Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I'm just back from 4 days in New Orleans for a conference on Gulf Coast recovery. Lots of attendees, which was good, and not a whole lot of recovery, which is not so good. The upshot of what I heard about the Gulf Coast, two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita:
- too little money getting to the people who need it most;
- too much federal bureaucracy;
- too few hospitals and schools have reopened;
- not enough mental health workers to meet the tremendous need
- small business and rental housing needs are being ignored
- the advocates and community/nonprofit leaders are all at the point of burnout
- the recovery is going to take another 10-15 years
It was especially sad to see the bulletin board with stories of all the fires and rescues this house had been involved in, now sitting on its side on the floor, covered in dust.
As a visiting New Yorker, it was also touching to see the tribute to September 11th and FDNY, still hanging high up on the wall in the abandoned firehouse.
These are the old stables behind the firehouse, from when horses were used to pull the fire engines.
One remarkable thing I learned about Katrina was that the city of New Orleans didn't own any boats two years ago, and that the rescues carried out by the fire department were done in the firefighters' personal boats or in boats that they commandeered that day. Pretty amazing for a city that sits below sea level, don't you think? To address this, the Leary Firefighter Foundation has purchased 15 boats for the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) so that they'll be prepared for future storm seasons.
Leary also has a program underway in partnership with the NYC Carpenters' Union to renovate the damaged firehouses of New Orleans, since it was going to take FEMA another 10 years (!!!) to do so. Currently, NOFD is operating out of trailers next to the closed firehouses, which has dramatically slowed response time as well as having an impact on firefighter morale. It was great to visit with Engine 38 and hear first-hand how they were affected by the storm and its aftermath.
The neighborhood surrounding the firehouse is a testament to how far the city still has to go -- most of the houses are either still boarded up or just being renovated now. There are debris piles everywhere, and FEMA trailers and blue tarps are still a common site.
The French Quarter, in contrast, was relatively unscathed by the hurricanes and subsequent flooding, since it sits on high ground. It's still a major tourist destination, although lack of affordable housing has made it hard to find workers to staff the hotels, bars, restaurants and shops.
One of the things I've always loved about the Quarter is the fantastic attention to detail -- beautiful wrought ironwork, flowers and hanging plants, angels and fleur de lis carved over doorways. Even the water meter plaques are lovely:
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Friday, August 31, 2007
Once the conference ended, it was off to have some fun. There's a core group of women from my February trip to Costa Rica who all live in the Chicago area, and I managed to see all of them on this trip, which was a blast. Francine...
and I took one of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's boat tours on the Chicago River, which was pretty cool. The boats leave from a lovely riverside promenade at Michigan Avenue, just across from the Wrigley Building.
(For those of you sharp-eyed enough to notice the missing hands on the clock face, they're undergoing cleaning and will be returned this fall.)
The mix of architectural styles in downtown Chicago is quite interesting. Although I don't remember the names or architects of most of the buildings we saw, here's a representative mix.
Have you seen the insurance commercial where the car drives off the parking structure and lands in the river? This is the building. I wouldn't want to park there!
And, of course, the Sears Tower, looming darkly in the background, bristly with antennae.
The last part of the tour took us over toward Lake Michigan, where we passed Navy Pier and its famous ferris wheel...
After the boat tour, it was off to Millenium Park, also on Michigan Avenue, which has some really interesting public art works. The "spitting foundation" is two giant rectangular slabs, cascading with water, with an ever-changing array of human faces. The slabs (and images) face each other ...
Then, when the water spray has subsided, two new faces come up on the screens and it starts all over again.
It was a hot evening, and it was fun to watch the children (and a few adults) playing in the water.
Then Francine and I met up with Connie and Shari for dinner at a lovely little place across from the Park. It had cooled off a bit, so it was nice to be able to sit outside and enjoy the evening together.