New Orleans, Upper Ninth and Construction

Upon visiting the upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, I found many deserted and condemned houses. The area didn’t receive as much of the massive flooding that the Lower Ninth ward did during Katrina, so more of the buildings are standing. However, six years after the hurricane, many of the homes have open rooftops and serious damage. I was drawing the home below when a utility man pulled up and marked an “xxx” with spray paint on the electrical box. This was an official notice that the electricity had been shut off to the property. Perhaps someone had hoped to renovate and just didn’t have the funds to complete the job.

As I was drawing the above, a man on a motorized wheelchair kept zooming up to see, from across the street, what I was doing. He didn’t want to talk: every time I turned in his direction, he moved away, as in the drawing below:

The whole neighborhood had a deserted feeling, although in the upper ninth ward I would say that about half of the homes seemed occupied. But to see people going through a place where half of the homes are destroyed gives you a desolate feeling. Not to mention the many fences and gates that are fencing in deserted properties. When I think of the families who lived here and the rich history of this neighborhood, it makes me sad.

I wanted to visit the Musician’s Village to see what was being done. The woman who rented me the car I was driving told me, “just drive up Clairborne, and you’ll see the signs.” I don’t know what she was talking about, I half expected to see a large billboard like they do for new real estate developments in Florida. If there was such a thing, I certainly didn’t see it. What I did find was a row of brightly colored homes on the corner of North Roman and Bartholomew Street. Definitely new and definitely optimistic – they had plants and flags and cheery exteriors. The houses stood out like a sore thumb of pink and blue in a neighborhood of dilapidated and destroyed structures. They are the New Orleans style doubles, or duplexes, that the Musician’s Village project has built for elderly Master Musicians to live in. I like the idea of preserving the musical ‘family’ that New Orleans has grown over the years. If you go to the New Orleans Habitat Musician’s Village website, here, you’ll read that in addition to these, there have been 72 homes built as part of this project, and a music center is on the way. Please consider donating if you can, they need it!

I also decided to check out the Make it Right foundation, across the river, back in the Lower Ninth Ward. I got an address from their website, and drove over to see the headquarters. What I found was a construction site with a small trailer. I went in and asked if this was the headquarters for the foundation, and an Irish man sipping his tea told me I was in the right place, and I was welcome to draw if I liked. Here are a few officials checking out what needs to be done next. You can see the levee behind them:

And below are drawings of the construction site, and a woman scraping down a doorway. It was bitterly cold that day, didn’t feel like the South at all. Except that the woman working on the house was concerned that I was getting too cold, and also wanted to impress upon me that I should definitely stay for Mardi Gras – the best party in New Orleans! That Southern hospitality made me feel a little bit warmer, darlin’.

The Make it Right foundation is creating green housing for lower income residents of the lower Ninth Ward. There was work going on, for sure, but there is still so much more to do. Visit their website, HERE, and they also need donations!

Urban neighborhoods like the Ninth Ward of New Orleans are not just collections of buildings, they are the resting places for collective memories of generations of people. The cultural heritage of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward alone makes this a spot worth saving. Not to mention the many houses lost to families, still hoping to come home. I only hope that the necessary funds get to the groups who need them most, so that this piece of American social and cultural history can be restored.

Comments (5)

  1. Frank Bettendorf

    These are marvelous! Your drawings and your writing make for a compelling story. I think that they’re as powerful as some of your 9/11 reportage. You have a great talent for depicting the truth of the situation, and your writing carries a message that involves the reader. Others may do reportage, but the combination of your drawings and writing makes your work high above the others.

  2. Jason Das

    Wonderful sketches and stories… I like the scenes a lot, and closer-up isolated figures (and their stories) are really powerful. Pretty sure I got more from this than I would from photos of the same!

  3. RSA Certificate

    Very well done sketches, I like how you tell the story behind each one

  4. larry

    With the recent events in Haiti and Japan combined with our ever shrinking attention spans, it’s easy to move on to the catastrophe du jour before all the heavy lifting is done in our own backyard. Thanks for posting these beautiful drawings.

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