Friday, November 16, 2007
Hard Day's Work in the Big Easy
New Orleans is still a city of commensurate beauty, culture, and feverish fun times that have always been synonymous with the mouth of the Mississippi. However, over the past years there is another, harsher reality that has been brought to bear on this city. We opted to take a scenic route, if you want to call it that, of the service road off of the highway as we entered the city from the northeast. Even now, it seemed every third structure was lacking a roof. Piles of rubble take up literal blocks of what was once inhabited city and strip mall infrastructure lies vacant, eerie with the absence of commerce despite life of some fashion existing all around.
However, for every boarded house, there seemed to be a construction project or refurbishment happening. From the passerby perspective we held, they seemed to be not professional projects of any sort, but neighborhoods gathered with common purpose and goodwill.
Thanks to our host Michele, we were able to spend our first Saturday in NOLA giving at least a little something back to this amazing place. A combination of Loyola University's National Service Day and Step It Up, a nationwide service effort to push Congress to cut carbon emissions, had people of all walks of life gathered with benevolent intentions at locations throughout the city and the nation at large. Our locale was City Park, one of the largest privately funded public spaces in America. Since the storms ravaged that end of the city, several of the trees had died due to the saltwater flooding, and in their wake had been overrun with invasive species, particularly Chinese Tallow. This was compounded with a devastating loss of staff and funding, which had previously been provided by tee fees at the golf course, which now lay in ruin.
So we spent the early portion of the day with hatchets and clippers in hand, showing the Tallow what was what. The energy was abundant and positive, and we quickly took to the work. Hours were spent with many hands laboring, but even this effort barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done to fully renew this space.
The feelings of good intention and forward-looking positivity did not end with our blistered and dirty hands in the park that day, though. We then fought the urge to nap away the afternoon and headed to Art Egg Studios, an old produce warehouse gentrified into an artist's collective. The studio for the day was converted into an area of green education. Seminars on Bio-Diesel, and tours on the effectiveness of fluorescent and natural lighting, proper insulation, solar water heaters, renewable bamboo instead of hardwood flooring were all over the facility. States like New York, Colorado, and now Louisiana actually have lucrative tax breaks for the installation of such green amenities which combine with lowered power bills for a worldly beneficial result. We were then treated to speeches by several civic leaders, with a keynote by presidential candidate, John Edwards (whose hair looks as perfect in real life as it does on tv!)
The day's finale was a Second Line led by Da Truth Brass Band, whom we followed on a closed highway all the way to the Superdome. All involved in their red shirts spelled out NO NEW COAL for a helicopter overhead, and it was all in all a wonderful day in New Orleans that we will remember forever.
But enough blathering prose... its time for pictures!