THE AMERICAN DREAM DENIED: THE NEW ORLEANS RESIDENTS OF GORDON PLAZA SEEK RELOCATION
AN EXHIBITION ORGANIZED BY THE CRITICAL VISUALIZATION MEDIA LAB AT TULANE UNIVERSITY
LaToya Ruby Frazierâ€™s Flint is Family and The American Dream Denied: The New Orleans Residents of Gordon Plaza Seek Relocation are on view at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University from August 21 through December 14, 2019. Photos on the left wall in the above image were taken by artist AnnieLaurie Erickson; photos on the right wall were taken by Jonathan Traviesa. For more information on the exhibition, artists, programs, and more, go online to newcombartmuseum.tulane.edu.
Over the past 40 years, a series of man-made environmental crises have caused forced evacuations and unprecedented health disparities in communities across America. From the relocations of entire neighborhoods, such as Love Canal, New York and Times Beach, Missouri in the 1980s, to disproportionate cancer rates in residents currently living in “Cancer Alley” (an eighty-five mile stretch of industrial plants alongside the Mississippi River in Louisiana), to the federally declared state of emergency in Flint, Michigan in 2016, the effects of these crises cross geography and time. An increase in coverage from national media, growing awareness in the American public, and the persistent voices of those directly impacted have put a spotlight on issues of environmental pollution and its consequences on marginalized communities resulting in a demand for enhanced scientific research on the subject. Increased exposure to lead is just one example in the growing body of environmental studies research demonstrating that pollution is often disproportionately located in communities of color. In a 2018 study, researchers with the Environmental Protection Agency found that people of color are 35% more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air, and people in poverty are exposed to more fine particulate matter than people living above the poverty line. Additionally, a recent report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated that, since 1982, up to 10% of the country’s water systems have been in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act health standards each year – as many as 21 million Americans may have been exposed to unsafe drinking water in 2015 alone – finding that those from lower-income neighborhoods were the most affected. The two exhibitions on view at the Newcomb Art Museum through December 14, 2019 reveal the human impact of the above statistics, and explore issues of environmental justice. LaToya Ruby Frazier’s Flint is Family and the accompanying student response The American Dream Denied organized by Tulane’s Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML), showcase the lived experiences of affected communities in Flint and New Orleans as they operate their daily existences – going to school, going to work, raising families – among lifethreatening environmental pollution. This booklet companion to The American Dream Denied delves deeper into the history and experiences of local Louisiana communities impacted by pollution. All texts were produced by members of the CVML and all opinions stated are solely the authors and those individuals interviewed.
THE AMERICAN DREAM DENIED THE NEW ORLEANS RESIDENTS OF GORDON PLAZA SEEK RELOCATION
AN EXHIBITION ORGANIZED BY THE CRITICAL VISUALIZATION AND MEDIA LAB (CVML) AT TULANE UNIVERSITY 3
all texts are authored by the CVML
Gordon Plaza is a housing development built in the late 1970s on top of the former Agriculture Street Landfill, which served the city of New Orleans for over forty years. The landfill, named “Dante’s Inferno” in the 1940s by the Desire neighborhood residents due to the numerous underground fires that burned for decades, was closed in 1958 by local politicians in response to complaints of fly and rodent infestations. Led by Councilman Victor Schiro, who would eventually become mayor, those same politicians envisioned turning the site into a “beautiful subdivision” to provide affordable housing to the city’s low-income residents. These efforts included new federal programs to help residents purchase their first homes. Over the next two decades, the plan was realized through a series of federally financed city programs and the Gordon Plaza residential development in the Upper Ninth Ward was built. However, within just a few short years of completion, residents began to experience clear signs of toxic exposure, including children attending the new Moton Elementary School. The American Dream Denied: The New Orleans Residents of Gordon Plaza Seek Relocation explores the lived experiences of local communities impacted by pollution, and its concomitant effects on health and environment. Equal parts art show, social history, and critical visualization project, the exhibition presents, in a myriad of ways, a chronological and visually engaging look at the residents’ current argument for a fully funded relocation with an emphasis on the role of women in activism, the effect on day-to-day living, and the frustrations of the “promised” American Dream. This exhibition was organized by members of the Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML), coordinated by Christopher Oliver, Tulane professor of practice jointly between sociology and environmental studies, Taylor Center professor of social entrepreneurship, and faculty fellow within the Mellon Graduate Program in Community Engaged Scholarship, and in collaboration with New Orleans’ Residents of Gordon Plaza– Shannon Rainey, Lydwina Hurst, Jesse Perkins, Sam Egana, Marilyn Amar, Lionel Youngblood, Sheena Dedmond–as well as community organizers from the New Orleans Peoples Assembly. The Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML) team includes Natalie Blaustone-Dye, Gabriella Burns, Delaney Connor, Megan Faust, Katherine Herman, Terrence Hixson, Jimmy Irwin, Nathan Jessee, Zachary Kanzler, Emma Maxwell, Dustin Robertson, Emily Szklarski, Sara Thiessen, Chloe Tucker, Sarper Tutuncuoglu, and Flora Whitehead.
The New Orleans People’s Assembly and Residents of Gordon Plaza Altar to the Ancestors, 2018-2019 Glass jars, soil collected in New Orleans Courtesy of The People’s Assembly “Altar to the Ancestors” has been presented at marches, rallies, meetings, healing circles, and protests to accompany our fight for fully funded relocation off of toxic soil. Environmental racism is slow violence that killed our neighbors.” - Residents of Gordon Plaza. Each jar represents the life of a resident of Gordon Plaza who has passed due to toxicity in the soil.
DISSOLVED DREAMS Spurred on by a desire to develop affordable housing to serve the needs of the rising Black middle class in the recently-desegregated New Orleans, the city secured federal funds in the late 1960s and 1970s to build residences on the former Agriculture Street Landfill site. The residents were unaware that their new homes were built on remnants of the primary dumpsites between 1909 and 1957 (the site was also reopened briefly after Hurricane Betsy in 1965). Instead, the Gordon Plaza subdivision in the Desire neighborhood was branded as a path for low and medium-income families to realize the American Dream of homeownership. Completed in 1981, the Gordon Plaza community grew as folks established lives in their newly purchased homes near the site of a planned elementary school, senior center, and the promise of other amenities. Soon after moving in, the residents watched their dream disappear as toxic sludge and hazardous material started surfacing in their yards. Children attending the neighborhood Moton Elementary School began showing signs of lead poisoning and residents began to experience respiratory diseases, cancers, and eventually a number of deaths, all likely the result of exposure to heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. Federal, state, and independent toxicology studies have found high levels of lead, arsenic, mercury, chromium, dioxins, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), thallium, as well as over 140 other toxic substances including 49 known carcinogens in the soil and water surrounding the community. Additionally, due to its widespread use to protect residents from harmful insects, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was also detected throughout the site. In 1994, in response to mounting pressure from the residents and local activists, the EPA determined that the former Agriculture Street Landfill site was polluted enough to warrant listing on the National Priorities List (NPL), qualifying the site for Superfund status and funding. Between 1997 and 2001, the EPA began a partial remediation, eventually cleaning up about ten percent of the site. However, large areas under and around existing homes were not remediated. In 2002, the EPA removed the site from the NPL designation, thereby effectively ending funding and additional remediation. When Hurricane Katrina hit the area in 2005 the flooding uplifted the existing protections, including the many geotextile barriers, and the floodwaters transported additional toxins throughout the neighborhood. After the water receded, Wilma Subra, a renowned environmental scientist, sampled the soil and determined that contamination by toxic chemicals was again widespreadâ€“ eventually, her work forced the EPA to reinvestigate the site. 6
The People’s Assembly and Residents of Gordon Plaza Action and Demonstration Posters Paper facsimiles Courtesy of The People’s Assembly
SEEKING A FAIR AND FULLY-FUNDED RELOCATION
Upon the realization that their neighborhood was poisoned, the residents of Gordon Plaza began a long struggle for a fair and fully funded relocation that continues today. Initially, they organized around their shared experiences of living in a toxic environment—the smells, digging up garbage in their gardens, and ongoing struggles with illness and death. In 1994, the residents formed the Concerned Citizens of Agriculture Street Landfill and began to forge their own path to safety. Their fight has consisted of numerous public protests, petitioning city mayors and government officials, awareness actions, media outreach, and evidence gathering, all eventually leading to the pending class-action lawsuit against the city of New Orleans. As much as this is a story of decades of struggle, it is also a story of possibility and the reclaiming of power by strong Black women. Like many fights for environmental justice and civil rights around the world, the women of Gordon Plaza have led the way for relocation1. Resident Shannon Rainey and the community organization known as the Residents of Gordon Plaza have teamed up with The People’s Assembly, a New Orleans-based movement for economic, racial, and environmental justice, to continue their fight. In a message posted on social media in July 2019, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said, “to the residents of Gordon Plaza, I hear you. I am working on a resolution. I appreciate your advocacy. We will create change together.”
See the work of Rachel Carson, Lois Gibbs, Winona LaDuke, Wangari Maathai,
Peggy Shepard, Vandana Shiva. Locally environmental advocates and activists include Monique Harden, Angela Kinlaw, Sharon Lavigne, Marylee Orr, Anne Rolfes, Wilma Subra, Beverly Wright and many others in many Louisiana communities. For further reading on women leading the environmental justice movement in Louisiana, browse through their publications at the “resource table” in this exhibition.
Hannah Chalew Abundance Undermined, 2019 Iron oak gall ink on handmade paper pulped from sugarcane and found plastic waste Courtesy of the artist
Inspired by the experiences of residents living in Gordon Plaza for three decades, this work explores the neighborhood’s tidy suburban terrain, with its pleasant aspirational street names like Abundance, Humanity and Beneﬁt, which is quite literally undermined by the unstable toxic ground this development was built on—one that is engineered from the trash and debris collected on site since 1909, when the Agriculture Street Landﬁll ﬁrst opened, well before a deﬁnition of “hazardous waste” existed. This work is fashioned from my homemade paper and ink. I made the paper from bagasse, the byproduct of sugarcane production combined with shredded plastic waste. Creating on this paper highlights for me the legacy of chattel slavery and white supremacy on our landscape, and how they are the roots of the environmental racism in Gordon Plaza as well as in Cancer Alley. I made the ink from oak galls, a growth that oak trees produce in reaction to a wasp laying an egg on a leaf bud, creating a puparium for the baby wasp that ultimately does not harm the tree. While using this ink, I was thinking about the speciﬁcity of the New Orleans landscape and the feeling of home that oak trees give a neighborhood, as well as the resilience of the residents of Gordon Plaza. - Hannah Chalew 9
WE’RE STILL HERE
For the Gordon Plaza residents, their fight for relocation is urgent and ongoing. The most recent report from the Louisiana Tumor Registry1 found that cancer rates between 20012015 within the census tract that includes Gordon Plaza had the second-highest sustained rates of cancer in the state of Louisiana. Portrayed in this section of the exhibition are the current realities and sentiments of the Gordon Plaza residents as they navigate everyday life—finances, family, friendship— with the added weight of knowing their health and happiness are likely being compromised by the toxic conditions within their homes. While new alliances have reinvigorated their quest for relocation to a safe, healthy environment, after four decades of struggle these households are still here and still seeking a fair and fully funded relocation. Justice too long delayed is justice denied. - Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letters from Birmingham Jail”
1 Maniscalco L, Zhang L, Yi Y, Lefante C, Rosales C, Hsieh MC, Wu XC (eds). Cancer
Incidence in Louisiana by Census Tract, 2005- 2015. New Orleans: Louisiana Tumor Registry, 2019.
Pictured on next page: Aerial view of the Gordon Plaza neighborhood in New Orleans, 2019. Still from HD video shoot with a drone camera, silent. Video drone footage by Andy Opel, Floriday University. Edited by Gabriella Burns and Zachary Kanzlar. Courtesy of the Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML) at Tulane University.
“Poisoned Property,” The Times-Picayune, August 21, 1994
Q&A WITH CHRISTOPHER OLIVER
INTERVIEWED BY LAURA BLEREAU, CURATOR AND COORDINATOR OF ACADEMIC PROGRAMMING AT THE NEWCOMB ART MUSEUM
Agriculture Street Landfill. Lead Contamination in Surface Soil, Contour Map Produced by The Ecology and Environment, Inc., 1994 This map illustrates lead levels in the surface soil in and around the Gordon Plaza neighborhood.
Christopher Oliver, Ph.D. is a Professor of Practice, Department of Sociology and Environmental Studies Program and faculty in the City, Culture and Community Graduate Program and Urban Studies Program. He is also the Jill H. and Avram A. Glazer Professor of Social Entrepreneurship and Carnegie Corporation of New York Professor of Social Entrepreneurship III in the Phillis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking. Additionally, he is a faculty fellow in the Mellon Graduate Program in Community Engaged Scholarship. He is coordinator of the Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML) which organized The American Dream Denied: The New Orleans Residents of Gordon Plaza Seek Relocation at the Newcomb Art Museum. Laura Blereau (LB): The New Orleans neighborhood of Gordon Plaza is only 9 miles from Tulane’s campus, yet many people in our city are unaware of the crisis in this location and its history. Why do you think that is? Christopher Oliver (CO): Gordon Plaza and Agriculture Street Landfill is unknown to most New Orleanians. There are a number of reasons for this. First, our news cycle is saturated with other current local and national events which results in a pretty short half-life of the few media reports there have been about Gordon Plaza. Second, living in Louisiana means that even for those of us invested in understanding environmental issues, there are so many issues in so many places to consider. Cancer Alley
remains a bit more on the forefront of the media, and in some ways, rightly so given the extensive pollution, devasting effects of the massive and growing petrochemical industrial infrastructure, and the appalling level of illnesses and deaths directly attributable to these industries. However, here in New Orleans we need to be aware that we have a number of equally appalling sites of environmental injustice right within our parish boundaries. Injustices – in the form of the slow violence of environmental racism and inequality – is devastating regardless of the scale and scope of the issue. One dead child, sister, mother, husband or wife, caused by the unnecessary exposure to a toxic site under one’s home is one death too many. 14
Third, the issue of climate change tends to dominate much of the media discussion, nationally and in Louisiana and, again, rightly so. But, as those of us working in the field of environmental justice know – and have documented extensively – climate change will not affect all people equally. The same communities – typically communities of color and more often than not working-class poor neighborhoods – will be the ones who disproportionately suffer the consequences of sea level rise, high intensity storms, floods, drought, fires, etc., not to mention that toxic consequences of all of these events. Consequently, one expressed purpose of the Gordon Plaza exhibition is to introduce the concepts of environmental justice and environmental racism to a wider audience, while also highlighting these issues with our very own city. At some level the existence of Gordon Plaza should not be a surprise to folks – but nevertheless I imagine it will be for many visitors. LB: In 1994 the EPA designated the Agriculture Street Landfill as a Superfund site on the National Priorities List. It was delisted in 2002 following remediation, however people are still living there and having problems. If we compare the outcomes of this remediation process with the situation in Niagara Falls, New York at the Superfund site Love Canal (which was designated in 1984, and delisted in 2004) what were key differences? As I understand it, most of the families in Niagara Falls were relocated, however in New Orleans they were not. 15
CO: One significant distinction between Love Canal and Gordon Plaza is that the pollution at Love Canal was the responsibility of a private company, the Hooker Chemical Company, whereas the pollution at Gordon Plaza is a consequence of a municipal landfill created and managed by the city of New Orleans. Consequently, in the case of Love Canal the city of Niagara, and eventually the state of New York, had a responsible party – in this case one with deep financial pockets since the Hooker Chemical Co. was a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, a multinational energy conglomerate with billions in assets and annual revenue in the hundreds of millions in the 1970s. This created a clear target for the state attorney’s general office as well as local municipalities to pursue for the costs of cleanup and remediation, and eventual relocation of the neighborhood. Further, Love Canal, the first “big” environmental justice case in the US, happened during 1970s during the rise in the environmental consciousness of both governments and the general public, making it an important, media salient issue that garnered national attention. Lastly, the Love Canal issue was brought to the attention of the media and public by “housewives and mothers” to quote media reports of the time – including Lois Gibbs and Love Canal Parents Movement. Part of this effort included these parents “detaining” a public official
This map appears in in the 1998 â€œResidents Action Guideâ€? which was published by the EPA detailing a $20 million dollar action plan, particularly the geotextile soil remediation, and the various groups involved.
Four Construction Phases to Provide a Healthier Environment for Press Park/ Gordon Plaza Residents. Produced by the Environmental Protection Agency, 1998.
Agriculture Street Landfill and Desire Neighborhood, 1960: Composite Map Original images sourced from the New Orleans City Archives, Produced by Christopher Oliver, 2019. Courtesy of the Critical Visualization andMedia Lab (CVML), Tulane University
in protest for the lack of response by politicians and other government agencies. So, one clear circumstance related to this effort, when compared to the thousands of similar situations that followed over the next fifty years such as Gordon Plaza, is the issue of the race of the affected residents. If a group of Black community members took a public official hostage to press their case, the consequences would have been significantly different that those experiences by the white residents at Love Canal. LB: When Gordon Plaza was originally built, what were the short-term gains for our city and why did that outweigh the civic responsibility of treating hazardous waste? CO: In the 1950s and 1960s - when the foundations for the Gordon Plaza development were being considered through the various federal programs to alleviate poverty by providing affordable housing and increased opportunities for low income urban residents to purchase homes by using federal funds to subsidize the costs of construction and mitigating financial risks through federally-backed mortgages - the regulations regarding existing, and especially former, landfills and hazardous waste were minimal, especially in the South. Until the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) of 1970, which established the US EPA, there was
little federal oversight or enforcement of existing landfill statutes including disposal techniques for waste1. The explicit regulation of hazardous waste was not fully addressed until the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was passed in 1976, thereby providing a national framework and mechanism for regulating, monitoring and enforcing laws regarding the types, treatment, and disposal of specific forms of solid and hazardous waste. Still, since Gordon Plaza was built after the passing of the Solid Waste Disposal Act, NEPA, and RCRA, one would assume that the city of New Orleans and the federal and state governments would have been required to address the issue of trash buried underneath new housing development (and one funded by the federal government and built by the city). However, it wasnâ€™t required to do so for one reason: Agriculture Street Landfill (ASL) had been closed since 19582 and therefore not subject to the subsequent environmental legislation enacted after the closing of the landfill. So, while there are existing statues regarding how the city must monitor the site, the process Nearly all regulations were either local or at the state level, as there was no comprehensive federal legislation on this until the passage of the Solid Waste Disposal Act (1965). However, the main purpose of the SWDA was to set standards to determine which types of residential and industrial refuse would be subject to the new rules and be required to be disposed of in municipal landfills. Subsequently, issues of how this refuse was handled were still under the jurisdiction and control of local and state agencies. 2Although it reopened temporarily in 1965 during Hurricane Betsy, the official closing of ASL is 1958. 1
for engineering the site in anticipation of building residential developments on top of the former landfill were significantly different than would be expected today. But it should be noted that city, as well as the state and federal government, bears specific responsibility for protecting their residents from the potential – and in this case, existing harm – experienced by community members living on a known toxic landscape like Agriculture Street Landfill and Gordon Plaza. LB: Children suffering from lead poisoning played a key role in exposing the unsafe conditions at Moton Elementary School in the early 1990s which finally got the attention of the EPA. Decades passed and today we still have over 50 families living in Gordon Plaza, some of them with young kids. What needs to be known about the current health risks of people remaining in homes atop the former Agriculture Street Landfill? CO: The US EPA have sampled various locations within the ASL site (and, therefore, also Gordon Plaza neighborhood) every five years, as required by law as part of the monitoring of all Superfund sites. Each of the fiveyear reviews over the past twenty-plus years indicate credible amounts of soil pollution, including sampled levels beyond established federal and state minimum thresholds (“safe” levels) for lead, arsenic, and a number of benzene-based polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), all of which are known carcinogens. 19
However, there have been conflicting interpretations of both the level and location of contamination, with the EPA asserting that barriers erected as part of the Superfund program remediation process have sufficiently limited exposure issues within the legal guidelines. On the other hand, Wilma Subra, an independent environmental scientist, has completed her own technical work of the site, concluding that the site contains dangerous contaminants, in much higher levels than previously reported and, most significantly, the integrity of the EPA barriers are inadequate to protect the residents living on the site. Further, recent data from the Louisiana Tumor Registry indicate that cancer rates for the Gordon Plaza census tract is the second highest overall rate of cancer in the state. Unfortunately, there has been no official health survey documenting the myriad of other diseases and illnesses that would be expected with the level of exposures and the types of contaminants sampled on the site. And based on the experiences and reports of the residents – including the illnesses and deaths of the residents’ family members and friends – there is clear evidence of illness rates in line with the official cancer rates provided by the tumor registry data. LB: Thank you for steering this important research. This interview was condensed from a longer version which is available online at newcombartmuseum.tulane.edu.
Environmental Protection Agency Agriculture Street Landfill Site Reuse Assessment Produced by the Environmental Protection Agency, 2014. This site map represents the current state of land-use propositions within the Agriculture Street Landfill area. It appeared in the March 2018 EPA report â€œEnvironmental Study & Hazardous Sites Inventoryâ€?.
LaVonna Varnado-Brown Microflora Cornucopia, 2019 Ram’s horn shofar, artificial plants, microflora moss, wood and natural fibers, oyster shells, books, metal, foam eggs, pocket watch, chicken coop, glass beaker, slime, construction fencing, doubloons, and metal chain Courtesy of the artist
“Microﬂora Cornucopia” is a mystical play on the 1599 Carvaggio still life “Basket of Fruit” and Adriaen van Utrecht’s “Vanitas: Still Life with Bouquet and Skull”. It explores the notions of abundance and harvest, while meditating on the tragic situation of Gordon Plaza residents who are living on the site of a former toxic waste dump. The ram is a symbol of the Egyptian god Khnum, who was a builder and creator. He is often depicted with green skin to symbolize new life, rebirth and regeneration such as that found in vegetation. In Greek mythology, the cornucopia and idea of overﬂow comes from Zeus’s horn of Amalthea, an object that contained everything its owner desired. Today, in Gordon Plaza chickens have come home to roost. The landﬁll’s ample debris and chemical residue seeps up into the yards and bodies of those who attempt to garden or simply use their own land for healthy outdoor activities. The soil that was originally intended to provide a life-blood to generations of African Americans is poisoned. The residents of Gordon Plaza have not been given the opportunity to reap the harvest of the work they’ve sewn into their lives. They are being harmed in the conﬁnes of what should be a safe haven, their homes. Three decades and ﬁve mayors have had opportunity to rectify this situation and provide some shade of justice to the residents of Gordon Plaza. Time’s up. - LaVonna Varnado-Brown
INTERVIEWS WITH RESIDENTS
EDITED BY THE CRITICAL VISUALIZATION AND MEDIA LAB (CVML) AT TULANE UNIVERSITY
SHANNON RAINEY Gordon Plaza Resident
I’ve told my story, and I stand on that. This is an assignment from God. And as time went on, he gave me my warriors to work with. I’m not about to give up, because I know justice is coming. I just don’t know when it’s coming. You know, sometimes when He gives you an assignment, you go through different phases that He wants you to go through. That’s what we’re going through now. We’re going through the storm. We’re going to get rejected. He wants to see where our faith is at. That’s all. He just wants to see how much faith we have. And I am so positive and my faith is so strong that I’m looking at houses. I know my day is coming. I just don’t know when, but it’s coming. My granddaughter I’m raising is suffering from the same thing I’m suffering with, a stomach disease. And it’s just so hard watching my granddaughter suffer and they cannot find out what’s causing her stomach disease. It’s just hard knowing that our politicians are not educating themselves about this community. It is sad that we had past Mayors ignore and allow black families to live in this environment. I really do believe this is a racist move. It’s not about the dollar. It’s about living in a healthy and safe environment. That’s all we want. We want a fully funded relocation… All we ask for is justice.
MARYLIN AMAR Gordon Plaza Resident
Everybody that lives in this neighborhood has a problem. We have many who died from cancer, many who have cancer. We need to be off of this land. … I’m a cancer survivor, breast cancer. I’m still here, because I can’t afford to go anywhere. I have medical bills. I see a doctor all the time. … I leave quite often and go stay by my son, because like I said you can’t even enjoy your yard because of the toxic smells. … But you know, there’s three houses that the city sold. The houses were sold to people on the NORA (New Orleans Redevelopment Authority) list and the City of New Orleans sold to this man who was repairing those houses...Nobody told him this is toxic land. He saw me passing out flyers for our meeting. And he wanted to know what’s going on and what’s this all about? And I said, well, who are you? He said, Well, I just bought this property over here and I’m renovating it to sell. I said this is toxic land. I don’t know who you’re going to sell it to. He said, Well, they didn’t reveal that to me. I said, Well, you need to go get your money back. And now can the city do something like that? And they know what’s going on back here. … I want the people to know my American dream has turned into a nightmare. I thought I was moving into a safe, healthy environment. But it’s a nightmare. And I really want our fully-funded relocation off of this toxic land. Enough is enough.
SAMUAL EGANA Gordon Plaza Resident
People were digging up drums over here. You were digging up all types of debris. Any- and everything was dumped here, so it wasn’t just a landfill. It was a toxic landfill, and there is a difference. People will say, ‘You knew it was a landfill,’ but I didn’t know it was a damn toxic landfill. I didn’t know they were putting chemicals from every which place known that could cause various illnesses. The thing that really peeves me is that the average person who says, “Well you know the land is toxic, but you’re still there. Why are you there?” I would love to be someplace else, and it’s easy to say it. Well, which is more important, your health or your living? This is part of my living, so here I am. Where am I gonna move? Where can I afford to move? Where the hell am I going to go? I own this. It is so easily said if you’re not in this situation, “Move!” And that sticks in my mind—that the average person would say, “Move!” It is not as simple as all of that, just to, say, pick up and move. For me personally, I would have been moved if I had known it would cost my wife her life. And it may still cost me my life. .... Hopefully in another month I’ll be 75 years old, three quarters of a century. I’m ready to get the hell out of here. Maybe it will extend my life a little bit longer, so I just pray that it comes in the near future. I don’t want to be like Moses. He didn’t get into the promised land. I want to be here when the promised land come about. …I feel in my heart and in my mind that it caused someone close to me not to be here. That’s I guess that’s why I’m extremely bitter. I don’t just want to get out. I’m bitter about not getting out, because I do feel that it cost my wife her life.,,,I’m still here, you know, and I have children. I have grandchildren. Who the hell wants to leave something to their children or grandchildren that you think may cost their lives if they live there.... Why would I want my daughter, my sons, or my grandchildren live on top of a toxic landfill, where I don’t really want to live. But what am I going to do with this, just walk away from it after two hundred something thousand dollars, plus the work that I’ve done in it? It’s not that easy.
LIONEL YOUNGBLOOD Gordon Plaza Resident
I was so happy to get a lot and my wife and I, we were just like you buying your first home. … we already knew my wife’s grandmother lived around the corner... I watched them put the pylons in on this ground right here...so I’m like, damn, I see they must have some solid ground here … when they laid the foundation down I was here, you know, I was excited. This is the biggest lot back here, this lot right here that you are at now in my house… I picked the property because I thought I was going to be able to expand and grow you know. …. So one day, I was out here before we moved in so I said, well, I’m gonna come and see. I set up some boundaries and put my grass in and I had sand dropped; I’m thinking everything was cool. Then I dug a hole and I was pulling up nothing but glass. I’m like, god damn … What they got in the ground? They had never said this was a landfill. They never told us that you’re living on a dump they had five mayors came through here. All of these people came through here, they knew what was going on. But nobody was smart enough or strong enough to go against the grain and say, let’s get these people out of here... ... When I found out this place was infested with chemicals, I stopped my daughter from having parties here. She was about 13 years old, I stopped it, saying, no parties here. You understand? ...I got the biggest yard back there. I don’t even cut my grass. I stopped cutting my grass. … I don’t even like my dog in the backyard. You understand? So I don’t even wash my car here. … We don’t drink the water, we only bathe in it you understand and wash clothes and stuff like that, mop the house and stuff … I’m trying to be a health freak. I take plenty of vitamins, I work out… I have a disease called pernicious anemia. Y’all ever heard that? It’s a blood disorder and it will check you out of here, … I consider myself an athlete because I played basketball until I was 65 years old. The doctor had made me stop. I got pernicious anemia. I got rheumatoid arthritis. And I’m talking about severe, okay? And I can see it’s taking its toll on me now. Because I can’t do the things I used to do. ... I got four girls. And they came here, they stayed with us until they got their house. I wouldn’t let them outside. Nope, y’all can’t play out there. Play in the front, right down the concrete. You know, and they always wondered why. Now they grown women, now they see. 28
SHEENA DEDMOND Gordon Plaza Resident
My parents bought the home in ‘81 with everyone else. They just gotten married. No kids at the time. Just looking for the American dream, came in, now I’m not too sure when they tried to start to have children, but my mom actually had seven miscarriages before I came. My sister was in ‘82. She was the only one that made it full term but she was stillborn. .... I then came at ‘84. And of course, I’m here. … Then in ‘92, ‘93, I think, I was in elementary, so about second, third grade, that’s when we found out about EPA and, you know, all the chemicals. …it all led up to November 6th of 2011. … that’s where we found out that she had a brain aneurysm. She’s been having headaches all this time didn’t tell anyone. She thought it was normal headaches. … She did make it through, but she was bed-ridden and she was a quadriplegic at that point. … She made it until October of 2012. My dad … contracted a brain tumor at the same time. ...But with all the illnesses my mom had, she also suffered with depression. So she would see a psychiatrist. It was to the point where she wanted to give up. Her children died. You know, she was, like, too overwhelmed with the illnesses. … So like I say, none of it’s a coincidence...Like sewage and water board. There was a leak on the sidewalk right outside in front. And it’s theirs, it’s the city’s portion. So they came in, they fixed it. They’re in white suits. I wear regular clothes every day. I don’t have a white suit. … If you notice coming around here, you don’t see any children playing outside. … No one’s riding bikes, it’s summertime, you don’t see anybody playin’. No swimming pools, no nothing going on. … So it’s just like, why is it okay to have us here? You know, why? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?
JESSE PERKINS Gordon Plaza Resident
I moved into the Gordon Plaza subdivision in May of 1988, so approximately thirty-one years ago, with the exception of three years right after Hurricane Katrina. I decided to come back and repair my house. It was definitely against my own wishes, but I did it. I moved in with my mom to try to give her the “American Dream,” as Shannon said, you know. … I did some testing in my yard. It was pretty alarming. I was so alarmed by what I found out. I had to explain it to my son, because he lives there with me with his with his baby. When I gave him the news, his first reaction was, “Dad, we got to get out here like now.” If you go on Higgins Boulevard - that stuff that’s coming out of the ground. They think it’s a water leak. Its groundwater mostly. That runoff sometimes goes away. Sometimes it stays for a very long time, especially with this rain. We may see that stuff for weeks and weeks. It has had contact with the waste … this is this is what we live with. ... They are downplaying everything. They tell us how safe we are, but every time there’s a water leak, what does it do? It stirs up this stuff. It’s in there. And the barrier that they put down there—that so-called “barrier”—is not to prevent anything from coming up. It’s just to let you know, if you’re excavating or whatever, that hey, okay, now you’re about to go into this. But you know, with the water sitting here for as long as it did during Katrina, you would have to think that all that stuff mixed anyway. I’m not taking a chance with my grandbaby, because I mean, she’s only about three years old. I mean, she’s still developing and growing. I’m really concerned. … You can’t do a garden, and you can’t do any activity where you are stirring up the ground. I’m concerned when I mow my lawn. …. I’m like stirring up that stuff when I’m mowing the lawn. I am very concerned about that…. I do know what the effect that it can have on my health.
LYDWINA HURST Gordon Plaza Resident
We are enslaved in our community. …I cannot do what I would like to do to my home. If I wanted to add on to my home - I’m not gonna do that. If I wanted to do anything in my yard to enhance where I live, - and I cannot do that. I cannot allow my grandchildren to come play in my yard. And I have a very large yard … if we had been up in any other community with white folks in it, this would have been over with. Right now, it has been three decades that we have been fighting this, and it’s not fair. No, it’s environmental racism at its highest. …We’ve been fighting this for over two decades, through six different mayors. In that first lawsuit, the attorneys paid the nine families and nobody else got paid. The attorneys walked away with one point something million dollars. … We want to be a part of the resolution that they make. We don’t want anybody else to make resolutions for us, telling us where we need to go, how much we need, or what we need to do. We’ve had enough of that. We have been abused long enough, too many times, and it’s time for that to stop. So therefore, we want to be involved in whatever plans they have for us. We don’t want just somebody else making plans, the Mayor or nobody else, making plans for us to tell us where to go.
Megan Faust Map illustrating the site of Gordon Plaza neighborhood in New Orleans, 2019 Courtesy of the Critical Visualization andMedia Lab (CVML), Tulane University
TIMELINE, INFOGRAPHIC, GLOSSARY, RESPONSIVE POEMS, AND COLLABORATOR LIST
TIMELINE OF GORDON PLAZA Historical Period 1: Agriculture Street Landfill and the Desire Neighborhood (1901-1979)
Desire neighborhood first residents
Desire neighborhood first residential development
Agriculture Street landfill (ASL) opens
City begins using disinfectants on ASL
City erects incinerator on ASL
Agriculture Street Landfill Site area was routinely sprayed with dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (4,4â€™-DDT), a pesticide
Area residents began to complain about the smell and smoke from occasional dump fires
City qualifies ASL for status as sanitary landfill (use of DDT, malathion, diazinon to reduce pests)
Police have to guide residents through the neighborhood due to smoke from smoldering sub-surface fires
Fly infestation from ASL causes eight public schools to not be able to serve lunch
Landfill is closed
The landfill was reopened in 1965 for approximately one year as a burning and disposal area for the debris of Hurricane Betsy.
City develops plans for low-income housing developments in Desire neighborhood, including developments to be sited on top of former Agriculture Street Landfill (ASL) site
Groundbreaking of Gordon Plaza apartments (combination of retirement and low-income residents)
Desire Community Development Project planning commences
Gordon Plaza development (single family, detached homes) open to residents
Historical Period 2: Gordon Plaza Housing Development (1980-1993)
Urban Development Action Grants (UDAG) (HUD) sought for Gordon Plaza Phase II Development
Gordon Plaza Phase II development nearing completion
Residents and renters have moved in
State recommends soil and air under Gordon Plaza be tested to determine extent of waste underneath the homes
EPA completed a site investigation. Under the 1982 Hazard Ranking System, the site did not qualify for placement on the NPL
Robert Moton Elementary School officially opens
Acknowledgement by EPA of ASL being “known or suspected to contain hazardous wastes”.
Community Leaders file complaint with Gulf Coast Tenants Organization and request EPA re-evaluation. EPA collects samples later that year using updated standards
Federal inspectors run new tests for toxic chemicals and lead at Moton Elementary School, Gordon Plaza and Press Park
Historical Period 3: Agriculture Street Superfund Site and the US EPA (1994-2005)
Community Leaders file complaint with Gulf Coast Tenants Organization and request EPA re-evaluation. EPA collects samples later that year using updated standards Federal inspectors run new tests for toxic chemicals and lead at Moton Elementary School, Gordon Plaza and Press Park
EPA conducted Remedial/Removal Integrated Investigation (RRII) of the entire site.
EPA placed the site on the National Priorities List (NPL)
EPA’s second time-critical removal action: removed playground equipment and covered contaminated soil at community center with grass sod 38
EPA contractors removed between 12 and 24 inches of topsoil, dependent upon EPA-established criteria of contamination levels and threat index, and then placed permeable geotextile mats and covered the mats with clean soil and new vegetation to restore landscapes and residential yards
Health survey performed by community found most frequent medical conditions reported were stress due to living on top of a toxic dump, breathing problems, and dizziness and faint feeling
EPA cleanup action completed for Moton Elementary School site and residential properties, undeveloped property and community center
School Board member Gail Glapion approves reopening of Moton Elementary, is satisfied with remediation.
EPA determines no further action necessary
EPA closes Agriculture Street Community Outreach Office
Samples of soil and water tested by Subra Company and Altamont Environmental, Inc. showed several contaminants still exist in the residential areas
Moton Elementary School closes permanently after Katrina
Judge rules in class-action in favor of residents of Gordon Plaza, Press Park and former students of Moton Elementary
EPA and DEQ report finds that ASL has dangerously high levels of lead and cancer causing petroleum residues at levels 50 times the established screening standard
Historical Period 4: Post-Katrina (2007-present)
City passes Ordinance that requires residents living on or adjacent to ASL (e.g., Gordon Plaza residents) to acquire a permit to dig deeper than 18 inches on their properties
FEMA report finds soil still a threat to public safety in Press Park
Request for Relocation from the Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc. and Notice of Endangerment submitted (RGP v. Mayor Mitch Landrieu)
RISE for Cancer Alley; a combined effort between Gordon Plaza and St. James Parish residents
Federal Complaint Filed by Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc. against Mitch Landrieu and the City of New Orleans alleging “the City duped African-American residents into purchasing homes in Gordon Plaza”
Rally held residents at Gordon Plaza for residents to share their stories and advocate for their relocation
Court grants residents summary of judgement in Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc vs. Latoya Cantrell. The court found RCRA applies to cities past and present conduct at the site Essence magazine article on the residents’ fully funded relocation demand published in “She, the People: Meet the Woman Defending Black Life On Toxic Land In New Orleans’ Upper 9th Ward”
Antranette Scott delivers Mayor Cantrell a letter with the signed support of 40 organizations the stand with the residents of Gordon Plaza and their fight for relocation People’s Assembly mobilization at Essence festival. Contact made with mayor and public statement made via Instagram
New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell meets with Residents of Gordon Plaza to begin the process of setting a committee to assess their situation
Timeline authored by the CVML
Instances of Exposure to Toxic Substances in the Home and the Resulting Health Effects
Authored by Emily Szklarski, MPH Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine â€˜19, and member of the Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML) at Tulane University
Th FS a
1 23 45 6 7 8 91 01 11 2 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Follow along on the next page to see what each letter represents. 42
A. Toxic substances can be exposed to the body through absorption (touching) through the skin or eyes, which in turn can cause the toxic substance to enter the bloodstream and reach internal organs. Broken, cut, or cracked skin (something as simple as a skinned elbow) can allow the substances to enter the body more easily. B. Stress (often caused by the burden of medical costs, chronic health issues, and the daily struggles of living within a toxic environment) has been found to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. Additional health problems can occur if the stress becomes chronic. C. During pregnancy, some toxic substances, such as arsenic and benzo(b) fluoranthene, can cross the placenta. This exposure is associated with an increased risk for miscarriages or delayed early-life development. D. Chronic exposure to hazardous materials is associated with a decrease in life expectancy. Establishing the relationship between chemical exposure and illness can be difficult because of a long time delay, or ‘latency period.’ Some forms of cancer have been known to develop as long as 40 years after an individual’s first exposure to a cancercausing material. E. There is no single analytical technique that can identify all hazardous substances within a body, however, hair analysis is valuable in forensic medicine when assessing acute toxicity, more 43
invasive techniques such as blood sample analysis are needed to assess long-term exposure to toxic metals. F. The census tract containing Gordon Plaza has been found to have the secondhighest consistent rate of cancer among all Louisiana census tracts measured as reported in the Louisiana Tumor Registry’s recent publication Cancer Incidence in Louisiana by Census Tract, 2005 - 2015. G. Exposure to toxic substances through inhalation (breathing) can result in respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, sinus problems, emphysema, and upper respiratory problems. H. The ‘dose’ is the actual amount of a chemical that enters the body. The dose received may be due to either acute (short) or chronic (long-term) exposure. An acute exposure occurs over a very short period, usually 24 hours. Chronic exposures occur over long periods of time such as weeks, months, or years. The amount of exposure and the type of toxin will determine the toxic effect. I. Inhalation (breathing) of gasses, vapors, dusts or mists is a common route of exposure, along with ingestion (eating and drinking) and absorption (touching). Chemicals can enter and irritate the nose, air passages, and lungs and become deposited in the airways or be absorbed by the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood can then carry these toxic substances to the rest of the body. J. In interviews in this exhibit you will hear residents describe the odor present when it rains. Olfactory senses (smell)
can detect the presence of potentially harmful substances. K. The term “toxic” relates to poisonous or deadly effects on the body by inhalation (breathing), ingestion (swallowing), or by direct contact with a chemical (touching). For any chemical, there is a dose threshold – a dose or exposure level below which the harmful or adverse effects of a substance are not seen in a population. However, for substances causing cancer (carcinogens), no safe level of exposure exists, since any exposure could result in cancer. Improper storage and containment of landfill items resulted in leaching of more than 140 toxic materials into the soil of Gordon Plaza, at least 49 of which are associated with cancer. L. The word “toxicity” describes the degree to which a substance is poisonous
Improper storage and containment of landfill items resulted in leaching of more than 140 toxic materials into the soil of Gordon Plaza, at least 49 of which are associated with cancer. These materials include: Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) Benzo(a)anthracene Benzo(a)prene Benzo(b)fluoranthene Benzo(k)fluoranthene Dibenzo(a,h)anthracene lndeno(1,2,3-cd)pyrene Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) arochlor 1248 arochlor 1254 arochlor 1260
or can cause injury. Outdoor activities, such as gardening and landscaping, resulted in lethal levels of exposure for some residents. Homeowners were not informed of the toxicity of the soil and therefore did not know that repeated exposure would result in lethal doses of hazardous substances. M. The amount of a substance that enters or contacts a person is called a dose. An important consideration in evaluating a dose is body weight; therefore children are more susceptible. The greater the amount of a substance a person is exposed to, the more likely that health effects will occur. In interviews in this exhibit you will hear residents describe the restrictions they placed on their children in hopes to protect them from exposure, such as not allowing them to play in the yard.
Heavy metals Arsenic Beryllium Chromium Cobalt Copper Lead Thallium Zinc Teratogens Mutagens Dioxins Furans Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) Go online to the Center for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at www.atsdr.cdc.gov to learn more. 44
GLOSSARY OF TERMS Glossary authored by the CVML
Environmental Activism: Advocacy and related activities that support communities suffering from issues of environmental racism and inequality in an effort to provide environmental justice for those communities. Environmental Inequality: Environmental inequality is a broader, encompassing concept that melds the issue of environmental racism and environmental justice with the issue of economic and class-based disparities. Although nearly all instances of environmental racism also include class and economic inequality components, there are many cases of environmental injustice which involve communities that are today often viewed as “white” but historically may have been identified by other “minority” status social categories traditionally based in ethnic identities or national origin (e.g., Italian, German, Irish, etc.). Environmental Justice: Ensuring safe, equal environmental protection to all people, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class or wealth status, or national origin. The first set of principles on environmental justice came 45
out of the 1991 First National People of Color Leadership Summit. This summit established the seventeen Principles of Environmental Justice, focusing on the need for a comprehensive approach to combat “500 years of colonization and oppression” that has resulted in numerous environmental injustices directed at communities of color throughout the world. Following this, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 in 1994, thereby creating the US EPA Office of Environmental Justice and requiring that all federal projects and programs consider issues of environmental justice as part of any funded initiatives. Environmental Racism: “Environmental racism is any policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color.” Bullard, Robert. 1993. “The threat of environmental racism.” Natural Resources and Environment. 7: 23-26, 55-56. Fair and Fully Funded Relocation: This is the defining issue that unites the
Gordon Plaza residents after having lived on top of a toxic site for nearly forty years. Repeated requests for relocation away from their hazardous landscape have not been answered by consecutive mayoral administrations. The ultimate goal of residents’ activism is to secure comparable housing in a different area of the city as well as to receive fair compensation for the equity they have built in their current homes. Generational Wealth and Generational Poverty: Contrary to the popular conception of the “American dream” and its foundational ideology of meritocracy, equal opportunity, and social mobility, most lower income Americans especially within communities of color have very limited access to the resources that would help provide opportunities for social mobility. Often wealthy households are able to pass on generational wealth to their children through property (e.g., homes, land, and tangible assets) and financial instruments (e.g., stocks, bonds, and related investments). But for most lower income households, there are limited opportunities for creating and maintaining these forms of wealth that, in turn, provide few avenues for generating wealth to share with their children. Instead, the conditions of their poverty actually create and reinforce the structural barriers that limit forms of social mobility (e.g., lack of educational opportunities, limited knowledge of wealth generating
activities). As a result, the children within these households have fewer future economic opportunities, and these structural conditions become cyclical and generational in form. Geotextile Mat: A geotextile is any permeable synthetic material used in geotechnical engineering. When placed around hazardous materials in landfill waste sites, certain geotextile mats can be used to contain toxic solids. Geotextiles used by the EPA allow liquids and gasses to pass through but keep solids in place. This prevents noxious gasses from building up while allowing water-soluble chemicals (including most pesticides) to leach through. In 1997, 40 years after the Agriculture Street Landfill closed, the EPA remediated the topsoil of the Agriculture Street Landfill by removing two feet of topsoil from the site, placing geotextile mats, and then putting fresh soil on top of them. Homeowners in Gordon Plaza who observed this process reported that less than the required two feet of soil was removed, and consequently the EPA’s remediation efforts were insufficient or incomplete. Gordon Plaza: A neighborhood of singlefamily, detached homes constructed through federally-funded housing program to provide opportunities for low- to moderate-income residents to purchase their own home. However, the development was built on top of the 46
Agriculture Street Landfill, the primary municipal waste site for the city of New Orleans from 1909 until 1958. Home Equity: The difference between the fair market value of a property and the outstanding balance owed to the mortgage lender. In practice, home equity is the wealth that exists and can be utilized from the portion a person has already paid for their home. Housing, Home Equity, and Wealth Generation: Land ownership is currently the largest contributor to wealth disparities in the United States. Because the increasing value of land contributes to individual and family wealth, home equity and home ownership are often touted as tools to advance one’s financial situation. Formerly regulated by nineteenth century Jim Crow laws, access to land and home ownership has been restricted and even completely disallowed on the basis of race. This historical legacy means that renters in New Orleans are predominantly black. Leachate: Water that has percolated through a substance and contains some of that substance’s contents; coffee is a leachate. In an environmental context, leachates spread pollution and increase toxicity. Leachates added to the longterm devastation following Hurricane Katrina. For instance, Agriculture Street Landfill toxins spread through the Ninth Ward’s water table and beyond. 47
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (Louisiana DEQ or LDEQ): Officially established in 1984, the DEQ which by law was created to protect human health and the environment of the citizens of Louisiana. The LDEQ is a state legislated agency and funded by Louisiana taxpayers. Model Cities Program: This program, administered by HUD, ran from 1966 to 1974. Model Cities provided funding for urban planning, development, and restoration in an attempt to reduce poverty, urban blight, and economic decline in American cities. The program, along with the Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act (DCMD) of 1966, was part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty and the broader urban renewal projects initiated during the 1960s and 1970s. New Orleans was designated as a Model Cities urban area and subsequently received federal funds to develop plans for the Desire Neighborhood Development area, which would eventually include the Press Park and Gordon Plaza communities. However, after the federal government shuttered the Model Cities Program, Congress replaced the program with the Housing and Community Development Act (HCDA) of 1974, which in turn led to the development of programs utilizing Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to finance local projects. Although the DCMD was the catalyst for the planning and eventually execution of
the various city housing developments in the Desire neighborhood (e.g., Press Park, Liberty Terrace, and Gordon Plaza), it was CDBG funds under the HDCA that directly financed the building of Press Park townhomes and Gordon Plaza houses. National Priorities List (NPL): The NPL is the list of sites which are earmarked to receive Superfund funding that require the most urgent attention from the EPA to remediate contamination and protect human health. Press Park: This publicly-funded housing development project sat on top of the former Agriculture Street Landfill and consisted of both rental and rent-toown townhome units. After Hurricane Katrina, HUD-owned townhomes were demolished while privately-owned townhomes were braced and left standing until they were finally also demolished in early 2019. Remediation: Remediation is a technical term used by environmental agencies and in the environmental and engineering sciences concerning the use of environmental technical procedures (e.g. either the removal of pollution or contamination from affected soil or water or the erection of barriers to protect against contamination, as prescribed by existing environmental laws or regulations to meet a minimum threshold of protection.
Slow violence (of environmental injustice and environmental racism): This concept concerns the types of physical and emotional forms of violence perpetrated on, and directed against, individuals and communities through slow, unfolding processes and consequences, as opposed to more overt forms of violence that are typically more immediate in action and effect (e.g., physical violence). Forms of slow violence include the consequences of poverty (e.g., poor health, lack of medical care, psychological trauma, etc.) and crime (e.g., PTSD due to neighborhood gun violence, drug use effects, etc.) but also the long-term effects of exposure to toxic chemicals within communities experiencing environmental injustices. For instance, a community of color residing in a housing development adjacent to, or top of, a former industrial site or former landfill may have cancer and birth defect rates many times higher than other communities. Over years or even decades, these communities will experience much higher death rates than other, often wealthier and/or whiter, neighborhoods. This long-term exposure to toxins and its many consequences is an example of the slow violence of environmental racism experienced by many communities of color throughout the US and the world. Superfund Program: Superfund sites, designated by those assigned to the National Priorities List (NPL), are areas 48
that are highly contaminated with toxic substances. The legislation authorizing this designation, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, requires responsible parties to fund the clean-up of the site or reimburse the government for its remediation efforts. If a responsible party cannot be found or is unable to pay, the federallyfinanced Superfund Program provides the resources for the EPA to conduct remediation efforts. United States (US) Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA or EPA): Founded in 1970, the EPA aims to protect human health and the environment for citizens of the United States. Under its Superfund program, the EPA facilitated the evaluation, sampling, and partial remediation efforts in the Gordon Plaza neighborhood beginning in 1994. Urban Development: Urban development projects use public and private investment strategies as well as public and private resources to develop and redevelop urban spaces with the goal to increase economic productivity, provide for economic opportunity, and to generally raise the level of prosperity within an urban region. However, in practice these investment strategies have had the effect of exacerbating existing inequities or creating new forms of inequality by redistributing 49
resources away from areas of poverty and communities of color. Examples include the redistribution of tax revenue and the movement of people and jobs away from the urban core - a process referred to as “white flight.” The resulting “abandonment” of urban communities resulted in a loss of social services, educational funding, and massive disinvestment in economic activities, leading to the further impoverishment of these already struggling communities. Urban Renewal Projects: Starting in the 1950s but accelerated during the 1960s and 1970s, government- funded urban renewal programs attempted to: a) alleviate poverty through increased investment in economic growth activities (which in turn were expected to decrease unemployment in the urban core, especially among workers of color); b) increase investment in infrastructure to support these new investments (e.g. transportation, energy, and public works); and c) develop publicly-funded housing developments to provide access to affordable units for low-income communities. In New Orleans, these projects included large-scale, massive housing developments such as St. Bernard, Iberville, Magnolia, Fischer, Calliope, Florida, and Desire Projects (the latter being located just a mile from Gordon Plaza). In the late 1970s and 1980s, the push towards human-scale, diffuse, low-rise developments such as Press Park were in vogue. These
projects were coupled with other federal programs to increase home ownership through local community grants (eventually called “community development block grants,” or CDBG) to fund the construction of homes for sale to low-income residents. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): A government agency whose primary goals are to increase the availability of affordable housing, reduce discrimination in housing, and protect housing consumers. In the past and today, HUD continues to struggle in achieving much of its intended purposes due to poor administration and oversight as well as a lack of funding, especially as a result of the “neoliberal” roll backs and program disinvestment of the 1980s and 1990s. War on Poverty: A federal program initiated under President Johnson as part of the administration’s Great Society initiative in 1964-65; a proposal to redress urban and rural poverty, inequality, economic hardships, and other social inequities including access to healthcare and education. As part of these programs, Johnson pushed for housing policies and funding to provide better housing access and increase homeownership.
RESPONSIVE POEMS Spoken word performances of the following poems will take place on December 7 at the museum.
POEM by Shera Phillips
How many How many lives must be lost How many battles must be fought How many years must we wait How many deaths must it take? How much blood is on their hands How much blood soak these lands They’ve chosen to discard us like the waste that festers beneath our homes They are hoping we are forgotten like the long list of loved ones who have past on They are banking on the premise that we are isolated and alone They’ve chosen to discard us like the waste that festers beneath our homes Oh, but we are the chosen ones We have been burdened with this cross And we’ve decided to take it up and walk We have decided to fight We won’t lay down and die Now is the time Lets rise Yesterday while we were sleeping Yesterday while we were weeping They were cashing checks that keep our bodies from breathing I said yesterday while we were sleeping Yesterday while we were weeping They were cashing checks that keep our bodies from breathing They’ve come for us, were not going without kicking and screaming Bleeding Our blood ain’t cheap, This is no easy defeat Stop and think We walk down these streets that have murdered us 51
Past the trees that have born the fruit of our black bodies slain We are witnessing a lynching of an entire community at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve The past is right now We are the ones we’ve been waiting for We are called to this cause We are purposed for this fight We’ve got to take our freedom With our strength and with our might No I’m not asking god for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change I’m asking God for the courage to change the things I cannot accept. How many tears have been cried No more tears, we must fight I said how many tears have been cried, No more tears we must fight
DIRT by Jewell Prim This dirt is rancid with tears It stinks Flowers were never meant to bloom here. These lives were forced to give too much here, Give up the right to a beautiful home, One that is perfect for casting roots, One that would let them Plant seeds And watch those little children go, Watch them grow, Run! In this DIRT, This dirt is sticking In a way that’s different, But recognize that it is the same in many, many places. This dirt leaves the cancer in you. You’re tracking around medical bills you can’t afford, And smelling the taste of the death That is dwelling over you, You, And your neighbor’s heads. Why... Didn’t they tell you this was BAD dirt? Why didn’t they tell us? That this foundation Was built to harvest thorns, And not daisies. That the happy home You were promised Would cost you the life that you have every right to? Why aren’t you listening? Why aren’t they listening? Cant you see it? LOOK Look This dirt…
Maybe this death is in a language You’ve never heard. I guess this would never Be the insidious dirt You were given to make a house a home. Your dirt would never be my dirt. Ain’t that something? huh Is it weird to say that all dirt Should be equal? That everyone deserves to live, In a place where the land they stay on WONT Kill them? That just as you are important, I too, We too, THEY too are equally important? Is that a foreign language Too? What does it mean When your government kills you, With deathly dirt? Do they not care? Who do they care about more? Why, maybe they’re mistaken! Once again, They think, That this dark and deadly dirt Is supposed to be matched, With our dark and beautiful skin? My ancestors didn’t die, In this VERY LAND, By the hands of slave masters For my people, To die today, By the hands of this poisoned dirt.
COLLABORATORS Coordinator, Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML): Christopher Oliver (Ph.D., Sociology, Michigan State University) Professor of Practice, Department of Sociology and Environmental Studies Program Jill H. and Avram A. Glazer Professor of Social Entrepreneurship and Carnegie Corporation of New York Professor of Social Entrepreneurship III, Phillis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking Faculty Fellow, Mellon Graduate Program in Community Engaged Scholarship Faculty, Urban Studies and City, Culture, and Community Program William L. Duren â€™26 Professor, 2018-2019
Team Members, Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML): Natalie Blaustone-Dye (B.F.A., Art and Art History, Southern Oregon University). Doctoral candidate in Urban Studies, City, Culture, and Community Program, Tulane University Gabriella Burns (B.S.P.H, Public Health and B.A., Environmental Studies, Tulane University). CMVL contractor and Independent researcher Delaney Connor. Undergraduate major in Public Health and minoring in Sociology and Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, Tulane University Megan Faust (B.A., English and Psychology, University of Tennessee). Doctoral candidate in Urban Studies, City, Culture, and Community Program, Tulane University Katherine Herman. Undergraduate major in Environmental Studies, Tulane University Terry Hixson. (B.A., Environmental Studies, Tulane University). Independent researcher James Irwin. Undergraduate major in Environmental Studies, Tulane University
Nathan Jessee (B.A., English and Philosophy, University of New Mexico | M.A., Urban Studies, University of New Orleans). Instructor, Environmental Studies Program, Tulane University and doctoral candidate, Department of Anthropology, Temple University Zachary Kanzler. Undergraduate major in Environmental Studies and Communications, Tulane University Emma Naomi Maxwell. Community Organizer. Undergraduate major in Environmental Biology and minoring in Japanese and Marine Biology, Tulane University Sara Thiessen (B.A., Environmental Studies and Political Economy, Tulane University). Independent researcher Dustin Robertson (B.A., Spanish and French, Franklin College and M.P.H., Public Health, Aix-Marseille University). Doctoral candidate in Urban Studies, City, Culture, and Community Program, Tulane University Emily Szklarski (B.S., Psychology, Loyola University New Orleans). MPH candidate, School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine, Tulane University. Community Organizer, New Orleans Peoples Assembly Chloe Tucker (BA Religion/Urban Studies Haverford College, MA Peace Studies Bradford University (UK)). Doctoral candidate in Sociology, City, Culture, and Community Program, Tulane University Sarper Tutuncuoglu. Undergraduate major in Finance and Marketing and coordinate major in Computer Science, Tulane University Flora Whitehead. Undergraduate major in Environmental Studies, Tulane University Other Collaborators: Brandon â€œWaffleâ€? Bordelon. CVML contractor Jacob Borenstein (B.S. M.S. Neuroscience, Tulane University). Former graduate researcher and CVML support team Hannah Cohen (B.A., Anthropology and Environmental Studies, Tulane University) 54
Masters student, Anthropology, Tulane University. CVML contractor and independent researcher Justin Dye. Third Coast Studios Jenn Miller Scarnato (PhD candidate, City, Culture, and Community (Social Work) Graduate Program, Tulane University). Adjunct Professor, School of Social Work, Tulane University Wilma Subra. Environmental scientist, President of Subra Company, and Technical Advisor to Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) Additional Partners: New Orleansâ€™ Residents of Gordon Plaza â€“ Shannon Rainey, Lydwina Hurst, Jesse Perkins, Sam Egana, Marilyn Amar, Lionel Youngblood, Sheena Dedmond New Orleans Peoples Assembly Featured Artists in the Exhibit: Hannah Chalew, a New Orleans based artist who works across the disciplines of sculpture, drawing and social practice. AnnieLaurie Erickson, a lens-based artist and photographer who has been based in New Orleans since 2012. Kate Orff, founder and principal of SCAPE, a landscape architecture and urban design studio in New York and New Orleans, whose work focuses on retooling the practice of landscape architecture relative to the uncertainty of climate change. Jonathan Traviesa, an artist and photographer based in New Orleans since 1997. Tshombe Tshanti, an independent filmmaker and documentarian based in New Orleans. LaVonna Varnado-Brown, a socially-engaged multidisciplinary artist, teacher and community organizer.
ABOUT THE MUSEUM The Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University builds on the Newcomb College legacy of education, social enterprise, and artistic experience. Presenting inspiring exhibitions and programs that engage communities both on and off campus, the museum fosters the creative exchange of ideas and cross-disciplinary collaborations around innovative art and design. The museum preserves and advances scholarship on the Newcomb and Tulane art collections. The academic institution for which the museum is named was founded in 1886 as the first degreegranting coordinate college for women in America. The H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College was distinguished for educating women in the sciences, physical education, and, most importantly, art education. Out of its famed arts program, the Newcomb Pottery was born. In operation from 1895 until 1940, the Newcomb enterprise produced metalwork, fiber arts, and the now internationally renowned Newcomb pottery. The museum today presents original exhibitions and programs that explore socially engaged art, civic dialogue, and community transformation. The museum also pays tribute to its heritage through shows that recognize the contributions of women to the fields of art and design. As an entity of an academic institution, the Newcomb Art Museum creates exhibitions that utilize the critical frameworks of diverse disciplines in conceptualizing and interpreting art and design. By presenting issues relevant to Tulane and the greater New Orleans region, the museum also serves as a gateway between on and off campus constituencies.
Tulane University 6823 St. Charles Avenue New Orleans, LA 70118 NewcombArtMuseum.Tulane.edu 504.865.5328