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DeVivre January 2014

MAGAZINE

The resettling of

New Orleans

$10.00


DeVivre

EDITOR’S NOTE As New Orleans’ premier news and culture magazine, De Vivre’s mission is to provide multidimensional coverage of New Orleans life. Borrowing from the city’s unofficial French motto, “joie de vivre” (“joy of life”), De Vivre will offer introspective visual journalism on this city’s irrepressible spirit of celebration, while also delivering comprehensive coverage of the many hurdles it faces. In our inaugural edition, we take a look at post-Katrina demographics and ask, “who is resettling New Orleans?” Like scores of others who felt a responsibility to victims of Hurricane Katrina, my first introduction to New Orleans was as a disaster relief volunteer in March of 2006, six months after the storm had laid waste to much of the city. Gutting homes was a laborious and emotional experience, dumping molded family photo albums in the same heap as rotted drywall. Despite all the destruction, I was still deeply impressed with New Orleans’ persistent charm and its people’s determination to rebuild. I’ve been drawn back several times over the past eight years, thrilled to see the signs of revival. But in the midst of the renewal effort, it’s become clear that it’s not necessarily the same New Orleans returning. There are many new faces. I took this opportunity of creating a magazine prototype to press pause on the race to rebuild, and explore for a moment what these changes mean for the future of New Orleans. Thanks for looking.

Sarah Tilotta

January 2014 www.sarahtilotta.com

Editorial Board Terry Eiler, Professor Emeritus Won Suk Choi Chris Franz Ryan Kellman Dijana Muminovic Lauren Pond

Stephen Reiss Tyler Stabile Nic Tanner Aaron Turner Logan Werlinger

Produced in partial fulfillment of the Masters of Arts degree requirements for the School of Visual Communication, Scripps College of Communication, at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Left: Twelve-year-old Barron Wilson rides a bike down Gallier Street in the Bywater. Cover: Ten-day-old Gino Holmes awakes from a nap in Meraux, La.


The resettling of

New Orleans Story & Images by Sarah Tilotta

Eight years ago, amid media images of a drowned, desperate city, those outside the tragedy wondered aloud if New Orleans could ever bounce back from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Many who knew the city insisted it must. Others said let it go; it was a place with big problems aside from being a topographic soup bowl. We now know the Crescent City has recuperated three quarters of its pre-storm population of 1.3 million; Mardi Gras visitor numbers are back in the 9 million range, and new businesses are springing up left and right. In a wave of irony, Katrina appears to have left a wake of opportunity. The city now finds itself on the verge of a Renaissance. So the most important question has become not “if ” New Orleans would be resettled but “who” is resettling it? In an article that went viral on newgeography. com in March 2013 titled “Gentrification and its Discontents: Notes from New Orleans”, urban geographer and Tulane professor Richard Campanella offers analysis of the changing population: “New Orleans is becoming less native and more diverse, meaning a growing number of


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Lee Kyle’s renovated house on Urquhart Street sits beside a blighted house that’s been abandoned since before Hurricane Katrina.


Angela Bonomo plays with her 10-day-old son, Gino, in the home she shares with her parents, Mary and Nick Bonomo in Meraux, La. The house is currently being renovated by the nonprofit St. Bernard Project, which rebuilds homes for Katrina survivors. The family was in special need of assistance after two instances of contractor fraud.


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Mary Bonomo (far right with pig) poses with St. Bernard Project staff and Long Haul volunteers.

New Orleanians are transplants of white, Hispanic, and Asian descent.” The Census Bureau confirms the diversification, as reported on nola.com in September 2013, there are “103,881 fewer African Americans in 2012 compared to 2000, 14,984 fewer whites and 4,830 more Hispanics... African Americans still represent the majority of the city’s population at 59 percent, down from 67 percent in 2000.” But in this time of changing demographics, diversification doesn’t seem to be the problem. What New Orleanians feel most threatened by is the shift towards becoming a “less native” city.

Native Daughter Jazz singer Charmaine Neville is synonymous with New Orleans. She’s known around town just as well for her talent and legendary music family as she is for her warm personality, good Southern cooking, love for animals, and passion for her city. I had an opportunity to interview Charmaine between sets during her weekly performance at Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street, where she and her band regularly pack the house with a mixed crowd of locals and tourists on Monday nights. Given our short time together, I decided to forego obvious questions about

her famous father and uncles, her terrifying experience during Katrina (which she’s been very vocal about) or her recent battle with CADASIL, a hereditary stroke disorder. Instead, she was willing to cut straight to the issue at hand. I wanted to know how she, as the most native of native New Orleanians, felt about the transplant trend. She told me, “I don’t mind people coming in, but I don’t want people to come in and feel like they want to change it and make it be where they came from. If that’s what you want, go back to where you came from.” Charmaine goes on to tell me a story about a woman (originally from a large city in the northeast) who knocked on her door looking for signatures on a noise ordinance petition. “She said, ‘I’d like for you to sign this. I want to keep the kids from playing music in the streets.’ I said, ‘Miss... you’re at the wrong house to want music not to be played in the streets’… I told her very bluntly ‘Please go home. We don’t need you here.’” The words may sound harsh coming from such a well-loved community member, but it’s a sentiment I heard echoed among other natives when tiptoeing around the transplant topic. Charmaine spoke openly and made no apologies for her opinion, but she did go on to explain, “I hate to be like that with people, but don’t come and not embrace my culture, my food, my music, my


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Members of Louisiana Green Corps, a non-profit providing green job training to disadvantaged youth, renovate a house with St. Bernard Project in the Bywater.

my people. And when I say ‘my people’ I mean all the people in this city.” Like most New Orleanians I know, Charmaine embodies the positive stereotype of welcoming, inclusive Southern hospitality, but she is also fiercely protective of her city and the customs that make it special. And for good reason.

Williamsburg of the South As Campanella points out, transplants have a duplicitous role in affecting New Orleans culture, in that they are “simultaneously distinguishing and homogenizing local culture vis-a-vis American norms.” I personally experienced the ‘distinguishing’ effect transplants impose while taking part in events like the Anba Dlo Voodoo parade and festival at the New Orleans Healing Center, as well as Monster Burlesque at the Mudlark Public Theatre. Crowds at both events represented a combination of natives and what Campanella calls “Orleaneophilic ‘super-natives,’” referring to transplants who seize on distinctly New Orleans customs such as parading, costuming, performance art, and celebrating Voodoo. The positive effect Campanella sees in the super-natives’ activities is that of “breathing new life into local customs and traditions”, which is beneficial to the city by all accounts. But the

Marcellus Grace, Ph.D., works to renovate a house in the Bywater. Marcellus is a former Professor of Pharmaceuticals at Tulane University. He and his wife currently own and operate Reedon Properties, a property mangement and construction firm whose motto is “Good Housing is Good Business.”


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Cousins Sheardon Allen, 14, and Barron Wilson, 12, cruise down Gallier Street in the Bywater.

Streetview of the Bywater Artist Lofts at the intersection of Pauline and Dauphine Streets. The 37 loft apartment complex was renovated in 2008 at the site of a derelict garment factory. In addition to the New Orleans Healing Center, the lofts are a brainchild of controversial developer Pres Kabakoff, CEO of HRI, Historic Restoration Incorporated. “Founded in 1982, HRI is dedicated to the pursuit of accomplishing two feats: rebuilding neighborhoods and recreating entire communities.”

trade-off is a homogenizing effect due to transplants being “more secular, less fertile, more liberal, and less parochial” than native New Orleanians. Campanella adds that transplants “ see local conservatism as a problem calling for enlightenment rather than an opinion to be respected, and view the importation of national and global values as imperative to a sustainable and equitable recovery. Indeed, the entire scene in the new Bywater eateries—from the artisanal food on the menus to the statement art on the walls to the progressive worldview of the patrons—can be picked up and dropped seamlessly into Austin, Burlington, Portland, or Brooklyn”. This in-depth observation explains how New Orleans is earning its new nickname as the “Williamsburg of the South”, referring to the neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, where the “G” word has been featured in conversation since the early 1990’s.

The “G” Word Gentrification. As Campanella defines it, it’s “ the movement of better-educated higher income populations into residential and commercial spaces previously occupied by those of lower economic


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A customer leaves Gerken’s Bike Shop on St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater. The shop opened on the busy bike corridor in 2008.

income”. He goes on in his article to break gentrification down into four social phases. To paraphrase: 1. “gutter punks” move in and occupy abandoned housing close to tourist centers where they busk for a living; 2. hipsters arrive with slightly more education and skills, seeking a lifestyle of urban authenticity, paving the way for 3. “bourgeois bohemians” who are “free-spirited but well-educated and willing to strike a bargain with middle class normalcy”; and finally, stage 4., the “bona fide gentry”, otherwise known as the one per cent. Campanella places his and Charmaine’s neighborhood, the Bywater, rapidly moving through phases 2, 3, and 4. Charmaine observes what she sees happening to the property around her. “People are coming in and buying up people’s houses for five, ten, twenty thousand dollars and then they’re flipping the houses and selling them for $300,000.” The supply and demand playing out in neighborhoods like the Bywater goes something like this: currently there’s still a sizable supply of cheap houses that, for whatever reason (foreclosure, blight, unwillingness or inability of previous homeowners to return), are unoccupied. The houses, many of them historical shotgun styles, are located in neighborhoods that have fluctuated in racial and income

makeup over the decades, but sections of which have been known for high crime, pre-Katrina. This is evident in nicknames like the “Bleeding Bywater” and the “Murder Marigny.” Despite some blocks’ reputations, proximity to the French Quarter has made these areas desirable to transplants, who are investing in properties; hence the demand, which is rapidly driving up real estate values, and, inevitably, property taxes. Lee Kyle is one transplant who, with his partner Clint, recently purchased a home in the Bywater for $36,000 in cash. After completing renovations, Lee estimates they will have sunk about $100,000 into the house, but that it’ll be worth twice that if they ever decide to sell. Lee is aware of his apparent role in the gentrification process, and, like Charmaine, is willing to speak openly and honestly about the issue. “I hate to say gentrification but that’s ultimately what’s happening... it has such a negative connotation. But it doesn’t feel like we’re pushing anybody away because there’s so much that’s been abandoned, and has remained abandoned.” He adds, “ I can’t feel guilty about it because I’m not by any means wealthy. I struggle, I work three jobs to have what I have, three different coffee shops…


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Lisa Wilson (second from right) sits with family and neighbors on an abondaned stoop across the street from her house on Gallier Street in the Bywater. The stoop serves as a gathering place on the block for adults and children alike.

I make a fair amount of money, enough to survive and work on the house.” Although his home was recently burglarized, Lee still has a positive outlook for his neighborhood. He stresses that his predominantly black neighbors have generally been supportive of their renovations to the face of the house. “Everyone in the neighborhood really showed support for our struggle and how we were improving the conditions of the house and making the neighborhood a better place.” And as of recently, Lee has a new and more profound stake in improving his neighborhood.

It Takes a Child to Raise a Village Earlier this year, Lee’s heterosexual female friend approached him with a proposition to become a parent. He had always wanted to be a father, so he agreed. His son Wilder was born on October 27th this year. Now Lee has bigger things to think about, like securing his son’s future and education. Based on a brief experience as a substitute teacher, Lee doesn’t have much faith in the new, federallyinfused charter school system. “The education system here is really

bad. There’s no other word for it.” As a sub he says it felt like he was “babysitting kids.” “It didn’t seem like the students I was there to educate were there to learn… It was hard to keep control of the class, especially as a substitute.” The concern Lee voices about the charter school system is a crucial part of the larger discussion on the role of family (or lack thereof ) in the gentrification process. Campanella provides context: “Gentrifiers [...] usually have very low birth rates, and those few that do become parents oftentimes find themselves reluctantly departing the very inner-city neighborhoods they helped revive, for want of playmates and decent schools. By that time, exorbitant real estate precludes the next wave of dynamic twenty-somethings from moving in, and the same neighborhood that once flourished gradually grows gray, empty, and frozen in historically renovated time.” Education and family are at the heart of the issue around gentrification in post-Katrina New Orleans. Campanella describes the Bywater’s particular case: “Racially, the black population, which tended to be highly family-based, declined by 64 percent between 2000 and 2010,


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Marigny neighbors Kappa Horn, Arden Garrett, and Joy Sturtevant enjoy a mild Sunday evening with their dogs outside Kappa’s home on Chartres Street. Kappa is a long-time resident of the Marigny and owner of Slim Goodies Diner in the Garden District, the first restaurant to re-open, she says, after Hurricane Katrina.

while the white population increased by 22 percent, regaining the majority status it had prior to the white flight of the 1960s-1970s. It was the Katrina disruption and the accompanying closure of schools that initially drove out the mostly black households with children, more so than gentrification per se.” As Campanella points out, although gentrification didn’t necessarily begin the process of black families’ migration away from these neighborhoods, it does appear to be perpetuating it. A Streetcar Named Economic Development Another factor is accelerating change in neighborhoods close to the French Quarter. Iberville, Treme, St. Roch, the Marigny, and the Bywater will all be affected by plans for the Regional Transit Authority’s French Quarter Expansion project. A design is in place to install a streetcar line down the backbone of these communities along Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue to Press Street, where it will turn towards the river and connect with the existing waterfront line.

The project is being hailed by city officials as a long-awaited economic boost to these neighborhoods. Rachel Heiligman, Executive Director of the public transportation advocacy group Ride New Orleans says “when you look at streetcar investment and economic development it’s very clear there’s a correlation between the two.” She offers the example of the recently completed Loyola Avenue streetcar line which she estimates spurred billions of dollars in private investment along the new route. Even though the Rampart/St. Claude line won’t begin construction until mid-2014, there is already evidence of anticipation for business the streetcar will bring. Lee says one of the coffee shops he works at, St. Coffee on St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater, is direct evidence of that effect. New business is all well and good, but as Heiligman explains development is still a sensitive issue. “If it’s not planned for appropriately, it can displace property owners, homeowners, business owners, and renters alike.” Heiligman offers that there are ways to mitigate this impact through community benefit agreements. Hypothetical solutions to preventing displacement could incorporate inclusionary zoning policy, partnerships with


“Unless gentrified neighborhoods make themselves into affordable and agreeable places to raise and educate the next generation, they will morph into dour historical theme parks with price tags only aging one-percenters can afford.� - Richard Campanella

Above: Children stroke the pregnant belly of Lisa Wilson, mother of two, living in the Bywater. Right: Children of the Brown and Gray families walk home after collecting a young cousin from the school bus stop on St. Charles Avenue and Feliciana Street in the Bywater.


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Participants of the Anba Dlo Voodoo Parade gather outside Mimi’s in the Marigny, a favorite local establishment on the corner of Royal and Franklin Streets, Oct. 18, 2013. The parade stepped off here, winding its way to Frenchmen Street, then back through the Marigny to the New Orleans Healing Center for an afterparty and Voodoo ceremony to celebrate the dead.


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Defunct Mardi Gras float art is stored in Mardi Gras World, a large warehouse in the Lower Garden District on the Mississippi River. Artists work in the warehouse year-round to build the famous floats.

land trusts, or employment preferences for hiring within impacted neighborhoods when construction begins on the new route. To get community feedback on these types of propositions, Ride New Orleans organized an intensive outreach campaign in the St. Roch neighborhood. However, Heiligman says the general response was indifference. “Unless the will of the people or the will of the politicians is there [preventative measures are] unlikely to happen… so its likely that the market forces alone are going to drive this process. Theres nothing intervening to prevent complete upheaval. I think you’re going to continue to see some of the tensions between newer populations and existing populations play out.” But as Campanella reminds us, the tensions between native and transplant populations are nothing new under the sun. “History offers a precedent… Native Creoles and Anglo transplants intermarried, blended their legal systems, their architectural tastes and surveying methods, their civic traditions and foodways, and to some degree their languages. What resulted was the fascinating mélange that is modern day Louisiana.”

However, the major difference between then and now is the low birth rate of transplants, hipsters, and yuppies alike, a sign of our times. Campanella offers warning: “Unless gentrified neighborhoods make themselves into affordable and agreeable places to raise and educate the next generation, they will morph into dour historical theme parks with price tags only aging onepercenters can afford.” Whether this prescription along with a more impassioned call for inclusionary urban planning can be incorporated to avoid further tensions between old and new residents, is yet to be seen.

A Love that Verges on the Grotesque But there is much reason for hope and common ground in New Orleans’ transitioning neighborhoods. Where New Orleanians always seem to come together is in valuing their freedom of expression, an ideal enshrined in the great traditions of Mardi Gras parades, costuming, and performance. Lee explains, “Through Mardi Gras and that experience of carnival… you have the entire


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Katrina Brees performs on a float in her role as “Mother Shucker” of the Bearded Oysters, an all-female Mardi Gras krewe, during the Krewe of Boo Halloween Parade on October 26, 2013. Katrina is also founder of I Heart Louisiana, a company specializing in locally produced Mardi Gras throws.

Chicken feet protection festishes and Catholic iconography are displayed at Island of Salvation Botanica, Vodou priestess Sallie Ann Glassman’s religious supply shop located in the New Orleans Healing Center.

The Mudlark Public Theatre serves as a black box performance space on the corner of Port and Marais Streets in the Bywater , “featuring theatrical confections great and small, and progressive performance to transfix and edify.”


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“My biggest nightmare is that I’m somewhere else trying to get back to New Orleans, and I’m running out of gas.” -Amzie Adams Left: Amzie Adams, musician, artist, and long-time New Orleans resident, pauses outside Piety Supermarket, a Bywater grocery store that succumbed to Hurricane Katrina Below: A streetcar races down Loyola Avenue in the Central Business District. The controversial new streetcar replaced a high-ridership bus route and was opened just in time for the 2013 Superbowl, connecting the Superdome to the French Quarter. The streetcar is said to have billions in private investment along the Loyola corridor.


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Lee Kyle poses in his art studio in the Marigny. Lee works with textiles, often creating the costumes he performs in as his drag persona, Splendora Gabor.

“You have to have a deep and vast appreciation or love, a love that verges on the grotesque for New Orleans... And it is that beautiful, in spite of all the potential for loss, the gain is so much greater.” - Lee Kyle

city coming to celebrate, parade, and costume… Everybody is free to be whoever they want to be at least that day, but it permeates the rest of the year.” Lee offers further insight into the celebratory psychology of the city. “ If you look at the history of New Orleans there’s been this really dark underbelly. But I think because of that dark underbelly you have such a beautiful and celebratory city. It psychologically pushes the city into this other extreme of celebration and beautiful Mardi Gras floats, and beads, and bobbles, and rhinestones, and sequins, and crazy costuming! I think it makes the celebrations as grand as they are.” The dark underbelly Lee refers to includes high crime rates and constant threat of disaster, natural or otherwise. He explains that “you have to have a vast and deep love for this city to live here, because the threat of disaster is imminent during hurricane season and crime sprees… You have to have a deep and vast appreciation or love, a love that verges on the grotesque for New Orleans... And it is that beautiful, in spite of all the potential for loss, the gain is so much greater.”


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Charmaine Neville poses at her home in the Bywater. In the background is a mural Charmaine painted to add color to her backyard after Katrina left it gray.

“We have faith in each other. We have faith in God. We have faith in knowing that everything’s going to be alright, because if we didn’t, we’d be gone.” - Charmaine Neville

St Vincent De Paul Cemetery


A young boy high-fives his father during the Anba Dlo Halloween parade in the Marigny.

For Charmaine’s part, she holds the belief that “New Orleans is in all of us. It’s in the way we walk, the way we hold our heads, the way we cook, the way we stand, the way we feel, the way we speak to people. The way that we have that tradition. It’s in the way we go to church. It’s in everything. It’s in you.” She adds, “we have to be the ones to make this be the place... people are drawn to... Not just with our food and our music, but with our hearts.” As for her future in the city, Charmaine’s staying put and doing her part to inform transplants on the way things are done in New Orleans. “I love my city and I’m not going anywhere. I will stay and try to educate the people that are moving here. To let them know that when you walk down the street and someone says ‘Good morning’, you say ‘Good morning’ back.” ☐


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Cyclists cross the intersection of Chartres and Mandeville Streets in the historically preserved neighborhood of the Faubourg Marigny.


“An irrepressible joie de vivre maintains the unbroken thread of music through the air. Yet, on occasion, if you ask an overburdened citizen why he is humming so gaily, he will give the time-honored reason, ‘Why, to keep from crying of course!’” - Excerpt from It’s an Old New Orleans Custom (1948), by Lura Robinson

De Vivre Magazine - January 2014  

As New Orleans’ premier news and culture magazine, De Vivre’s mission is to provide multidimensional coverage of New Orleans life. Borrowing...

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