But that means we can concentrate on mapping the rest of Gentilly. We won't have address lists for some blocks, unless someone helps us figure out a way to get address lists for a particular census block. But that can only slow us down and not stop us.

We're going to reconfigure our home page on the project main website, so that we can still post what our progress - by neighborhood and on the whole - on the Internet.

We have broken Gentilly down into 22 neighborhoods. 4 neighborhoods are already coded. Over a dozen of the remaining neighborhoods can be coded with in several hours with less than 20 volunteers. Last week, we met with the Gentilly Heights Vascoville neighborhood association president Gwen Hawkins. Their group will be mapping as part of a cleanup that includes 50 student volunteers, offered through the Disaster Recovery Ministry of the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

I'm exchanging emails as I'm blogging now with Mirabeau Gardens neighborhood association president Laurie Watt. She has put out a call to her neighbors to volunteer and map on Saturday at noon. I doubt I'll have time before our flight, but I need to list this event on our project calendar. All it takes is about 10 volunteers to complete the mapping of Laurie's neighborhood by dusk on Saturday.

Tonya and Charlotte, two residents from Gentilly's Bancroft Park, have signed up to map on our project website. We estimate their neighborhood can be mapped in several hours with about 8 volunteers. Karma signed up on our website to help, and she's not even in Louisiana! She can spread the word to others, and she has professional interests and skills in the field of education that she can volunteer towards the restoration of neighborhoods in New Orleans.

Sign up if you can map with us in Gentilly for a couple hours this Friday afternoon or sometime Saturday. Or call us at our local UNO operations center tomorrow (Thursday) morning at the UNO Science Building at 504-280-1264. It will help to have standing volunteers who can work in any Gentilly neighborhood that needs help getting the mapping done.

We can do complete this pilot project to map Gentilly this weekend with your help. Come to Gentilly this weekend to help us if you can. Or tell others who can come what we are doing. Whatever you can do to help. Please do so. Visit this site every day through the weekend for updates of how things are going.

We can finish mapping the local progress in Gentilly before the New Year with your help and support. If we can get our server back up (, we're going to start inputing the color codes so that you can see the progress for yourself.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Friday 12/29 and Saturday 12/30

This Friday and Saturday will be our key days, so I'm watching the weather in New Orleans. A long term progress a week ago was for rain. Rain won't necessarily stop us, but not ideal for walking and mapping local rebuilding status in Gentilly. Fortunately, the weather forecast seems to be improving.

Right now, our server that runs all the time with the Gentilly status ( is off right now. Currently, it only shows how much has been coded in Gentilly as a whole. I think maybe posting where we are by neighborhood would be helpful.

I'm meeting this evening with this week's "away team" to New Orleans. Mostly going over and finalizing basic logistics for when we leave Wednesday afternoon.

Sign up if you can walk and map with us in New Orleans on Friday and/or Saturday. Even on Sunday. A couple hours of walking from you and a friend or family member will help. Or share with others what we are doing this weekend. Or assemble a group.

Many assumptions about today's New Orleans are too much at the extremes of "everything's normal" and "everything's in ruin." In the Gentilly area of New Orleans, we are showing literally how neighborhoods there are in between these extremes, and how things can vary street-to-street and house-to-house.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day cheers!

- I found the digital camera I thought I lost in New Orleans! On the top, a photo I took of Gentilly Woods resident Marla and Dartmouth volunteer Nel. They are mapping (of course!). On the bottom, a photo I took of the Morning Star Baptist Church located across the street from the Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO). The flood damaged church sits on the corner where we began mapping Pontchartrain Park. The nearby SUNO campus buildings were vacant and still not repaired.

- Two new people emailed back overnight saying they'd help in Gentilly this weekend. One is from the neighboring area Lakeview. A third person emailed back too. She's a Gentilly resident who's out of town for the holidays, yet she still emailed me the color codes for 8 houses on her street. And she asked how she could help more!

- The project calendar is back up. We can just add upcoming events, if there's no time to blog about them.

Have a happy holiday!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

What is the Gentilly Project about?

I've been advised that it's time for a recap:

Those who haven't been to New Orleans since Katrina often know it by the extremes. Much reporting seem to convey either things being "back to normal" or the city being still in ruin. In fact, there is much variety within the city (Orleans Parish) and neighboring areas, with lots of neighborhoods in the vast area between "normal" and "ruin."

The project exists to draw attention to these middle ground areas like Gentilly, and document the rebuilding progress at the property level. That way, those in distant places can see what progress is (and is not) within a particular area and get a more accurate sense of where the needs are. This project is a pilot. With additional resources, we'd expand the project to encompass more of the city.

Drawing attention to this middle ground includes people: those who were between great wealth and great poverty in New Orleans. It is my personal view that those in the middle must also be the focus of recovery, and we as a nation are neglecting their circumstances too much. You're not that different at all from those people in the NOLA middle ground if you've ever owned a home, held a steady job for a few years, or have started a small business.

I first conceived this project in November 2005 on my first visit to New Orleans post-Katrina. This project applies my research in the field of organizations and management. While this project does have a mission of service, it also has a role in advancing knowledge that is just as important. We are creating model here of accelerated development. Too often after major disasters, "normalcy" is elusive several years later.

Dr. Xun Shi of Dartmouth's Geography deparment is my project colleague. His research background in GIS (geographic information systems) helps make real a technical system that enables us all to see where the progress and needs are in Gentilly. What impresses me about Xun: When I first introduced this project idea to him, he understood it immediately from both a scientific perspective and a human perspective.

Dr. Beverly Wright, founder and director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, is a project colleague too, but the current phase of the project doesn't allow us the opportunity to fully access her expertise. However, after I spoke with her last week, I see ways we can help accelerate environmental development in NOLA in 2007.

Dr. Quintus Jett
Principal investigator, Gentilly Project
Center for Digital Strategies
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Thank You

Much thanks to the graduate student team that made this project their focus during Dartmouth Katrina Help service. There were many participants these past two weeks, but this group was especially generous with their time and very dedicated.

Co-leaders Sara Fischer (Louisiana) & Abbey Allen (Georgia); Nate Burger (Pennsylvania), Nick Chernov (Ukraine), Nelanjana "Nel" Dutt (India), Jon Feldman (New York), Harsha Koushik (India), Zsuzsa Mitro (Hungary), and Julie Zhu (China).

Sara, Nick, and Zsuzsa are all returning with me on Wednesday to continue mapping with residents and other volunteers on Friday December 29 and Saturday December 30. Email if you'd like to join us or assist in some other way.

(Photo by Harsha: Last Sunday the team had a tour of some of the levees in New Orleans where the breeches took place)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Georgia Tech - And Getting Out of the Box

On Wednesday, I was invited to a presentation for Georgia Tech students at City Council Chambers in New Orleans. The invitation came from Pamela Bingham, an environmental management and policy consultant and one of the very interesting people I've met through this community disaster response work.

There were about 50 students, all members of Georgia Tech's chapter of National Society of Black Engineers and the African American Student Union. They were in New Orleans during their Christmas break to help New Orleans' residents through the organization ACORN.

Pam had me introduce the Gentilly Project, and I spoke off the cuff for a few minutes. Thinking about what I feel is needed from other African Americans with respect to Katrina recovery and broader issues of black leadership, I asked the students if they were ready to be "out of the box."

I don't know what I was expecting, but I was taken aback and delighted at how many hands went up so quickly. It's natural to have doubt about actions that must be taken, but we all need to step more "out of the box" with respect to our society's approach to the Gulf Coast and how we might address future global catastrophes.

Even within this project, we are regularly stepping out of the box from what is routine and comfortable. I didn't know 2 weeks ago that we'd become a project of 10-20 participants per day, but we improvised and adpated. We met new people, found the resources, and developed a process that got more efficient each day. Now for our return trip to New Orleans next week, we must do get out of the box again.

I flew back to New Hampshire last night, and this morning I met with Sarah Fischer from the Dartmouth graduate team. She just spent most of the past 2 weeks participating in the project, and she's coming back with me to map the rest of Gentilly. Her husband Owen is coming too. Zsuzsanna Mitro and Nick Chernov, two other members of the Dartmouth graduate team, can return as well.

About 1/3 of Gentilly is mapped. Before the New Year begins, we can map all of the Gentilly.

To map the remaining 2/3 by New Year's Day, we'll need 100-200 participants beginning Friday 12/28. And we estimate needing about $6,500. I don't pretend to know exactly how this will work out. But if there is a way to finish mapping Gentilly by New Year's Day, we will find it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Rats Are Coming Back

The Dartmouth graduate team that left New Orleans last night started a "Rat Board," as a means of giving and taking away "points" from different members of the team. Christiana and I received honorary membership on their team, and so were placed on the Rat Board too! Like everyone else we got nicknames.

I am Splinter.

I'm planning to come back here after Christmas to continue mapping. Maybe 2-3 other "rats" may come back too. This morning I spoke with Daryl, who's construction superindendent at the Lutheran Disaster Response camp we've been staying at the past several days. He said about 120 volunteers are coming to town next week. We talked about providing them with an option to map as a break from a series of gutting days.

I spoke yesterday with people from other faith based groups too. One group is sending 50 volunteers to a Gentilly neighborhood, and I spoke with Ms. Gwen the neighborhood president about deploying a group of these volunteers for mapping on the 30th.

Although "inactive" for the next seven days, preparations are underway to continue mapping actively again a week from now.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Five Gentilly neighborhoods done!!

When Christiana and I arrived in New Orleans almost two weeks ago, I didn't expect to complete five Gentilly neighborhoods.

The broader objective of the project is to map as much of Gentilly as possible. However, finishing Pontchartrain Park was a good aspiration goal for us on December 7, given the resources that we had available.

I wanted us to do more, but I had no evidence that we could. I was uncertain about how exactly we would finish Pontchartrain Park happen if it happened! Much of it do to new participants who came into the project after Christiana and I got here on the 7th: Norbert Rome, the undergradate group from Dartmouth's Afro-American Society who particitated actively towards the start, and especially the graduate student group from Dartmouth who made the project their focus much of their final 10 days here. And also there were the new residents we met from a variety of neighborhoods.

We weren't able to get to all the residents who expressed interest before the graduate student team left this afternoon - and Christiana and I tomorrow. However, we've started working with 4-6 additional neighborhood groups in preparation for a post-Christmas move. I'm planning to return here next week (December 29 - 31) to do more mapping with residents and assist them in mapping themselves when a Dartmouth team isn't present in New Orleans. A couple of the graduate students can return too.

How much more we do will depend on so many things. I'm uncertain about what will happen next with the project AGAIN, but there have always been plenty of blessings and unexpected opportunities since the early conceptions of this project in late 2005.

I'll continue to post how things are progressing through the holidays.

Estimating the number of volunteers needed

Midday today I modified Jon Feldman's Excel spreadsheet breakdown of assignments per neighborhood. In order to estimate the number of volunteers needed for completion, the project can now use my simple formula is now available on the spreadsheet, as long as the number of days volunteers are going to work is known, and the number of hours per day they can put in.

We are estimating that in the next 'active phase' of the Gentilly Project (aka "Quintus in Gentilly") there may be part-time volunteers (2.5 hours per day) and/or full-time volunteers (approx. 5 hours per day or more).

Wrapping up here in Gentilly... for the time being.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Open-Source Potential, Finally

Thanks to Ari Bezman and Ben Wilson at Dartmouth College for their help, providing information from the US Census Bureau. Through the use of the census pages and information available through local governments about addresses/properties on individual census tracts, the Gentilly Project may finally have the potential to be universally applicable to any recovery situation, anywhere in the US.

Bigger Picture

Last week we were mapping fast. So fast that we'd sometime get a call from a resident and we had already done their neighborhood. The bigger picture is that we're now preparing to help residents map themselves without us being stationed here.

The Dartmouth graduate student team running the project with me the past week, the one led by Sarah Fisher (MALS '07) and Abbey Allen (MALS '08), is creating what they are calling a "precinct in a box" as their signature project for this service trip. This box would be a set of materials and instructions that enable neighborhood groups to refresh the mapping of local recovery. Observations that we've made in the past couple weeks will need to be reviewed in the coming weeks/months to keep up with the most local rebuilding changes.

Also, a conversation that I had with Harsha from the team leads me to seriously consider returning to New Orleans after Christmas to finish mapping the rest of Gentilly. With several dozen people volunteering for a few days, we could finish before New Years.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A beautiful day in New Orleans

The sunny is shining. The sky is blue. And the Saints are playing this afternoon.

If I had my camera, I'd post a picture. But it's missing, most likely due to me leaving it somewhere while my attention was focused elsewhere within the project. One of the graduate students Abbey said yesterday that I need a personal assistant.

The winning record of the Saints this season makes a lot of folks around here very proud and happy. I know locals who aren't deep into football, but they get into it when the Saints have a home game in the Superdome. The past 24 hours, I've seen people crowd around each other chanting: "Who dat! ... Who dat!... Who dat say they gonna beat them Saints?!!!" (trust me, it's not standard english but it's linguistically correct).

Last Sunday I attended morning mass at St. Leo the Great, a Catholic church with a largely black congregation that now is home to several churches in the area. The congregations of the other churches have joint services at St. Leo, while the flooding damage in their home churches is being repaired.

I didn't attend any church services today, but for a few minutes it was as if I had. In line for breakfast at McDonalds this morning, two brothers (brothas) were behind me talking about God and interpreting the Word with each other. Basically, one was making the point that God sees the love in what you do, even if you don't get the results that you intend. Further, it's the love in the act, not just the act in isolation, that God wants to see.

I acknowledged that I was overhearing, and we joked together for a quick minute. But the wait in line was long, and the two of them decided to go next door instead and grab something from Rally Burger. As they were leaving, one turned back to me as I was still waiting to place my order. "I think you got what you needed though...." he said with a smile going out the door.

Yeah, I would say so.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

With a little help from new friends

*Photos by Julie

Musicians at Edgewood Park social at Gentilly Presbyterian Church
& Nate in the lap of Saint Nick!

I try to be realistic in setting our goals for the day, while searching for ways to do things in a more efficient (or better) way. Yet, the additional help of volunteers keeps moving us along past the daily goals we set. For example, Michelle joined us for the first time today. And so is Wynecta, who had planned to start Sunday but had time and wanted to start today. And someone wants to donate money to the project, in addition to someone else who offered to donate on Thursday.

We're walking St. Roch Bend and Edgewood Park simultaneously today. It looks like we're about to finish, or have finished already, with a few hours left in the day.

My thoughts are turning to which neighborhoods we can do next. My current thinking is that we're going to put our foot into each of the 4-5 neighborhoods in which we've already created mapping assignments.

I say pretty much every day: "This project will be different two days from now." And it has been. Working with a few new volunteers every day is becoming routine.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sweet Friday

The number of residents are now walking with us to map. Some in response to emails about what we are doing. Others from running into us walking in the neighborhoods.

We run into residents who are curious about what we are doing. And there's word of mouth sometimes when our teams are working multiple streets for a period of hours....

Friday night. Time for decompression and fun. Signing off until another day tomorrow.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On the move...

Here are a few photos from the past couple of days at our project operations center at the University of New Orleans. A few days ago, our room was pretty crowded. Now we've learned to push some activities outside the office: e.g., data input at the library next door, having a team leader in the field to distribute assignments, etc.

Doing this keeps the room pretty open. Today we just congregate there first thing in the morning, for lunch, and then at the end of the day. During lunch, Wynecta Fischer stopped by about the upcoming planning meetings in the city. We had an impromptu discussion about ongoing developments in the city.

Neighborhoods 3 and 4

We finished yesterday the second neighborhood Gentilly Woods as planned. Today, we started a third neighborhood called Lower Gentilly, and we will finish that today.

The fourth neighborhood will be Edgewood Park, and a resident from that neighborhood came by this morning to walk and color code progess with us. Pam, one of the Tuck alums, is bringing two people to walk and show the mapping progress. With these additional volunteers alone, we will likely start Edgewood Park today without really trying.

A few days ago, I had hoped that we could start Edgewood Park by the neighborhood association's brunch meeting this Saturday. Instead, we might be finished coding in that neighborhood by then.

We are now starting to finish neighborhoods before residents from those areas return calls about helping us.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Another neighborhood: Gentilly Woods

Gentilly Woods is just south of Pontchartrain Park, which we completed mapping yesterday. Both neighborhoods have joined together to form "Pontilly," and I attended their neighborhood association meeting last Saturday with six Dartmouth students.

A few hours ago I met Jackie, a Pontilly resident who saw my informal presentation of the project. I walked around the block with her to color code a block in Gentilly Woods. Bob, another alum of Tuck's Executive Program, arrived yesterday and joined us too. It was quick work, and Jackie wanted to do another block so we did.

Yesterday afternoon, we all thought that Gentilly Woods would be finished by end of day Thursday. Instead, we'll be done today. We're picking up speed as our system of coding becomes more efficient and more volunteers trickle in.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pontchartrain Park by lunch

That's what we are shooting for. Finishing a 2-week task in less than 1/2 the time. And our process is getting better, and we have the capacity now to enlist more volunteers.

The graduate team (9 students) and my research assistant Christiana are headed to a field station at Harris Playground. The idea came from Sarah, a graduate student co-leader. She brought it up casually as a way to reduce the back and forth between Pontchartrain Park and our operations center at UNO. I didn't think it was something we'd operationalize for a couple days. I don't think it was something that Sarah thought would happen immediately either. But here it is.

We have a few bumps getting started this morning, due to transport coordination with 2-3 students from the undergraduate team who will be joining us today and traffic(!) on New Orleans freeways. Hopefully, we can finish the neighborhood by noon and get started on Gentilly Woods, the neighborhood just south of Pontchartrain Park.

Monday, December 11, 2006

We are over 50%

We've completed another field run, and have already put the new color codes online.

This morning:

- Over 200 houses coded
- 15 participants
- Contact with about 12 residents
- Appointments made with several residents to volunteer with us this afternoon and tomorrow

We're making plans to move beyond Pontchartrain Park to Gentilly Woods.

30% of Pontchartrain Park done

I expect at least 15 participants in the project today. It could be more. I got a call a few minutes ago from Norbert, who is helping us with the planning of local assignments, and he is going out to where we have a group mapping in Pontchartrain Park.

I came to our office at UNO with three Dartmouth graduate students: Abbey, Harsha, and Julie. Pam, business owner from Virginia and Tuck Exec alum, came in a few minutes ago.

My research assistant Christiana is out in the field with a couple of Dartmouth undergraduates, walking the other 6 graduate students through color coding for the first time.

We're beginning the day with about 30% of the Pontchartrain Park completed. I'll blog so more or add comments to this post as the day goes if I can.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

We have company

These are 6 of the 14 Dartmouth students who joined us on Friday. It's a long story, but I'll give you the short version.

The student team, here like us for two weeks, moved into our volunteer house. They took part in the project on Saturday, mapping a portion of Pontchartrain Park and helping us with presentations for two neighborhood association meetings.

Our progress multiplied more than several times from Friday to Saturday. Our goal was to finish color coding Pontchartrain Park in 12 days. Within the first 2 days, we have finished about 30% of it.

And now we have 9 more Dartmouth students staying with us. Another Katrina Help service team just moved into our house this afternoon. Each of us took Sunday as some combination of rest, worship in local churches, and overall recharging of our batteries and organizing a household that has grown (unexpectedly) from 3 to 26 people in 48 hours.

I look forward to seeing what happens on Monday.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"Lay the Tracks; Then Run the Train"

Today has been non stop, filled with lots of things I couldn't have imagined this time yesterday. And there are still things happening tonight that could affect tomorrow.

The title of this blog comes from Norbert, the Gentilly resident that I met this morning. He joined Christiana, John, and I in mapping parts of Pontchartrain Park. Norbert brought along Tyrone, who brought his camera to do some filming. For over an hour, we walked several streets and talked about this project while we mapped.

I felt better going through Pontchartrain Park this morning as compared to Thursday afternoon. On Thursday afternoon, I felt such a sadness. Christiana and I drove around the area to get an idea of the physical layout of the neighborhood. We must have passed a couple hundred houses, and just about all we saw were gutted. What was sad is that so many houses showed no sign of further renovation. Many houses just stood there empty, either left open to the elements or boarded up. Among them were relatively fewer houses where people were clearly rebuilding their homes. Usually only one or two houses were like this on an entire block. Sometimes they were in clusters.

The place we walked today somehow seem brighter to me, although the renovated houses were still far outnumbered by the empty, gutted houses. It may have been the conversation we were all having.

Norbert and I brainstormed during this morning's walk about how we might combine the current organization and technology of the project with his know-how about designing precinct walks for community organizing. He and I are meeting tonight in about 20 minutes to devise a system. As Norbert put it earlier, "We have to lay the tracks before we run the train." When he said that I added, "Yes, and we're going to run the train in the coming week." I don't pretend to know how exactly it will be, but I know the train will run.

We've coded about 90 houses in Pontchartrain Park since we've arrived. And we will do more tomorrow..

We're also going to have about 14 Dartmouth visitors in our house tonight, something I wouldn't have expected when Christiana and I landed in New Orleans on Thursday afternoon. But that's a whole other story....

Arrived. Connected!

Christiana and I got here yesterday. Getting adjusted. First got Internet again minutes ago.

John arrived here too from Atlanta last night. Off to meet a Gentilly resident who emailed me on Monday about the project. More later...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A volunteer or two

Now the obsessive details - and packing! - really start kicking in.

I've been working out details about our mapping the first few days, Friday through Sunday. To stay on track, I think we need 1-2 more volunteers to map about two hours.

Doing last minute errands, I got some help by someone I met this evening named Jinwei. I was trying to figure out how to box up a few project displays to take on the plane with me.

I was standing in the aisle of Staples, one of the staff checking to see if my displays fit in any of their boxes. It wasn't happening. This third guy (Jinwei, I was to learn later) kind of paused in the aisle and kept looking at our attempts. Finally, he walked up to me and told me about his UPS store nearby at the Powerhouse mall.

He invited me to come to the store in the morning to box up the displays , but when I told him how early my flight was he offered to (re)open his store to box everything up for me. I said sure, and it worked out perfectly. A small generous act by another person sure can save a lot of time.

For mapping Pontchartrain Park, I try not to think too far ahead. Christiana and I will get in some mapping every morning. John may sometimes map with us. And someone who was forwarded one of my project emails agreed to help us on Friday morning. Can't wait to meet him. And Charles, who I know from previous trip, is looking for a few volunteers for the weekend too.

Just one more person makes a difference in what we're trying to do.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Let's get it started

Today has been about getting ready for tomorrow. Christiana and I are heading out to New Orleans in the morning. I heard snow's coming our way in NH. Hope it holds off, so that we have a few hours of daylight when we arrive.

Mostly, I want to set up shop at the University of New Orleans and move into the volunteer house we're staying at. This afternoon, Christiana suggested we need to get started coding street addresses in Pontchartrain Park after we arrive. Pontchartrain Park isn't too far from UNO. Why not? And color coding is pretty easy:

RED - Blighted
YELLOW - Gutted
GREEN - Vacant/demolished
BLUE - Habitable/renovated

I'll print off a few census-block lists from the Gentilly map now, so we can get a little something done.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tell a friend or colleague

I may work in a remote New Hampshire community (Hanover), but I meet a new person who wants to help with this project each day. Usually it starts with a call or email from someone I've never met before, who was referred to the project by someone I know or someone who's on an anonymous group email list with me.

What we are doing for 13 days in December is simple. We are walking streets of Gentilly neighborhoods, designating the recovery level of each property by color and then putting it on the Internet so people in distant places will know what's really happening locally.

It's time to get beyond the stereotypes of what's happening in New Orleans. Everything's not normal there. Yet, everything's not completely devasted either. It depends on where you are, and there's much more to rebuilding the city than the French Quarter and the Lower Ninth. I believe we need to focus on other areas too, if the whole city is to be vibrant again and less vulunerable than it was before. (No, I'm not from New Orleans)

Come to Gentilly. Invite others to come with you. Share the news that we are gathering in Gentilly starting Friday December 8. For 13 days, we will act so that others near and far from Gentilly can see what local progress is, and what it is not.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dartmouth is coming to New Orleans

About 40-50 of students from Dartmouth College are coming to New Orleans this week as part of team service trips to the Gulf Coast. The students will be in NOLA for two weeks, and a number of them have expressed interest in helping this project in their spare time. That's amazing considering how much other volunteer work they expect to do.

Much of this project in the coming week is fueled by Dartmouth connections:

- I'm at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth as a senior research fellow in its Center for Digital Strategies.

- My research assisant Christiana Toomey, who is coming to New Orleans for the project too, is a recent graduate of the College and its Thayer School of Engineering.

- Pam Dessaso and John Wilkerson are alumni of the Tuck School's Advanced Minority Business Executive Program. In addition to being incredibly busy business owners, they've already volunteered hours of their time to this project and will be traveling to New Orleans to participate further.

- Ben Wilson, a Dartmouth senior, is in New Orleans right now as part of his independent study that examines the user experience of the Gentilly GIS (geographic information system) that is so central to the local recovery mapping we're doing.

- Xun Shi from Dartmouth's Geography department leads this project with me, and Dartmouth senior Ari Bezman continues to add new features to the Gentilly GIS and enable it to work smoothly for us when mapping in New Orleans very soon.

- And there are so many others from Dartmouth who helped this project get to this point: Tina Catania, Katie Greenwood, David Heinicke, Kim Sheu, Rose Mutiso, members of my fall 2005 Organizations & Management class, and even Dartmouth parents and alumni in New Orleans.

- Further, there's Dartmouth's Provost Barry Scherr. Support from his office gave life to this novel and multi-disciplinary project when it was more a promising idea than a concrete set of activities and participants.

I'm pretty excited to see the various kinds of impact we at Dartmouth can make in New Orleans this month, originating from a campus so far away in rural New Hamsphire!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

December 8 starting point

Our local mapping starts in Pontchartrain Park, a historic section of Gentilly that was home to many seniors and retirees pre-Katrina.

Consequently, I began to look to the University of New Orleans (UNO) as a location for our project base. It's just adjacent to Pontchartrain Park, and many of its faculty and staff are Gentilly residents.

I met yesterday at UNO with people from UNO's College of Urban and Public Affairs, as well as from the Office of Sponsored Research and the College of Sciences. All were helpful and generous in offering us space for a project operations center while we map December 8 -20.

I saw what will be a great working space in the Science Building, a short walk from the building where faculty members I know in the Planning and Urban Studies department.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Launch on Friday, December 8

The Gentilly Project launches next week in New Orleans, and its first active phase will last from December 8 through December 20. This project has two objectives:

(1) To enhance awareness. Many people outside of the city who wish to help with the rebuilding effort are unable to see how damage varies throughout the city and the progress that has been made.

(2) To increase recovery support. Many who wish to help the city want an option to volunteer their professional skills, in addition to the options of giving money and doing hands-on work.

Starting next Friday, I will get to work with residents and other volunteers in Gentilly, a district in New Orleans which was home pre-Katrina to over 40,000 people. In Gentilly, we are going to record whether each street address is blighted (red), gutted (yellow), vacant/demolished (green), or habitable (blue). The color code of each address will then be displayed on the Internet, in order to enhance awareness of local rebuilding conditions.

- Keep visiting us at this site during the next three weeks to hear about our progres.

- Use the comments section of the latest post to share your thoughts, ask questions, and provide input into what we do.

- Please share what we are doing in ways that help us achieve impact.