Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Real “Post Katrina Blues”

Posted by Nia Reed, NEW ORLEANS, LA -- When I was walking down New Orleans's Art Gallery District about a week ago, I came across what I thought was the most adorable, funny display. In the window was a sleeping cat, sprawled out and seemly purring in front of a painting called Post Katrina Blues by Terrance Osborne.

The painting reflected the horrifying images of houses submerged in Katrina's rising waters, but the cuddly, sleeping cat distracted me from the haunting message of the work. Then I decided to visit the Lower Ninth Ward, the poverty-stricken, predominantly African American neighborhood hit perhaps the hardest by the  hurricane. There, I saw images that were too disturbing, too real and too sobering to be distracted by anything but what I can only identify as the real Post Katrina Blues.
I had ventured from the nationally popular French Quarter, Crawfishing, and Café DuMonde, places that seem to have moved on from Katrina. That side of “NOLA” is captured in the billboards of Drew Brees, the Fleur de Lis symbol, as well as the lively music by street performers on Bourbon Street. But just a short 10 minute drive across the bridge sat block after block of grossly damaged homes, representing the eery and sad emptiness of the Lower Ninth. Katrina hit in 2005. I visited the neighborhood on March 2, 2012 -- a little over six years later. Why hasn't this community experienced the same level of rebuilding as the French Quarter? Why is it still riddled with dilapidated homes and debris from gutted constructions? 
When crossing the bridge over to the Lower Ninth there are deceptive images of fixed or new roofs. But the closer to the homes I drove, the more visible gross government neglect and abandonment became. Homes were boarded up, or more typically, gutted with the insides splattered all over the front sidewalk almost like a made-for-TV murder-for-hire movie.
FEMA insists that it has done, and continues to do, everything possible to restore homes in this hard hit area. Yet the fact that a significant number of residents remain dislocated from their homes and families tells another story. A visit to the Lower Ninth renders such political rhetoric null and void because the actual landscape tells a very different story. Private agencies and celebrities (including Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie) continue to donate time and money to help restore the homes, lives, and communities of individuals and families who once resided here. But they alone cannot rebuild it all. In fact the restoration efforts appear to be coming along at about the same rhythmic cadence of the Blues.

Nia Reed is a Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University and a Team Leader on the GSU Urban Health Initiative.  She can be reached at

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