I stumbled into New Orleans yesterday on two hours of sleep, an inevitable condition of the early morning flight and my inability to sleep on planes. After a short break, during which I ate and made myself slightly less offensive to be around (showered), I met with the other bloggers brought down to cover this event. We had a short orientation, and then we were herded into a bus and taken out to the neighborhood where the work was taking place.
The Gentilly neighborhood has the look of a sprawling single story suburb which, of course, is what it was until the city annexed it in the 60s or 70s. It is, much of the time, an innocuous scene of small, tidy homes and green yards that could exist virtually anywhere. Then, as you suddenly roll past the mournful husks of houses with the now recognizable X tattoos of the rescue effort (see below), you are reminded that this is not anywhere. This is New Orleans and not long ago all of this was under water.
We saw a dozen or so job sites spread throughout the neighborhood. Volunteers were painting, hanging drywall, building fences, running electric and generally patching up what the hurricane had taken apart. The homes were in various states of repair. At some sites the houses looked nearly complete and at others there was little to suggest exactly how the place might have once looked. Their neighbors were similarly varied in appearance. Bright, clean homes next to drowned remains or blank slabs marking the last resting place of someones house.
The weeks work is intended as a surge of sorts. It is a frenzy of activity in the midst of Building Together’s ongoing commitment to rehab 1,000 homes in New Orleans. This Fifty for Five blitz will move them from 750 to 800 homes over the five days of work. The homes won’t all be finished. Owners won’t be back in by Sunday, but every home getting attention during this event will be much, much closer to livable.
Some will call this event a publicity stunt and in the end it is. It is an exaggeration of what this organization actually does every day, all year round. And, that is fine with me. I have a fondness for publicity stunts, particularly when they actually manage to do some good, and there is no question that this one is doing good. I have met some of the homeowners, talked to volunteers and heard comments from neighbors. There is a universally positive feeling about this event and about the organization as a whole. This work is literally transforming neighborhoods and lives.
This event has it’s faults, and we will talk a little about that as the weekend continues. On the whole though, the positives outweigh the negatives. The impact on each individual homeowner is so powerful that I find much of my natural cynicism fades to the background.
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