Thursday, July 26, 2007

No Progress? Hold on...

We started comparing the March 07 observations with the observations made this past weekend in several neighborhoods. That includes pictures of this neighborhood: Burbank Gardens.
Burbank Gardens sits near where there was a breach in the London Avenue Canal. There was a lot of damage. After comparing the new data with March 07, I think my conclusion about "no progress" here was premature...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I didn't have time to post photos while in New Orleans. So I'll include them as part of a series of "retrospective" blogs this week. That's life for you. A few days of action, followed by days of routine to revisit the action.
This is a photo taken the day we started (and finished) mapping Indian Village. That's Sam coming towards the camera. This was the first neighborhood we finished this visit. It's a pretty self-contained neighborhood, with small blocks. While mapping with three residents, we met a guy who goes by the name Gumbo.
Sam's looking at the data for this neighborhood now, but I don't recall there being much difference in recovery from what I saw in March. To the extent that there is a difference, I'm not sure that we'll necessarily be able to pick it up with this data instrument.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Power of Mapping

Ingrid, Sam, and I arrived back in Hanover (New Hampshire) around 2am this morning.

While we were preparing for the return travel yesterday, there was a MSNBC news item released online that talks about the project.

Its focus is the power of mapping, and it talks about the citizen-journalism project what we started last April with Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, and Bill Gannon, head of Web operations at LucasFilm. Gillmor and Gannon. Both Dan and Bill were co-teaching a class at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, and Gentilly was the setting for all their interviews and photos.

Dan and Bill are sticking with the project in order to help residents tell their own story as citizen journalists. I clearly see the need for that. Even those who want to help people in the New Orleans can fall into oversimplified stereotypes. I know my own look at things keeps getting more subtle.

There's a lot of diversity at life when you look up close. I believe the power of mapping is illustrating that diversity in a visual form that non-experts can see and appreciate.

For "time travel" back to the visit by Dan, Bill, and their students in late April - visit the blog entry here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Work, Play, Work, Play on Sunday

Yesterday - Sunday - Sam and Ingrid finished mapping the Vascoville neighborhood and started the Gentilly Heights neighborhood next door. Both neighborhoods are next to Dillard University.

Then we met with an alumnus Jim Hutchinson (Dartmouth '69, Tuck School '71), whom I met at a conference here last fall. He took us to the Sassafras Restaurant in New Orleans East, and showed us how the damage varied in different parts of the region.

Then in the early afternoon: Ingrid, Sam, and I met up with about 4 volunteers. Two residents from Vascoville, a political science professor from the University of New Orleans (UNO) who studies urban politics, and Harvard student Tom Wooten who's studying the recovery strategies in NOLA neighborhoods.

Late in the afternoon, we were invited to the home of a Dartmouth parent. She was hosting a barbecue and pool party for young volunteers, and we were invited to join in. There were about 20 students there from a variety of schools, like Kenyon, UW Madison, NYU, and more...

This morning - Monday - we are tying up some loose ends. Finishing up some work from the College of Science at UNO, then finishing up some mapping, then home to pack for the airport.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Let the Sun Shine

No rain. Not a drop. It's been hot under bright blue skies with some clouds.

This morning around 8am in the Burbank Gardens neighborhood, there were six residents. With Sam and Ingrid taking part, the neighborhood was finished this morning.

Around 9am at Vascoville, there were 4 residents and a couple visitors. The neighborhood is now almost done, and we might be heading back this evening for a crab boil.

Then midday, we finished nearly half of the Sugar Hill neighborhood with three residents.

In a few minutes, we're heading to the Pontilly neighborhood. It's me, Ingrid, Sam, and Tom (who's from Harvard U.), and several residents are scheduled to meet us.

What a day. And it's not over yet!

Mandina's Feast*

Yesterday, we finished a little early (not much - only an hour early) and went to dinner at Mandina's, a great neighborhood restaurant for New Orleans food. Then we spend a couple hours in the evening in preparation for this morning.

We're scheduled to be in 4 neighborhoods today. It's cooler today, because it's cloudy, and a chance of thunderstorms as the day progresses. That's the thing about mapping. You just never know what's going to happen...

* I had originally posted an incorrect restaurant name, and I've now made the correction. We went to Madina's at 3800 Canal Street. Unable to find a website for Mandina's, I've included a link to a review. QJ 7-24-07

Friday, July 20, 2007

Changing the Game

Something's going on here that feels positive. A shift from yesterday.

We came back to the importance of having a mapping key while walking Indian Village, and we are getting a few unexpected volunteer offers.

I decided to adjust the definition of our block-team roles. I'm giving it a verbal test drive as we prepare to map tomorrow. With about 200 residents, this project can map all 8-square miles of Gentilly sustainably. It's amazing sometimes what knowledge of organizations can do in field settings : )

Since last night, I've been thinking openly about (i.e., discussing back and forth with Ingrid and Sam) our weekend goals with respect to Vascoville, Gentilly Heights East, and Sugar Hill neighborhoods. Now, I'm expecting us to focus most on "teaching to fish" rather than "how many fish" we're catching.

More residents learning the system is taking precedence for me now. It's time to move beyond the how-much-we-have-mapped game. Been there and done that. And it's time to make a deliberate trial on empowering many more residents with geography.

It could likely mean producing less this weekend than what I initially promised myself and others. But at heart, I am an academic. I won't be consistent if emerging evidence and understanding implies a new perspective or direction.

I see greater potential in giving more authority to residents rather focusing too narrowly on mapping area covered in the immediate term.

Friday morning quickness

We're on the move again this morning. Starting two neighborhoods this morning - Gentilly Heights East and Vista Park. Just scheduled Sugar Hill for Saturday afternoon.

There's more going on than I can keep up with here....including my dad's visit with us yesterday to the Lower Ninth Ward.

I'll blog again once we get back.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

One neighborhood done!

But it's not the one we initially planned. Indian Village is a pretty self-contained Gentilly neighborhood, often forgotten because it's off to itself geographically.

Ingrid, Sam, and I met Brady, a neighborhood resident at 4pm. He had called to other residents, Rory and Ms. Mary. We were short of the neighborhood maps that would make things easier, but the resident's knowledge of which streets were where got us through.

We finished the neighborhood in about two hours.

Ingrid, Sam, and I are off to dinner now...

We've Landed...and We Need Help! : )

Sam, Ingrid, and I arrived yesterday afternoon. Within hours, we were at the Burbank Gardens neighborhood association meeting -- after a brief stop at Pizza Milano (Gentilly's red truck pizzeria!) for a quick bite to eat.

We collected the contact information from about dozen residents. Becky, one of the resident who mapped with us in March, wants to get started right away! And a number of them wanted to get started mapping this weekend. So we're helping them get started this weekend on Saturday at 9am.

We're set up now to enable any resident or volunteer help us map in Gentilly -- now that I think we got some printing issues resolved this morning. We're working again at UNO once again, thanks to generosity of the College of Sciences!

If you have a couple hours to walk and map with us this Friday, Saturday, or Sunday - please email

Those who aren't in New Orleans can still do a lot by simply sharing what we are doing here.
This has always been a significant grassroots-recovery effort here in this city, and in the project we're found a way to give this recovery a boost....

More later.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Start and Get Out of the Way

In the area of "Pontilly" (the combined neighborhoods of Pontchartrain Park and Gentilly Woods), a recovery center has opened. The dedicated person began working there within the past couple weeks. She asked residents to volunteer to help with this mapping effort.

She was expecting about 5 people to sign up. Instead she received 10.

In several other neighborhoods, there've been neighborhood meetings and we continue to get interest and offers to help from residents.

How can I get them all started, and then get out of their way?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Driving the Train

A lot of the day was contacting residents in specific neighborhoods, sharing what we'd like to do and discussing the immediate steps to take.

While I was doing my part in that, one of our block coordinators said something pretty funny. He had just suggested a neighbor as a great potential contributor to the project. He said he would talk to her, explaining "Quintus, you're driving the train... I'll gather people up."

Maybe. I just want everybody to get where they want to go. This recovery is taking much too long, and there are concrete ways to speed it up. So let's speed it up.

Who else is coming aboard?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Restless. Breathless.

I can't help it. Whenever I'm preparing to head down to work in the neighborhoods of New Orleans, my mind is in a state of motion...weighing the options and pulling the levers to bring about what I intend. I do this knowing it never turns out like I intend.

In the end, unexpected constraints and opportunities arise, and I devise a way to make it work as I go. And the way tends to come out-of-the-blue and on-the-spot. Usually during a time that seems unlikely for great breakthroughs. Like when a volunteer provides me with an inspiration during a walk. Or when I'm resigning myself to not having the solution I need in time. That's usually when my mind suddenly opens up and I see the way.

If more people knew of the struggles the people of New Orleans have gone through to return home, I think there'd be more restless people like me. Whenever I'm about to stop thinking about what to do in New Orleans, my heart starts to take over.

My heart doesn't let my mind rest, until I have a new idea (or option) that turns (what seems to be) an impossible task into a manageable problem.

Targeted Recovery Zones

The area we're remapping next weekend is near a targeted recovery zone of the City of New Orleans: "These zones will be built around public assets in business corridors in an effort to generate further private investment from developers."

I know where the two official targeted zones are in Gentilly, but I hadn't looked at our priority area for next week in that way.

There were a bunch of factors that went into my decision of where to prioritize for the trip. A lot of it was finding a clustering of neighborhoods that were feasible to attempt -- due to their manageable size, our ability to reach residents who could potentially help, and ongoing interest from neighborhood association leaders. This time I only have two other dedicated people to help (summer interns Ingrid and Sam), so our achievements come from the on-the-ground resources we can cultivate and depend on...

While the city's recovery zones are spurring redevelopment and accelerating recovery from the top down through its Office of Recovery, this project - and numerous others throughout the city - are doing the same from the bottom up.

I'm glad there's some potential for convergence next weekend.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Destination: Vascoville

I've decided we'll target the Vascoville neighborhood when we're in New Orleans late next week. Then focus on the surrounding areas of Gentily Heights East and parts of Sugar Hill.

These are all neighborhoods in the proximity of Dillard Univesity. The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC) has a good description and pre-Katrina statistics of this general area.

We're coming to the 3308!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Building a pipeline

Planning for travel to NOLA next week is getting pretty serious. We're starting to set up a pipeline.

From (1) verifying our residential contacts, to (2) sending residents and local business owners are mapping results from last March, to (3) accepting volunteers and making assignments for a residential mapping day in Gentilly on Saturday July 21.

I see long days ahead...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Summer Session

We began the summer session of the project two weeks ago. Ingrid and Sam, two of the Dartmouth students who mapped Gentilly during spring break, are back as full-time interns. Jenica, a recent Dartmouth science PhD, started with the project part-time. Also, we've been getting some help from Genevieve at the Center for Digital Strategies, which is where I work from in Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.

Currently, we are taking the Gentilly results from last spring (which were covered by front-page articles in the Times-Picayune and last Monday's New York Times) and breaking them down into more local detail. Where before we reported results by multiple-neighborhood sections (see report here, page 2), we are now reporting results within sections of particular neighborhoods. Ingrid and Sam, with the help of Kolleen (also a Dartmouth student volunteer from spring break), have been begun sharing these local-recovery reports with Gentilly residents.

Ingrid, Sam, and I are coming to New Orleans in less than two weeks.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

"The Battle Is Not Yours"

A couple days ago, Sheron unexpectedly sent a youtube video for me and Gentilly Project. And its message zapped me: "The Battle Is Not Yours."
Pam, who I know from an entirely different context, had this same message for me last November. Back then, I was a bit shaken about plans to go to Gentilly and spend two weeks mapping during Dartmouth's winter break. That trip became a turning point for the project, so it was a good thing I went. Feeling that you are not fighting alone can make all the difference.
As we start July, I'm reminded again that the battle isn't mine. It feels good to be back. This project to going to another level.