Lower 9th Ward Revisited

A great deal has changed in the Lower 9th Ward since I last shared a slice of the Katrina-devastated tract back in January.  More than any other portion of New Orleans, the Lower 9th has taken on an emblematic status in the nation's mind as symbol of both the horrors and the hopes of New Orleans.  While a sadness still hangs over much of the overgrown neighborhood, I must say I was stunned by the concrete, positive steps forward on my most recent visit.

For one, Brad Pitt's "Make It Right" foundation has progressed beyond the pink visibility tents of January, replacing some of them with stunning new homes near the site of the levee breach itself. Colorful solar powered buildings with modern architectural twists are springing up slowly in the otherwise ghostly surroundings.

Clearly, this is going to be a much different place.

Many of the new homes are also raised on pylons, which is the only way to make them sustainable in the below-sealevel neighborhood in the long run.  One of the chief causes of the catastrophic damage in the Lower 9th was the fact that many of the homes were built on slabs - as everyone thought the levees were a surefire way to keep safe and negate the threat of flooding.

Yet swaths of vacant lots peppered with orphaned stairways and gates remain an all-too-common part of the Lower 9th.

Progress is slow.  The eerie large scale artworks of the international biennial, Prospect 1, show up in the least expected places as one drives through the battered landscape - like the giant ark in the first photo above, a seeming mockery of the neighborhood that wasn't spared by the flood. Abandoned buildings that weren't destroyed or washed away still hulk in the weeds here and there, ominous reminders that there is much work yet to be done.