New Orleans Even in New Orleans we have been saying for years that the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and even the recovery has fallen off the front pages, but on the 8th anniversary, even in the local papers you have to search for any mention of the storm, and elsewhere the date is passing unnoticed, even though the aftermath of Katrina’s wake is still ever present here.
We are noting the date in our own way though.
Two years ago when my book, Battle for the Ninth Ward: ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster , told the story of successfully preventing large parts of the 9th Ward from being forced into a return to cypress swamps, I was clear that the work there had hardly begun. Now at the 8th anniversary hardly 25% of the population in the lower 9th has been able to return and driving through the area is rough roads and a checkerboard of mown lots which are owned by the City of New Orleans by default from the Road Home program and overgrown and abandoned lots from owners still in limbo. Six years ago, ACORN completed the construction of the first new homes in the lower 9th on Delery Street, and now at the 8th year mark we are signing the papers on what will be the purchase by ACORN International of four lots adding up to one-half acre at Law and Delery right down the block where we will develop the ACORN Farm.
The ACORN Farm will be a sustainable organic operation growing fresh produce and over time hopefully citrus, bananas, and more for residents, members, and farm associates with a direct marketplace through the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse for its primary sourcing and to its customers for any surplus production. Yesterday on the eve of the anniversary we began conversations with Sankofa, another urban agriculture project in the lower 9 and a farmers’ market operation, on locating their greenhouse on the ACORN Farm where we can all benefit. There’s talk about chickens. We are studying about bees and producing our own honey. This is where another chapter starts for the future.
I talked to the ACORN Farm neighbors on the same block. One is in Gonzales near Baton Rouge. His house sits empty across the street. Next door to the farm is a metal building where he once stored the equipment for his lawn maintenance business. He wishes he were not driving a truck for someone else now. When I asked about the building, he is still unsure about his future plans.
I understand him fully. Only now have I finally made a plan with a friend to work with me in January next year to finally rebuild the decking on our now long fishing camp. We’ll put a tent up and a shed. A new camp would just wash away again, but it will be fun with a smaller footprint in an uncertain future. A map in the current National Geographic postulated that by 2100 on current models with melting ice caps and climate change, seas would be up 5 feet and we would be underwater along with all of Florida, the East Coast cities, Houston, and more. We could buy waterfront property now in Pine Bluff and wait for the water to reach us. Meanwhile a $25 billion debt in flood insurance without Congressional action could make anything other than a tent pitched on some pilings at our fishing camp across Lake Pontchartrain only possible for Wall Street bankers with fat wallets.
Katrina and a full recovery can fall out of focus, but the aftermath and shock effects are still in front of us everywhere here and reverberating around the country.