History and recent renovation information of LeBuef Plantation here. (Click photos to embiggen.)
Last week I took a little walk along the newly paved bike and pedestrian path on the levee in Algiers. I’ll be honest, this is something I doubted would happen in my lifetime, yet here it is! The newly constructed path runs from the Algiers/Canal Street ferry landing up to just down river of Federal City, a two-mile stretch. It’s connected to the path that already existed from the ferry to Huey P. Long Ave in Gretna. The new section is lit by solar lights for evening strolling and biking and won’t that just be a gorgeous sight with the lights from the city in the background? Benches will be added along the path in the coming weeks creating great river- watching and breath-catching spots.
The next phase of the path, from Federal City to the Chalmette ferry landing, will be added when money for the project is raised. I can’t wait for that since I live a block off the river within that span of the levee which will make it a hop, skip and jump for my dogs and me to access the path. This development along the river has long been anticipated in Algiers and I’m very happy to see it coming to fruition.
“This Tuesday’s Women’s Wellness Program session is our monthly cooking class, held down the street at Algiers United Methodist Church on Opelousas. All women are welcome! This month we’re focusing on healthy snacks.” ~Via Common Ground’s FaceBook Page
Over four years ago, I starting taking pictures of a number of the abandoned, rotting public school buildings of New Orleans.
I didn’t intend to, it just happened. There was an initial effort to connect some dots, when I was urged by a fellow local blogger to see what community input into the School Facilities Master Plan meant. I learned that it didn’t mean a hell of a lot - it was window dressing for plans already in motion for areas of the city caught in a Catch-22 situation of New Orleans recovery after the events of August 29, 2005: utilities and city services would return if certain numbers of people came back to stay in these ruined areas, but more people would be more likely to stay if they were assured of those services right off the bat. New Orleans East, the Ninth Ward, Gentilly, Pontchartrain Park, and Treme were frontiers in that respect. Return and live here at your own risk, the city seemed to say. And nothing screamed that attitude louder than the ruined schools.
Two years into our second period of living in New Orleans and here I was, climbing through the wide-open shells of buildings that had been under water or had been boarded up despite their lack of damage from breached levees because there weren’t any plans as of yet for the hastily reorganized and heavily charterized Recovery School District to use them or demolish them. Beyond that initial foray into what happened with Lake Forest Montessori, I got curious for two reasons: the realization that there were many more school buildings that were going to face bulldozers without much say from the surrounding communities, and the blanket acceptance by so many I knew that the charters were going to be the cure for what had long ailed New Orleans’ public schools. The latter assurance by friends of mine that bluer skies were around the corner for public education here made no room for my questions and doubts – in fact, I was roundly scorned. Things had been SO BAD under the old OPSB that any idea that charters might not be the cure was instantly interpreted as a longing to return to the bad old days rather than an honest critique. I was also seen as a hypocrite because my son was currently attending a charter – if I dared question charters, why didn’t I just pull him out and send him to a traditional public school?
At the time, I guess I was looking for clues that some of these buildings could be saved. That the surrounding communities’ input would be taken more seriously if the schools that were beyond repair had to be demolished. That people’s lingering grief from events that happened nearly three years previous wouldn’t be used against them. That, despite the crimes the old OPSB had inflicted on the children and the facilities of the public schools pre-August 2005, the people actually entrusted with educating the kids had tried.
I discussed this some with Megan Braden-Perry a few weeks ago when I joined her on one of her trips on the RTA bus lines, but I could only articulate how heady a year 2008 was if one was a blogger in New Orleans. There was a feeling of urgency, of needing recovery in the city to move one way or the other…hopefully, it would move in a direction that would benefit those who called this city home no matter what part of the city they were in. I caught that fever and dared to think that the pictures I was taking might change some things. I look at those photos now and wonder who that person was.
- RSD Planning District A
- RSD Planning District B
- RSD Planning District C
- RSD Planning District E
- RSD Planning District G
- RSD Planning District H
- RSD East Bank High Schools
- RSD West Bank High Schools
- Mahalia Jackson Elementary
- Mondy School
- Jean Gordon Elementary
- Waters Elementary
- Phillips Junior High School
- McDonough 38
- Avery Alexander Elementary
No, I didn’t manage to take pictures of all the schools, but I did go through 33 of them. I had to stop when I discovered evidence of someone staying in the upper floor of one of the schools, at which time I felt like I’d seen far too much abandonment for my taste…for anyone’s taste. But I had to see it for myself.
I couldn’t understand at the time how so many could put their hands in front of their eyes and see nothing. Something in me still doesn’t understand…but I do know that whenever I feel the urge to give in to that same impulse in myself, I think of these places and I remember. I question. I critique. And I do my best to do it constructively, knowing that all that will be left if I and others don’t dare to do so will be something equivalent to the acres of crumbling schools I saw, moldering shells that accused us all of having stood by idly when their lives were on the line.
This is the debris pile and household trash pile in front of my house today, Sunday, September 9. Our trash is usually picked up on Mondays and Thursdays but, because Hurricane Isaac blew through on Wednesday August 29, we didn’t get our regular trash pick up on Thursday. Totally understandable. So, by Monday September 3 we, of course, had more trash than usual to be picked up. We had to resort to putting household trash on top on the cans which were already filled but when the trucks came by, the workers threw those bags on the ground and left them. Fortunately, I saw what was happening & yelled for my husband who went out and actually threw them into the truck himself as the workers apparently didn’t believe they were trash but, instead, leaves. That’s ok, I can understand the confusion.
On Wednesday, a city contracted worker came by and picked up our debris which was about the same amount as you see in the photo and I’m grateful for that. But, again, on Thursday September 6 we didn’t have regular garbage pick up. We called the company and reported it. On Friday, I tweeted Kristen Palmer who replied within about 20 minutes that the mayor was having a press conference at 3:30 where garbage & debris pickup would be addressed. Great, I said. Except I never heard any more about it. I turned on a local talk radio station (admittedly at 3:45 because I was still raking storm debris in the yard) and there was no press conference on. I watched two local news stations Friday evening: no mention of a press conference. OK, maybe I just had bad timing but it really shouldn’t be this hard to get garbage/debris pick up information updates.
On Saturday I went on the NOLA Ready website but there was nothing new there. I called 311 and was told by a a very nice lady that they were no longer taking debris/garbage pick up calls and not to worry because it would all be picked up. The big question is WHEN? I watched local TV news on Saturday evening, no mention.
Saturday night I decided to tweet (see Femme Tweets in the sidebar to the left) and post on my FaceBook wall asking about garbage/debris pick up in other areas of the city. (I live in Algiers.) Here are the results from the various people who replied:
No debris pick up as of Saturday night (in no particular order):
Lower Garden District
From what I can gather, my particular area of Algiers seems to be the only area that has not had regular garbage pick up. For two weeks we have had only one pick up instead of two.
Saturday night @NOLA Ready responded to the conversation on Twitter about garbage/debris pick up. They stated, “we just got more crews & equipment in to help; they covering city & will check & see if can get ETA for you!” and today, ” thank you. We’re still running behind because of massive volume, so please leave out bins – crews working all day today.”
I sure hope today will be my day and I also hope all of my regular garbage, those bags inside the cans and outside the cans, will be picked up without my husband having to police them to make sure it is.
All in all, I think the city and Mayor Landreiu did a great job communicating and preparing the city for this storm – way better than was done seven years ago for Katrina. The NOLA Ready website (and Twitter presence) is a great idea and I referred to it many times during these last two weeks. The mayor has been accessible and visible and nobody has had to ask “Where is the mayor” in these post-storm days as so many of us did for years after The Federal Flood. Of course, no one is perfect so I hope once all the debris is picked up and the streets are clear that perhaps lessons will have been learned in that department for a better trash/debris protocol for next time. Because there will be a next time.
Addendum: It’s 9:35 pm and today, again, was not the day. Grrrrrr.
Mike Ainsworth was a perpetually good-natured man with a long stride who would always make time to say “Hello” to me whenever our paths crossed. He was the kind of guy who was comfortable in his own skin; he smiled easily and always wanted to know how the people around him were doing, how life was going. He was a caring Dad, and when he spoke of his children, he glowed with quiet pride. He was chronically generous, frequently in a way that left him short on cash. He was was a man who’s daily actions reminded me that, sometimes, the people around us really aren’t too good to be true.
B.B. St. Roman of New Orleans’ Homeless Assistance Collaborative (based out of the NOPD 8th District Station) first met Mike Ainsworth and his brother, Bill, in 2009, when they were assisting one of her neighbors with his home renovation project.
B.B. remembers that Mike joined COPS 8 (Citizens’ Organization for Police Support), an organization over which B.B. currently presides, because he specifically wanted to help our city’s police force. On a visit to the NOPD 8th District Station, B.B. said that Mike “saw how terrible the walls were, started patching, got supplies donated, and he and Bill ended up renovating and repainting the whole interior of the station,” working for about three months’ time. Speaking with a tone of admiration, B.B. noted that “Mike took the lead on the ideas of what to do, choosing colors for the different details and features, adding lots of beautiful touches. It was his decision to paint the counter tops navy and add the gold trim. At first Mike and Bill wanted to do it all for free, but we insisted on paying them.”
B.B.’s stories of Mike’s hard work and his unwavering generosity are plentiful. “There were two generators just sitting out in the Station’s yard, in boxes, for about three years’ time. Mike looked at them one day and took it upon himself to organize getting them hooked up. He got the electrical work donated and arranged for the gas line hook-up. When the plumbing went out, he took care of it. The flooring on part of the second floor was rotten and he worked to repair that, too. He got cabinets from Home Depot and installed them.”
Mike also made improvements at the horse barns for the NOPD’s Mounted Unit. “If we were decorating the Station, he would come help, especially when we needed someone to climb up the tall ladder. He made a cabinet himself, to fit a particular space, for magazines at the station. When he saw that the remnants of the NOPD Homeless Assistance van’s wheelchair lift were still on the van, he made the arrangements to have them finally removed. He would call every few weeks and ask, ‘I’ve got a couple of hours — is there anything I can do at the Station?’ He’d say, ‘Miss B.B., Whatcha need?’ He’d find it and get it donated.
“He just kept seeing things that needed to be done, noticing things, pitching in, and helping. It was just amazing. He was always volunteering, always willing to help, always thinking of improvements… He’d wanted to put a star and crescent in the tile at the entrance to the Station. The tile needed to be replaced anyway, and he thought that adding these things would make it more interesting.” Mike also helped officers with repair work on their homes; he would accept money for the supplies, but refused to accept payment himself.
“The last project he happened to do was just a week or so ago. The light in the lamp post on the side of the Station was out, and the streetlight nearby happened to be out, too. When we took the Christmas lights down, it was really dark at the side entrance to the Station. He and his brother came over and discovered that the glass at the top of the lantern was broken and that rain was leaking in. It wouldn’t have made sense to just replace the bulb because it would short out whenever it rained again. They went and got the right kind of glass, had it cut to fit, and then replaced the bulb. As his last repair job at the station, Mike left a shining light.”
“If he had a little extra money at Christmas time, he’d get $5 bills and hand them out to needy people on the street. I’d tell him, ‘Maybe you should save this to take care of your own needs,’ and he’d say, ‘No, it’ll come back to me.’ For him, everything was in service to others, all the time. He considered it to be doing God’s work, doing what’s right.”
B.B. believes that Mike died while doing the right thing. “To me, he died in the line of duty — not as a police officer, but as a good Samaritan and a good citizen.”
Mike’s desire and enthusiasm for helping others was simply the core of his day-to-day life, every day. He didn’t have a life insurance policy, so now it’s our turn to give it back to him by helping his family. Memorial arrangements are in progress and his family has requested donations to help celebrate his life and commitment to our community. However, after the service, I ask that people consider that the needs of his family will continue. His sons are both good students who need our caring at this time — therapeutic support has been recommended and the family will benefit from any assistance that we can provide as they learn how to live with Mike’s absence. Please open your hearts and contribute what you can to help — it matters.
At the request of Mike’s family, B.B. St. Roman was honored to be asked to administer the Harry Michael Ainsworth Benefit Account. Donations can now be accepted at any Whitney Bank branch location and may also be mailed to Whitney Bank – Algiers Branch, 501 Verret St., New Orleans, LA 70114.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
1/28/12 Update: The memorial service for Mike Ainsworth will be on Friday, February 3rd, at St. Louis Cathedral, with visitation from 9:00 to 11:00 AM and the service at 11:00 AM. Following the service, there will be a reception at the NOPD 8th District Station, 334 Royal Street.
It’s been a busy week in NOLA and I’ve been saving like crazy to my Delicious and Instapaper. I thought I’d share some of the interesting reading I found this week about our city and her people.
The Rumpus, an online zine based in California, published two NOLA-related stories. One, With Words and With Pretty: Super Sunday 2011 by Benjamin Morris, is a colorful narrative with photos of this years Mardi Gras Indian yearly spectacular. It explains a bit about the Indian culture to those who aren’t lucky enough to live here and unable to see it for themselves.
Also on The Rumpus is NOLA native Mark Folse’s book review, The Last Book I Loved, Mystic Pig. I read this book back in about 2006 and found it a bit too dark and violent for my taste at the time. The city was still in the active aftermath of the storm and my psyche was still a little too sensitive for such an intense story. After reading Mark’s review, though, I’ve decided that it’s a good time to reread this book. Mark also has a FaceBook page for it – click here.
Our own Emilie Staat wrote a wonderful tribute to some NOLA artists on her personal blog, Jill of All Trades, titled “Going To Bragtown”. It’s a great run-down of several of our city’s best and brightest authors, musicians and film makers and all the wonderful things happening to them lately. Thanks, Em!
Dawn Allison of Dawn Breaks blog recently volunteered at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and penned a great recollection of her experience including photos, Tennesse Williams Poetry Slam. Wow – I really missed a great event but I won’t miss it next year!
Finally, I want to direct your attention to an upcoming event at The Jazz Suite in Algiers and organized by O. Perry Walker High School benefitting The Wonderful World of Jazz Foundation. The event also honors Japan native Yoshio Toyama who has come to NOLA for years with his band to play at the Satchmo Summer Fest and is a huge supporter of the O. Perry Walker band. This is such a wonderful story and you can read all about it here. Here are the particulars of the event:
O. Perry Walker’s benefit and jam session will be April 12 at 7 p.m. at the Suite Jazz Cafe, 3580 Holiday Drive, in Algiers. The Roots of Music kids will lead off the night. Other performers include Rebirth Brass Band, TBC Brass Band and The O. Perry Walker Jazz Ensemble. The Jazz Cafe is an adult venue.
Do you follow NOLAFemmes on Twitter? If you did you would see my tweets about all of this and more. Follow us on Twitter!