The words of a HUD spokeswoman on New Orleans:
“It’s really a sick, twisted — I don’t even want to refer to it as a joke,” HUD spokeswoman White told CNN. “At this point, it’s not funny.”
You might think she was talking about the fact that people are still waiting for trailers, or that power and sewage lines aren’t out to all the houses, or that schools in No Man’s Land are still closed, all of which conspires to keep people from coming home. But no, it’s her response to a prank by the Yes Men, in which they pretended to be from HUD and proposed a program that actually would restore the Gulf Coast.
The failure of HUD, FEMA and the President to take effective action has left a lot of problems, and it’s worth remembering that people are stepping up. The Yes Men are using satire, but TfK’s friend Nils Gore is bringing bright young architecture students to help rebuild the 7th ward.
Gore is a professor in the KU School of Architecture, and a fan of New Orleans. He tells me “I’ve been to NOLA 3 times since the storm, and am planning to go again in the next 3 or 4 weeks. … You can’t invent learning experiences for architecture students like we see down there right now.”
It’s important for my students to see the Ninth Ward, some of which was washed completely away when the canal levee failed. As future architects they need to be aware that some places are just plain dangerous (in that case, because of the MS River Gulf Outlet’s direct line for storm surges from the Gulf to the city), and they need to be able to formulate the correct sort of response when expected to build in such places.
It’s also important for them to hear the many people that are truly brimming with optimism. We didn’t run into too many people who were wringing their hands, spouting gloom and doom. (My guess is they won’t return.) Many see this as an opportunity to make the city a better place.
Click through for more on what they’ve been building, and how you can help rebuild the Crescent City.
Professor Gore continues:
I’m less concerned about individuals like this woman, but very concerned about the political and civic infrastructure. Without functioning civic institutions and systems, people will get discouraged and throw in the towel. On NPR a few days ago I heard that the Public Defender’s office has 50+ lawyers and 4 working computers. Crime is skyrocketing after a lull post-Katrina. Without a functioning criminal justice system it could end up worse than before the storm. The same goes for things like electricity and water; postal service; garbage collection; schools (a big one).
I’m looking forward to going back soon. We’ve met some wonderful people who I care about greatly. I enjoy their company. I’m also curious to see what’s changed since May [when the group last went to NOLA].
I think [psychological uplift] is perhaps the value our little projects might have for the Seventh Ward. Merely as symbols that a new life is possible. Our presence has also caused the neighborhood to organize itself so they could accommodate us when we went down. That’s a good thing.
Future work will be to help the group with more building. They recently acquired a building that will need some work. So we’ll be helping with that.
The first project he and the Architecture 401 class attempted were a series of message board for the community to use in organizing and coordinating reconstruction. The prospectus for the ongoing project explains that these boards, and other projects “are the first new construction in the neighborhood following Katrina, and serve to help the neighborhood organize itself collectively as it goes about the task of rebuilding.”
The big plan that they hope to work up to is creating a community resource center that can teach classes and loan out construction equipment. The area was originally home to the laborers who built the French Quarter, and the workmanship was exceptional. The skills have largely passed on from the community, and creating means for people to share what resources they have is a powerful illustration of what a community can do. Not just the community of the 7th Ward, but the community of KU architecture students.
You can help too. Donations are fully tax-deductible through Studio 804, Inc., a 501©3 non-profit corporation. Contact Nils for more information.