Sunday, September 18, 2005

New Orleans ~ music, restoration, and the YA/YA kids 

"I'd rather get lockjaw than live in Houston."

David Freedman, General Manager WWOZ/New Orleans returns to the city and shares his observations:
All the while, the back office of my mind was in overdrive. Fugue-state rumination, mere opinion, sheer speculation. Background noise. The melody goes like this:

It seems to me this business of housing is going to loom large in the coming days. For instance, we have been told that water is still standing in 60% of the city. The forecast has recently been revised down from 80 days to 30 days for completion of the “unwatering” process. While the West Bank, Uptown, Bywater and the French Quarter will remain to remind us visually of New Orleans' rich heritage, perhaps as many as half the houses standing in water for two weeks (according to the mayor) that ss 30% of the houses in New Orleans would have to be torn down due to structural weakness.

What will they be replaced with?

There are at least 2 megacorp friends of the President friend, Joseph Albaugh, receiving multi-billion reconstruction contracts: Halliburton and the Shaw Group To even begin to match the artistry and craftsmanship, much less find the quality of building materials., with which these old houses were built, would add a considerable surcharge to the estimated 200 Billion dollars that Katrina restoration will cost (say 50 Billion for replacing New Orleans’ housing???). I doubt that any of the businesses getting these mega-contracts will have a column in their ledger for charm.

There will be every business incentive to cookie-cut standardized framing and sheetrock construction along with the usual suburban plastic franchises plopped onto freshly unfurled asphalt. The whiteflight visuals of Jefferson Parish may well advance to the western edge of Claiborne Avenue! And, one wonders, what kind of housing will be built? For home-owners or renters? Is there really going to be a substantial replacement of housing for the 200,000 souls that were bussed out of town to points unknown (to the bussees) all over the country? How many of THEM do you think will want to come back? Be able to come back? Have a home and job to come back to?

Our music, culture, and personality don't come from CD's, or even radio stations. They are only registers of the spirit of our people. Without our people, we will be no different than Atlanta or Houston. In fact, I hear that there is a developing c olony of musicians from New Orleans in Houston. It may well be that as the zone extending from the Bywater through Baton Rouge to Lafayette and Houston becomes more flavored with our spirit, the spirit of our people, the city of New Orleans may be diluted, osmotically turning into a place that might more appropriately be called New Orleansiana, or Coplandia-- land of the fast food franchise king, Al Copland, inventor of Popeye’s Chicken.

The battle lines will be drawn—those who care about restoring the charm of New Orleans as well as the physical infrastructure, and those who only see the bottom line. Who will get to decide? I understand that the national chapter of the American Institute of Architects met yesterday to address the issue. I have heard directly from the Urban Conservancy, and indirectly from the Historic National Trust. The mayor has just announced that he is appointing a commission of 8 blacks and 8 whites to determine the direction of the reconstruction effort in N ew Orleans. Who would he appoint? Would the suits make the city over in their own image? Or would free spirits still prevail? Someone wrote me that he had read a quote from a doctor in slate.com, who's been doing emergency work in the city and feeding his elderly neighbors who aren't evacuating. When asked if he shouldn't go to Houston at least to get a tetanus shot, he replied, "I'd rather get lockjaw than live in Houston."

Ever since 1803, since the French sold Louisiana to the United States, New Orleans has found a way to not embrace American culture. The city has often been called the northern capital of the Caribbean. But in the past 20 or so years, there have already been serious incursions of national culture into the city’s unique style. The change has been gradual but steady from locally owned-and-operated to non-indigenous and non-descript (read franchises, chain businesses and Los Vegas-based casinos). So many local icons a thing of the past: Schwegmann’s, D.H. Holmes, Katz & Besthoff, Krauss. Imagine Starbucks coming to the land of Morning Call and Café du Monde. Imaginee Clear Channel owning 7 or 8 of the most powerful radio signals in a city where radio was known for its great personalities—Groovy Gus, Doctor Daddy-o, Poppa Stoppa. National (or multi-national), franchise, commodity vs. local, mom-and-pop, personal and authentic. New Orleans might have been the last largest bastion of incipient, instinctive resistance.


Heading down St Claude almost as far as the Industrial Canal, the thing that struck me was that so many of the houses along the way seemed to be OK. They would not have to be torn down. In only three days we were able to drive along just about any major street in New Orleans except in the three terrible zones – Lakeview, Eastern New Orleans and below the Industrial Canal. These are the likely candidates for total tear down and rebuild.

Lakeview had been a picturesque neighborhood of modest bungalows built in the 50’s. We have been watching as property values sky-rocketed in New Orleans these past 10 years—after all New Orleans is surrounded by water, so you can’t just sprawl out as most American cities do. Instead, people have been buying up these picturesque bungalows and tearing them down so that they can build units twice as large. The lot sizes remain the same, so these two story McMansions built to all the edges of their tiny lots end up feeling like rich bullies moving into the neighborhood. Garish. Blocking the sun. Coplandia-vibe. So Katrina will only accelerate what was already happening to Lakeview.


Look, I know nothing about urban renewal, planning, housing, real estate, engineering, etc. These are just the ramblings of a longtime resident. I wish someone could tell me what it all means. At least, I have to say, that I left my tour of the city yesterday feeling a lot more optimistic than the day before. Many of New Orleans’s fine old houses will not have to be torn down. And the speed of recovery in the past three days is awesome.

Well, for what it's worth, i say ....long live "incipient, instinctive resistance"!

Full post...read it all here Blog #4 – We Begin to Emerge. (contains recent visit and observations with respect to conditions of specific environs/neighboorhoods of New Orleans).

More info and links from WWOZ:

Help for New Orleans Musicians: LINK
New Orleans Musicians List (Last Updated 9/17/05) ...list of New Orleans musicians & bands who are safe after the trials of Hurricane Katrina: LINK

Missing New Orleans Musicians - (Last Updated 9/17/05): LINK. This is a list of New Orleans musicians & bands whose whereabouts are still unkown to us. If you know the whereabouts of these musicians, please let us [WWOZ] know.

Freddie Alonzo
Glen David Andrews
Chuck Chaplin
Thais Clark
Paul Clement
Fran Comiskey
Barry Cowsill
Travlin' Dog Mike Frass
narvin and/or lil kimball
Irvan Perez
Jimmy Robinson
Betty Shirley
Peter Vee (Peter V. Carter)
Mark Whitaker

farmer note: Barry Cowsill (anyone remember the "Cowsill Family"? - eeeeks!..) is apparently ok and hiding out somewhere in NOLA.

Fats Domino is ok too.

But what about the YA/YA kids?:
Young New Orleans Artists and Their Storytelling Chairs (And How to YA/YA in Your Neighborhood): by Claudia Baker


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