Thursday, January 18, 2007

New Hampshire: Culture Shock?

New Hampshire feels a bit different after several weeks in New Orleans. And it's more than my need to shovel snow from the path to my front door (above)...

After waking up every day with making progress immediately ("how much can we map in Gentilly today?"), now I have to wait. I spend time each day explaining what we did and preparing for the next steps.

The server is back up, and the recent mapping we did from December 7 -21 is visible again. It's good news that we didn't lose any data. So what we mapped in "Pontilly" (Pontchartrain Park & Gentilly Woods) is up, as well as the recent mapping in Lower Gentilly, Edgewood Park, and St. Roch Bend. Everything else is either listed as "missing", or it's months old.

We have everything else (about 66% of Gentilly) that we mapped from December 28-January 9, but we're looking for ways to make the inputting go faster and easier. I've joked with some of the graduate students who came down with me about having a data-input party, and they seem up for it.

Also, I'm working out how to replicate this more easily in other parts of the city.

The biggest challenge will be shifting the conversation a bit about our mapping. Mapping all of Gentilly was quite a feat unto itself, but the point never was to just map it once. Before we even started mapping, I knew a significant challenge would be changes in the most local level of rebuilding. The point of the project is the model (or process) for updating the map in a fairly quick, accurate, and sustainable way. Until then, the map will just be a snapshot of December 7, 2006 - January 9, 2007. And there'll be a certain percentage of Gentilly properties that need a color-code update each day that passes.

Unfortunately, New Orleans seems far away to many people here, relative to how I experience it. I'm hungry for a faster pace, but right now I must slow down. I'm back in a world where fewer people know how long residents in New Orleans have been waiting. And I have to convey that immediacy and lead the next steps from here, so we can move swiftly in New Orleans in the coming weeks.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I Want To Map The City

Most of it, anyway... Will you help me?
Albertha in Louisiana called me this time last year, and our conversation went something like this:
- "Happy New Year, Dr. Jett. What's the plan for 2006?"
- "Gentilly," I said.
- "What about the Lower Ninth Ward?" she responded.
- "We'll get to it," I answered.
I meant it sincerely. I didn't really allow myself to think about it while there was an unfulfilled vision - mapping the progress within a subsection of New Orleans (Gentilly being the pilot) . Now we have come a long way, especially in recent weeks, and things are different.
As of last week, we have help mapped all of the ~ 14,000 street addresses in Gentilly. First, it took us about 5 months to map less than 10% of Gentilly addresses. Then, I came up with how we could take a fresh approach - applying what I know from researching organizations and teaching operations management. In less than 5 weeks, we mapped 100% of Gentilly addresses with this approach.
There remains a lot more planned with Gentilly: (1) Uploading the most recent data collection from the past several weeks, (2) Developing a real process for local residents to audit the color codes of properties and update them as rebuilding occurs, (3) Collaborating with residents to build the capacity for civic participation in their neighborhoods.
In various ways, other parts of New Orleans are already coming up as places to map. I'm looking closely at the Lower Ninth Ward, due to a residential contact I was given last Tuesday. I also have a couple leads to pursue in Lakeview. Last week, I briefly spoke to a guy working on his brother's roof in Gentilly. After I explained what we were doing, he asked when we would get to St. Bernard's Parish, which isn't technically in Orleans Parish (a.k.a. "the City of New Orleans") but could be included in the mapping.
Then last Friday, an opportunity came up to possibly map the Mid-City area of New Orleans. There is some justice to mapping that area. The New Orleans resident who came up with the color code that we use.... She lives there.
Within the project, I always try to stay focused on what we can feasibly do. However, I'm also pretty clear about what my personal aspirations are. I want the rest of the city's flood-damaged areas mapped like Gentilly.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

To Map Again?

I understand that in certain respects, I am rare and walk in circles of other rare people. I'm an African-American with a Ph.D. in Management. The past few weeks, I haven't had personal contact with people who share these attributes with me. That changed during the past 24 hours.
Dr. Vanessa Hill drove up from Lafayette, LA to see the project yesterday afternoon. We know each other from conferences, and she had been reading my emails describing the project. So she came up yesterday, and helped me walk and map a chunck of the remaining Gentilly blocks that had been missed. She also immortalized the final mapped house, convincing me in a moment of weakness to pose for a picture (above).
Meanwhile, Dr. Jeffrey Robinson wanted to connect me with Patricia Jones, Executive Director of the Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association. He sent me her number this morning, and I met with her mid-day. It turns out she's been interested in mapping the Lower 9th Ward for a few months. She already has her fellow residents sticking push pins on a map to indicate whether or not they will return to their home. She has been looking for help setting up a mapping process. Apparently, when she said that yesterday in the forum where she met J.R., he said "What a lucky day this could be for you...." That's when he first text-messaged me about her.
The Lower Ninth Ward is smaller than Gentilly. If we could think of a way to generate quickly the census-block maps and the associated address lists, we could map the entire Lower Ninth Ward in one weekend with about 50 volunteers.
I get myself in trouble with ideas like this...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Final Neighborhoods and Next Steps

I slept a lot on Sunday, the lack of sleep for many days catching up with me.

Mapping about 15,000 street addresses based on a spontaneously-organized collection of volunteers was quite ambitious, given how I was thinking most of 2006. I almost can't believe that it happened. What was beyond our greatest expectation became feasible and then a reality within several weeks.
There are too many people than I can name to thank for this. From the residents here in Gentilly to the student teams from Dartmouth and UMass/Boston...
Today, I've already been asked a few times what's next. Some of that is already becoming more clear:

1. We're going to get the collected data displayed as soon as we can, when our existing server (or new server) comes online. One of the UMass students asked me Saturday if a person would have to pay to get access to the data. My answer was no. The point is to display it on our "web-based Gentilly map" (i.e., a public GIS - geographic information system).

2. We're going to develop a system with residents to keep the data updated or refreshed. For instance, Gentilly resident K.C. King is helping complete the mapping of the two neighborhoods on Lake Pontchartrain that didn't receive much flooding damage. K.C. has volunteered extensively the past week, and he has already offered to help keep particular areas updated.

3. There were three business owners from Tuck's Executive Program who were with the project in December. As a result of their being here, each of them - John Wilkerson, Pam Dessaso, and Bob Oakley - is already developing their own independent contributions to the recovery of New Orleans. For instance, I've been speaking with Pam about the Post-Katrina Economic Development summit she's organizing for this year.

4. I'll be turning to my academic colleagues a bit more in the coming two months to process these past several weeks. I may be presenting at Stanford University later this month, in the department where I received my doctorate. There's a community of scholars there that I'd think be very helpful in moving the ideas of this project forward.

There's still lots going on and much to do.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Snapshots of a Great Day

The chartered bus of the UMass Boston students arrived, and they were eager to get something done. And they did.
I started sending off 25 pairs of UMass teams, even before Gentilly residents began to join us at 9am. Some of the final student teams mixed with residents. Through the mid-morning, teams spread out on foot into the Milneburg and Seabrook Place neighborhoods. As teams with shorter assignments began to return, they received new assignments. The students were eager to walk to their assignments, but resident vehicles and my own carried them out when we could. Before noon, all of these two neighborhoods were done or in progress. Teams had been sent out to complete Fillmore Gardens and further out to complete Virgil Park.
The afternoon turned to Gentilly Terrace. There were so many pairs going there that the UMass charter bus was used for the transport.
Lots of mapping, and residents who were inspired by the presence and conversation of so many students. Towards the end of the day, I was driving up and down and around Gentilly -- dropping off and picking up students who were helping fill up gaps remaining in the assignments.
The UMass students were dynamic, self-reliant, worked well together, and got a lot done. They shrugged off the raindrops which, at the time, suggested to me an approaching downpours.
The instructional handouts designed in December by the Dartmouth graduate team (for their Katrina Help signature project) were quite effective, and the UMass students were very quick to figure out further issues on their own.
Really, only Lake Oaks and Lake Terrace remain. There are isolated assigments within the neighborhoods we covered today.
We have now finished 95% of Gentilly since December 7.

Expect The Unexpected

In minutes, I'm meeting with a group of 50 students from the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Their existing service plans in New Orleans didn't work out, so they'll be volunteering on the project this weekend.

I discovered this yesterday evening, and went down to where they were staying. What was originally a meeting with about 7-8 team leaders turned into a gathering of more than double that number. This is a very bright and energetic group of students. When I explained the project and what the status of it is, they were eager and confident that they could help finish the project.

Maybe even by the end of today.

Friday, January 05, 2007


When we needed housing December 16-21, we were welcomed by a camp run by Lutheran Disaster Response. Some of the volunteers sounded like they would have liked to map, if they had heard about it. We spoke with Daryl and Chuck, who ran the camp, about asking for volunteers when we returned for this most recent trip.
This morning several volunteers from the camp mapped with me. Contrary to earlier weather reports predicting lots of rain, today has been a bright, sunny, and warm day in New Orleans. I picked the volunteers up up, and we were off to Virgil Park and got about a third of the neighborhood done. They also raised some ideas that could help the project, and I fielded some questions about New Orleans and my research. Meaghan suggested that maybe Dartmouth could do something like a study abroad, but in New Orleans, that would focus on the community development issues that we were all talking about.
The photos are from the Lower Ninth Ward, where I dropped the group off after lunch. I'm back at the office now, focusing on tomorrow. We have about 68 assignments, about 75 minutes each, to finish Gentilly. Only 1/3 of the area left to go.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

What Would I Do Without You?

About 65% of Gentilly will be done by the early afternoon, and 15 of Gentilly's 22 neighborhoods will be finished. Nick (top photo far left, standing) and Zsuzsa (top photo far right, on the hood smiling at you) went back to Dartmouth yesterday for the start of classes. Sarah and Owyn are leaving tomorrow.
As this project has progressed the past few weeks, it's been interesting to watch how the participation of Gentilly residents and other volunteers determined what we accomplished each day. Now that will be evidently clear starting tomorrow when I'm the last person from Dartmouth here to finish this round of mapping.
In mid-December, there were about 11-13 Dartmouth people in the field on any given day. That number fell to 6 the past week. Meanwhile, from mid-December onward, we've changed from a resident walking with us occasionally to having a list of residents we can call and a smaller list of people we can really count on. The past week we've had 4-6 volunteers walking with the Dartmouth team members, on average, with a high of 25.
I can't finish mapping Gentilly very soon all by myself, but I know I'm surrounded by people who are willing to help if I ask. The looming uncertainty that's beyond my control is the weather, both real and anticipated.
If there are enough people who can map this Saturday and Sunday, we might be done.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"We Must Stand Up"

This afternoon I met Angela, a Gentilly business owner who is preparing to reopen.

We talked briefly about all the services that small businesses (and residents) need to come back. The machinests. The plumbers. The electricians. There are too few in the city to accomodate the needs, so the waits for these services can be long. And then there are money issues. How do you pay for this work to get done? Hurricane insurance doesn't do much for you if when the damage is flooding from a levee, as opposed to wind damage.
As we were talking, Angela summarized my own feelings about this. "We must stand up," she said. The resources may not be here in the moment, but we must find a way when we can see the future value. Angela's definitely a real entrepreneur...
I relate to what she's saying. I'm having to change my return flight home for a second time -- on this unexpectedly organized after-Christmas trip -- to keep our progress moving. Honestly, a part of me doesn't want to spend the money, because I know there may be up to $6,000 extra on my personal credit card waiting for me when I get back because of this trip. And I don't really know yet how I will pay for it. This project is moving faster than any foundation or institutional grant than I have access too, and I didn't expect this to unfold quite in this way so fast.
But what we are doing here makes sense and must be done. From a scientific and practical point of view, we need to have a complete color coding of Gentilly within a relatively short period of time. Within a month's time span will be good as a start. The longer the period, the higher the errors associated with changes that happen locally in the meantime.
I must stand up here now. It's easier than it'd otherwise be, because I know I'm not alone. Residents of Gentilly and New Orleans have been standing for months now.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Striking Distance

The end is in sight for the first phase of mapping. What's listed above (in blue) is what we've done.

Click here for a map of the neighborhoods. Click here for a table of how many volunteers we need where to finish.

January 2 is back to work for a lot of people, so I'd like to supplement residents with groups of 4-12 volunteers from faith-based and other sources.

There are less than 100 assignments left to finish Gentilly. One mapping assignment, performed in pairs, generally takes 60-75 minutes.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Three weeks ago today, Sarah Fischer (above in orange) mapped houses in Gentilly for the first time. These photos taken this morning of Sarah leading residents in how to map. Within the team, she owns the process for creating walking assignments.

Sarah is a student in Dartmouth's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program. She has become our team specialist who's on top of the geography of what we have and have not covered in Gentilly. Having become our specialist in these matters, she recommends where all of us need to map next in order be most effective. Once she and I confirm that our base assumptions are aligned, I go with exactly what she recommends.

Other team members Nick, Zsuzsa, and Owyn are leaders in their own right too. Each of us has to be for this to work.

Among the Gentilly residents there are leaders too. There are different kinds of leaders, and they vary in age, gender, and race. Most of the residents I'm referring to as leaders don't hold formal titles as they are volunteering in their communities, but leaders they are.

We had several residents volunteer this morning. I think only one was someone we hadn't called to schedule. At 1pm today, we expect more than several of the volunteers who have walked with us before. And this morning I've heard from 3 new people who will volunteer.