New Orleans Journal: The 9th Ward

By Thomas J. Walsh

For PlanPhilly

NEW ORLEANS – It’s sunny and cool here in the Crescent City, and not humid at all. Otherwise, a trip through the French Quarter on a Friday evening proved that this town is – or very much appears to be – just what a first-time visitor thought it would be: Party Central. 

Actually, there are a couple of celebrations this weekend, coinciding with the start of the annual conference of the American Planning Association. Those fetes might have jacked up things a bit, including the “French Quarter Festival,” which appears to be simply one more time of year to kick it in an official manner.

But on Saturday, after a brief stop at the Convention Center to register, take a look around and chat with a planner from Philadelphia-based Wallace Roberts & Todd (see video below), we were fortunate to hook up with a New Orleans tourism pro, who took us on a mini-tour of the Lower 9th Ward.

Christine DeCuir, the media services coordinator for the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, introduced us to two people who are the faces of two housing efforts in the Lower 9th, one decidedly higher profile than the other. 

The first was about 200 yards from her own house, which she had to abandon when the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina reached seven feet high down her street. (It was one of the least affected areas of the sprawling ward.)

John Dorsey, a community outreach worker with Global Green USA and AmeriCorps VISTA, was an expert guide through one of a handful of LEED platinum houses that Global Green is erecting on land that was formerly vacant and is slightly higher than the rest of the area. Check out the video below – if this house was located anywhere on the Jersey Shore, it would sell for $750,000 easily. Probably half a mil or more in Philly.

Here, it’s $145,000.

The second was the home of Ann Parfaite, 68, a resident of the Lower 9th since the mid-1960s, and among the earliest to return to her neighborhood. She’s the very first to inhabit an architecturally exquisite home built by the Make It Right nonprofit, better known as the Brad Pitt homes.

Parfaite lives on Tennessee Street, at the same address, on the same lot, as her former house, which was swept away with all of her neighbors’ homes. The street is two blocks away from the levy walls, and directly in front of the section with the most serious breach. Listen as she describes the flood, interspersed with the evident pride she has in her new, very modern – and, thanks to extensive media coverage, now quite famous – home.

PlanPhilly also took a short walking tour of the Treme neighborhood, the subject of a new HBO series premiering Sunday night (see slide show above). Just off the French Quarter, Treme is a low-income area that has a deep heritage of jazz and other music. It, too, was greatly affected and de-populated by Katrina.

We’ll be back later with more on the APA conference and some sights and sounds of New Orleans.

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