Monday, November 19, 2007

Coming Home

Yet another trip to New Orleans was this past weekend. This time was for another visit by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism course.

After a Friday morning trip to the Lower Ninth Ward (above) and an unexpected encounter with the Lt. Governor of Louisiana , we spent most of the time in Gentilly on Friday afternoon and Saturday.
This time the group focused on video interviews, and one of the general themes emerging is how hard it is for a household to return. It has everything to do with how we as a society handle (don't handle) the aftermath of catastrophes.

The extended inteviews tended to focus on older folks. It's a similar story as with everyone else. Being ripped off by contractors. It taking forever to find a reliable and quick contractor. Having some money from insurance or Road Home, but it not being enough. But something about this seems different for an older generation of mostly African-American people who have already seen and been through so much.

When one older woman was showing us her gutted house that she is gradually bringing back a bit at a time, she was casually describing rooms that really weren't there anymore. "This was my kitchen. This was my living room. This was my bathroom and where the bathtub was..."

I almost cried right there. My eyes water now just thinking about it. Sad tears and happy tears. Sad about the loss I was bearing some witness to. Yet moved by the resilience. Her nephew commented later that as long as she was breathing, she'd be working to get back into that house. Her home.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Back from New Orleans....again

I left New Orleans on Oct 23rd -- after being done with mapping the Lower Ninth Ward. Altogether with Gentilly , that's about 10 square miles of the city that's been mapped.

I was back in NOLA again last weekend to take part in a Neighborhood Leadership Forum on Data Collection and Information Systems Management. I was one of the experts on the panel and decided to add something more than talk numbers and statistics.

The most sophisticated data-collection system is a person, and the reliable and robust information system is people working together in an organized way. So for my opening presentation, I played a video. A Dartmouth graduate student (and NOLA native) Sarah G. Fischer created it from mapping photos, and she added some New Orleans songs to it.

She created it independently, and I prepared my presentation by adapting my remarks to the sequence of images and audio. I think the people side of mapping gets to the heart of what this project is attempting to do.

There's an opportunity to map more neighborhoods, and I'm now considering what can be mapped in December during winter break. It depends on the number of volunteers.