Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Preservation Triage

This is a post I originally posted to www.squanderedheritage.com

On the drive back from NC today, I got a call. I have to attend a hearing tomorrow morning to save this structure from the wrecking ball. Again. There is a spiritual sense regarding my return and fragile properties. I was not surprised. Last time I came back, the Apricot St. house was mistakenly demolished, and I had this sense to call Karen, "check on Apricot". Sure 'nuf, it was gone. Due to an error on the part of Tony Faciane, which I later learned through documents we obtained from an RFPI. Apricot St. was our sacrificial lamb and the lessons we learned in that case gave us the confidence to work harder to avoid marginal mistakes.

This little house on N. Robertson had been on the imminent danger list last year because it's in a bad way. However, Miss N. and her husband bought it after the storm along with some other properties in the immediate area of N. Robertson and Ursulines. They have already stabilized and redone most of the properties they assumed in this very high risk block and have made an enormous impact with other investors, including Gladys Marigny and Scott Veazey, two well known historic renovators in Treme. The first thing they did was remove the damaged roof from 1114 N. Robertson in order to stop further deterioration. It has become a race against time.

I jumped through all kinds of hoops to get this off the Army Corps' Red Sticker list last year, getting an engineer's report and submitting all the necessary insurance paperwork to City Hall to help save it from demolition. That effort was a success.

Before Katrina it was on the market for a mere 30K and I even gave serious thought to buying it myself but I went ahead with the very large Gothic Eastlake on Gov. Nicholls instead. So this house speaks to me. Miss N. and her husband are going to rebuild it, it's in the queue of their projects in this area of critical mass in Historic Treme. As many people know, N. Robertson has been the core problem crime street for Treme. Before the storm, some of the properties here were simply not for sale. After the storm, the Bynums took advantage of their respected position in Treme to acquire some essential properties with the collective goal of bringing the area up out of its slum state. Chrabonnet funeral home is one property that backs up on this block and has been completely and beautifully renovated. It's an historically important anchor in Historic Treme, home to many landmark Jazz funerals and is now fueling this larger effort toward an architectural rennaissance on N. Robertson and Ursulines St.

I got a call on the way home today that it's on the docket for the Good Neighbor adjudication process for 9 am tomorrow, and N. has to attend a meeting for Women of the Storm so I am going to the hearing, to, yet again, rally hard for giving them every opportunity to get this property back into commerce.

It's brick between post makes it unique because even though it looks bad, the walls are only supporting themselves and can be saved. It probably dates to the mid-to-late 1800's and brick between post construction is unique to the quarter and Treme, so it's worth the all-out effort to save whatever we can. Furthermore, it doesn't post imminent danger to any structure in the immediate vicinity, making triage completely worth the effort.

So this is my welcome home. . . I will attend the hearing on the owners behalf. They have a construction crew working their way to this, fragile structure. Having been through this process, I am confident I can buy them some time. We know, with storm season upon us, time is now of the utmost.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Of Old Men and Young Boys

I forget that my Father is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was my Dad but he was also a veteran of the Vietnam War. I was looking to see if there was a directory of burials at National Cemetery. There is, but it's hidden in the Veterans Affairs website.

My father was drafted just after I was born, he was fortunate to make it back from Vietnam, he flew choppers on reconnaissance and sprayed agent orange which earned him a Purple Heart. After being back in civilian life for about ten years, my father contracted cancer from those chemical defoliation missions and was part of the lawsuit that the government weaseled their way out of. The texture of our lives changed dramatically for the next many years, always aware of the reality of days quickly dwindling.

Discussing my Father's last wishes became casual and matter-of-fact. Our family disagreed with his insistance on being buried so far away in Washington,D.C. We whined that it wasn't necessary to validate his courage, we preferred him to be close to home. We voiced our attitude regarding the Government, but he really felt like the Government owed him at least this much.

Military funerals are very moving and majestically beautiful, but I refuse to romanticize it. It's a dead body garden, of war. No amount of ceremony makes up for the suffering and the waste of lives of young men brainwashed by the selfish greed and poisonous pride of angry old men.

Cockade City

I haven't been able to get Petersburg,Virginia out of my mind for the past two years. One day, in about 2005, while driving from D.C. to NC, my companion pointed out that there was this town that seemed to have a lot of old houses he could see from the highway. Being curious, we had to stop. The town was almost a ghost town. All we could see in street after street were drug dealers. Where were all the people? This small community is a charming underdog of a city with a remarkable Victorian housing stock. Due to severe economic depression, much of this grand and elegant architecture has fallen into a blighted and marginal state. The affluent population seems to have moved down the road a piece to where the big-box growth is at the next highway exit.

Since submerging myself in the task of recording damage/blighted property in New Orleans since Katrina, this town has been on my mind for the quality and quantity of blighted properties to be found as well as the social phenomenon of property abandonment.

When something grabs my brain like this, I can only reconcile it by going to see for myself, to set the record straight in my mind. After two years, I was looking to see if; a) it was as good/bad as I had decided in only a drive-thru visit the first time and b) to see if the city had rebounded from its bleak state and if not. . . if not, how could it be worse?! If it was improving, could we learn anything that we could apply to the severe problems in New Orleans? Yesterday, I spent the entire day feverishly examining the architecture and layout of Petersburg, VA. Having given, literally about a hundred tours of New Orleans, I have learned how to crash-course myself in a new city.

I was encouraged to see that Petersburg is making great strides today. The real saving grace for poor little Petersburg is its history. Similar to New Orleans, in 1860, Petersburg claims to have had the highest percentage of free men and women in the slave holding states of the Confederacy and the Union.

Architecturally, Petersburg is the steward to a precious stock of antebellum masonry buildings in it's Old Town area near where the once reknowned port provided steady economic stimulation. At the center is a hexagonal market which was shuttered upon my last visit. It is now being conserved, as are many buildings in Old Town.

The Old Blandford Church, built in 1735, was closed and left to blight after a new church was built in 1791. This church has the distinction of being one of only a few churches whose entire program of stained-glass windows was completely designed and conceived by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Each window depicts a Saint for each of the States who voluntarily sponsored their own window to honor the soldiers from their region who died for the Confederate cause in the Civil War. Even more compelling for New Orleans, is that the Louisiana window was commissioned, not by the state, as is the case with S. Carolina, N. Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. New Orleans' window commission was proposed with the stipulation that it be presented by the Washington Artillery of New Orleans, a private elite organization. Thus, as we often feel in New Orleans, though we are a city, in many ways, we are our own state. Washington Artillery Park is located on Decatur St., next to Cafe Du Monde.

Also of note, the Memorial Day fashion of rememberance, the decorating of graves of fallen soldiers, was said to have begun by Nora Maury, here in the cemetery of Blandford Church, the shrine to Confederate Soldiers. Here, June 9th is the city's own memorial decoration day, commemorating the Siege of Petersburg. There is a lot more to learn from Petersburg, I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon it. New Orleans' own historical contribution is much greater, we must continue to find a graceful balance to expand on how we can teach visitors about this history through our architecture. Oh, and though they have so much blight, they also have those giant garbage cans.

A large factor fueling the current preservation progress in Petersburg may be its location. It is located only 110 miles from Washington, DC, an enormous economic engine. Also important, the Virginia-based Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities was the United States' first statewide historic preservation group, founded in Richmond.

Flckr Photo Set

Friday, May 25, 2007

Emotional Equations

The ability to generalize about things is often considered one of the great human attributes. As someone actually said to me yesterday, from the safe and the normal conditions in Kansas City, MO, one can easily generalize the emotional equation of life in New Orleans into a collective wallowing. She was, "Crocheting clothing for trolls."

Anyway, it's an easy default to meet this collective dismissive with collective anger. Collective anger eliminates the feelings helplessness and abandonment by exchanging it for a moribound sense of community. Feelings of abandonment and distrust flourish in situations where someone really has been humiliated, cheated, or insulted. This was affirmed yesterday in the Senate Subcommittee hearing, our Government is less than willing to assist the citizens of New Orleans beyond the current anemic level of allocation. Yet, today, the Senate passed Bush's Military spending bill without any timeline for ending the cash guzzling quagmire. We will continue to shovel money into the war in Iraq, which was largely based on lies, just as we have for the last five years. It's somewhat sinister that this military spending bill includes $17 billion in unrelated domestic spending, with considerable portions earmarked for rebuilding infrastructure in New Orleans. It seems, that rather than giving money to people to rebuild their homes, it was ok to hand it to Bush's big buddy contractors and banks.

Our real, long-term, heightened state of insecurity is exhausting on its own. But it looks like we are going to continue to be hostages to Bush's Terror Nation mentality, so he can continue to pipeline cash to his friends.

It turns into emotional trigonometry. The best thing we might do is to try to keep the equation linear. We need to remind ourselves that anger is often rooted in fear. Fear is often based on some 'unknown' which ultimately results in zero sums for us on the ground. After another nine months, citizens in New Orleans seem to be locked in a long series of unknowns. Our life in variables. At the beginning of another hurricane season.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


In a situation where one thing has collapsed and something new does not yet exist, many people feel hollow and frustrated. This state is fertile ground for phenomena such as scapegoat-hunting, radicalism of all kinds, and need to hide behind the anonymity of a group whether socially or ethnically based. It encourages hatred of the world, self-affirmation at all costs, the feeling that everthing is now permitted, and the unparalleled flourishing of selfishness that goes along with this. It gives rise to the search for a common and easily identifiable enemy, to political extremism, . . . to a carpetbagging morality, stimulated, by the historically unprecedented restructuring of property relations, and so on and so n. -Havel

It is hard to imagine we could live in a world so instantly connected to up-to-the-minute events and yet still feel so isolated. So left behind. I watched citizens from New Orleans testifying today to the Disaster Recovery Subcommittee in Washington, D.C., begging for more funding and expedited processes from the Road Home. Residents did their best to explain with dignity how their lives, without using the word, were ruined. They were still waiting. Waiting for real hope or waiting for Godot? As Havel says, there are different kinds of waiting.

Citizens struggled today to connect the human and moral element of politics. To make up for lost time. To overcome years of convenient separation from politicians by the mass media. Today in front of the committee, citizens of New Orleans struggled to speak. If you have not lost your home, your spouse, job, you have heard thousands of stories of your neighbors who have. You have helped them to manage as they rebuild. Or you have stood by them as they waited.

It was a difficult to watch our citizens being forced to 'sell' their sorrow on tv to convince politicians to allocate more money to the program while ICF officials, who also testified, reside in criminal comfort.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In Over Our Heads

Alright four readers. Go get ya a Guiness and sit down. This is bad news, unless you're just in New Orleans to exploit us for a story . . . you know, it's so exciting.

Matt McBride is leaving. Matt McBride, author of Fix The Pumps is the person who has been watchdogging the Army Corps since last year to be sure they do the work they promised. The work necessary for this city to survive. Matt McBride was sort of my only hope. When I found out I was nauseous, Karen, my partner on Squandered Heritage felt faint. For days we had this ominous feeling we couldn't shake. Without a functioning drainage system, which depends, not just on the popular and overused L-word, but heavily on the floodwalls which line our drainage canals and our mammoth pumping system, we are, uh, fucked. Nothing matters. I do not need to explain the necessity of monitoring the Army Corps.

Last night there was a meeting of a small group of citizens to try to reorganize behind him, to keep his work going. At least to focus on one major issue at a time. Matt sent out an 800 lb reading list (aka Head Explosion) today and some Actions for the Field Work:

National Historic Register nomination study of S&WB pump stations

USACE Project Information Report for rehab of outfall canals;
Revision 1

Revision 2

Revision 3

Revision 4

USACE PIR for rehab of Orleans Parish Pump Stations

IPET report, final version, chapters 5 and 6 (including sections of appendices dealing with Orleans Parish failures)

Team Louisiana final Katrina report

NSF-sposored Katrina investigation, based out of Cal-Berkeley

FEMA-sponsored study of flood mitigation in Broadmoor, as well as
other documents available at UNO Floodhelp portal

Every entry on my blog (including everything I've linked to)

Every entry on thread titled "Thanks Flood Advocacy!" on broadmoorimprovement.com discussion board.

Floodgates Operating Manual

View my September PowerPoint presentation (requires free PowerPoint viewer,available at Microsoft's website), which, while it is wildly out of date, still contains important introductory information.

Read sections of Broadmoor and UNOP plans dealing with flood mitigation

I would estimate this as at least two weeks of solid reading, but
probably more like a month.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sofa Citizens

The sad truth is, the city has been in a bad state for the last 40 years and while the post-K landscape seemed like a good time to change the way things had been, as we all can see, this is not going happen. That's the truth. This is a provencial town and will never change. It doesn't matter how many meetings are held. The BS stays the same. Just look at the elections--everyone except 3 people are from the old guard. People don't want things to change here.

-- Anon

Is it necessary, at times, to practice indifference to keep one's sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals? . . . Indifference elicits no response. Of course, indifference can be tempting - more than that, seductive. . . A blur between light and dark. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.
-- Elie Wiesel

Three new people on the Council is rather courageous in an unstable environment. There have been other changes; Levee Board eliminated, Assessor Consolidation passed, Wetlands funding is gaining steam on the Hill, Criminal Justice Reform movements are being formalized. Will we get an Inspector General too? And don't forget your new garbage cans.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bush Smackdown Gaining Momentum

Here in NC, I am on a research and writing retreat, cleaning house. It's good to leave to gauge how things look from outside the hot-zone of desperation. I am catching up on what's happening here in this very progressive mid-size city of 193,755 people. While Winston-Salem is often overshadowed by it's larger nearby 'twin', Greensboro. Winston-Salem is a college town, it offers a much more tranquil balance. W-S is the home of the North Carolina College of the Arts, the first state-supported school of its kind in the nation. It's also the home of the prestigious private liberal arts university, Wake Forest. Because of this W-S is very diverse for it's size and also has a great medical/teaching facility. Wake Forest University Baptist Center And it's clean. And I haven't heard gunshots nor sirens in a week . . .

One thing I saw was a handmade sign on the main drag that said MOMS Against War. There seems to be a fairly well organized anti-war movement around here and from the photos, looks like they have not overlooked Bush's failure in New Orleans and are using it as leverage. Wow, imagine THAT !

North Carolina World


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Straddling Success

It's pretty unreal that I have been so behind in this blog but time in New Orleans moves in such jerks and starts and too many people pull me in too many directions. When I have had time, I have been writing for Metroblogging. The bottom line is that I am tired and beginning to feel pretty jacked around in every respect, like most people who have been here since Oct. 2005. No one here knows what they are doing, they have no experience in rebuilding a city. So they focus on their own specialization, make their own best contribution. All talents are valuable here these days. Well, not necessarily cash valuable. Good jobs are not easy to come by. Everyone is full of angst here and I am pretty damn happy right now to perhaps fall back on this to publish my own interests rather than material for a specifically defined topic. In other words, no one actually reads it.

In the past few months, I have had some great opportunities to write and also to meet some very talented writers. I have been asked to also contribute an Op-Ed to the Times Picayune on the state of demolitions in New Orleans.

Here's the text of my assignment:

I check in on Squandered Heritage occasionally, and was struck by the thought-provoking essay on Richard Nickel. I wanted to invite you to write something for the op-ed page on why it's important to preserve our architecture, including seemingly ordinary private homes, here. I think some people look at these houses and don't see anything special. Then there are houses that appear to be falling down, or were badly damaged in the flood.

The exact treatment wouldn't work for our op-ed page, since Nickel was from Chicago and the long passages quoted aren't ideal for us. It would need to be local, personal, about 600-700 words long and to argue a point. I am not really sure how you'd get into this topic, except to say that a Point of View is just that: Your point of view, hinging on your experience. Perhaps you could start with an account of watching a house be demolished, or one restored. Perhaps you could describe the death of Richard Nickel in explaining your work documenting the vanishing architectural heritage of N.O.

We can include a photo and certainly a mention of the Web site. The writing on SH.com is very strong, so I feel you'd be up to the challenge, if it's something you think you'd like to do.

Unfortunately we don't pay for guest commentary, but we do find that guest op-eds stimulate discussion on the issues. I understand you're probably very busy, but consider it an open invitation if you don't have time right now!

Thanks for your consideration and I hope to hear from you soon!

Annette Naake Sisco