The $1.8 million park project anchoring St. Roch Avenue should wrap before summer, according to city officials who announced the plans from outside the park gates this afternoon. Construction on the park's pool, however, will wait as the city and park planners gather more funding — the city already has $400,000 from FEMA dedicated to restoring the existing pool. A new indoor pool is unlikely and would cost millions, officials said.
Vincent Smith, the city's director of capital projects, said the park should open in time for NORD's 2013 summer programming. "Right now we've just got the $400,000," he said. "It's going to be a process to raise additional funding." NORD director Vic Richard added, "If we get the park up June 1, the community will be proud of it."
The park (third oldest in the city) and Harold Sampson playground sits between the St. Roch Community Church and the St. Roch Cemetery. The park is currently bare and stripped of grass and amenities. Updates will include a baseball field and resurfaced basketball court, with repairs to the fences and gates, restroom facilities and concession stand. District C city councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer said that the neighborhood "has not seen a lot of investment historically," but thanked the St. Roch Neighborhood Improvement Association and neighbors for driving interest in its revitalization. The park project will anchor the neutral ground — on its other end, the St. Roch Market, which is scheduled to open in March. The market links the park via a neutral ground park space with benches and "art walk" — which is roughly completed.
District E City Councilman Jon Johnson is in federal court this morning and will plead guilty on charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government in connection with his nonprofit the Ninth Ward Housing Development Corporation.
The bill of information says from 2006 to 2008, Johnson misused federal FEMA dollars earmarked for the nonprofit to fund his 2007 state senate campaign.
Find a copy of the bill of information with Johnson's charges here. We'll have more later this morning.UPDATE: Johnson's statement, in which he admits guilt, under the jump. He will be sentenced Oct. 25.
Like the Broad bus route, the Galvez bus route is pretty long and goes from the edge of Uptown to the 9th Ward, passing through the 6th, 7th and 8th Wards. Another commonality is that when riding along these routes, you'll see that we are still nowhere near being finished with rebuilding after almost seven years. Is it government corruption? Laziness? Lack of resources? Gentrification? Many 6th Ward residents and shopkeepers believe it's a combination of them all, especially one woman I met who had a lot to say...
Hide your college-age children: "sissy bounce" is here to corrupt them — at least according to Christwire, the satirical website that's sort of what The Onion would be if written by Rick Santorum. (Other stories on the site include "4 Satanic and Blood Sex Driven Things Your Daughter Will Do at Coachella" and "Is My Teen Weird? 20 Terrifying New Youth Trends.")
In its "expose" of bounce music (which name-checks Vockah Redu, Sissy Nobby, Big Freedia and Katey Red), Christwire warns:
The sissy show began in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when President Bush ordered the rescue of thousands of African-Americans caught off guard by the Biblical storm. In the well-stocked camps that FEMA generously provided, many urban youths took advantage of their newfound luxury to play around with loud music and interracial dancing. The result was an unpredictable and shocking creation that immediately was condemned as immoral. A transvestite named “Big Freddy” soon left the camps and copyrighted the act, selling it to ghetto rap clubs across the country and reaping millions.
Despite the warnings, “Sissy Dancing” grew in popularity and, through the efforts of black affirmative action students, made the transition over to the white population on college campuses.
Ouch. Not surprisingly, in our post-Derbyshire world, more than a few commenters missed the joke or just plain didn't like it. To read the whole thing in its R-rated, possibly not-safe-for-work glory, go here, and remember: "They could care less how nice these girls are or if they’re studying art history."
As we prepare for National Waffle Week, let's pass the mic to FEMA director Craig Fugate, ladies and gentleman: "If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? ... That's really bad. That's where you go to work."
The ol' Waffle House Index, developed by Dr. Hashbrowns von Larrythecableguy, is a gauge used by the disaster response agency following hurricane landfall in the U.S. to determine its impact on a given area.
... and here's how it works!
Green means the restaurant is serving a full menu, a signal that damage in an area is limited and the lights are on. Yellow means a limited menu, indicating power from a generator, at best, and low food supplies. Red means the restaurant is closed, a sign of severe damage in the area or unsafe conditions.
During Hurricane Irene, Waffle House lost power to 22 restaurants in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, according to the WSJ. But in Weldon, N.C. that weekend, the fryers were up and running. Even the diners in Joplin, Mo., stayed open after the devastating tornadoes. Following Katrina, the company lost seven of its restaurants and 100 more were shut down — Waffle House jumped into the disaster recovery biz and invested in generators and a mobile command center (named "EM-50" after the Stripes' "urban assault vehicle").
FEMA explains: "The Waffle House test doesn’t just tell us how quickly a business might rebound — it also tells us how the larger community is faring. The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again — signaling a stronger recovery for that community. The success of the private sector in preparing for and weathering disasters is essential to a community’s ability to recover in the long run."
In Canadian photographer Jonathan Hobin's series In the Playroom, the artist assembles richly detailed scenes dramatizing, on a small scale, terrible disasters and grotesque tragedies — all recreated with children. Like, small, toddler-y children.
Hobin's sets are playrooms or play areas, like sandboxes and pools, and the kids play dress up: Look, a miniature Princess Diana pouting as a paparazzo snaps photos on a hopscotch outline. And there's an eerily similar-looking Jim Jones childhood doppelganger smiling over a Kool-Aid jar and dozens of scattered, down-facing dolls.
Then there are sets for Abu Ghraib, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina — with three black toddlers standing around kiddie pools with floaties and inner tubes tagged with the presidential seal and "FEMA.". The artist's statement:
In the Playroom is a metaphor for the impossibility of a protective space safe from the reach of modern media. The quizzical disposition of youth and the pervasive nature of the media are symbolically represented in my images through tableau-vivant re-enactments of the very current events that adults might wish to keep out of their child’s world. Just as children make a game of pretending to be adults as a way to prepare and ultimately take on these roles in later life, so too do they explore things that they hear or see, whether or not they completely understand the magnitude of the event or the implications of their play.
The Katrina piece is the least-striking, at least immediately. (I mean, there's a JonBenet Ramsey lookalike simulating hanging herself with pantyhose, so.) I'm just reminded of this scene:
"When I was a kid, NORD had great playgrounds and sports teams and even theater, dance and music programs. But when I came into office 67 days ago, I found a recreation department that would make you weep, one that is under-funded and under-prioritized. We found many of NORDs facilities are in shambles swimming pools without filtration systems, no restrooms and no shower facilities."
For the three weeks before the mayor's speech, Gambit had been looking into the state of NORD facilities around the city, visiting 25 of them in representative neighborhoods around New Orleans and recording the conditions there.
What reporter Matt Davis found was more than "swimming pools without filtration systems" or a lack of restrooms -- it was vacant lots listed as playgrounds, abandoned buildings and seemingly dangerous structures, rusty playground equipment, bulldozed lots listed as playspots, and, in one case, a open manhole large enough for a child to fall down.
In our cover story, Davis looks at the history of NORD -- from its founding in the 1940s, when Life magazine hailed it as the nation's finest summer recreation program, to its current state of neglect ... a neglect so profound that it was FEMA, not the City of New Orleans, who could provide us with the most up-to-date list of NORD's own facilities. We talked to city councilmembers, to city officials, and to the neighbors of these blighted properties; we took photos, video, and ranked each property.
Landrieu and other city officials want to make a change to the city charter (which will be taken to the voters Oct. 2) to turn NORD over to a public-private partnership; and NORD just received its fourth director in two years -- but will it make a difference this time? Is it possible to double the NORD budget when the city coffers are facing a $67 million deficit? And if NORD can't even manage to keep the grass cut on its existing properties, what does that say about the city's stewardship of even more money for the program?
There's more in this week's issue -- from a first-person account of what volunteering to help oiled wildlife really entails to a fun Gambit interview with burlesque queen Dita Von Teese -- but we really hope you take the time to read about the current state of the New Orleans Recreation Department.
Here's a quick video of what we found -- and please keep in mind that these aren't abandoned or defunct playgrounds: these are active NORD facilities, this is is where the city of New Orleans expects its children to play, today ... and this is only the first installment of what we expect will be an ongoing series of reports.
Stewart Juneau, owner of the Baton Rouge-based development company LeTriomphe Property Group, was selected last November by Mayor Ray Nagin's administration to redevelop the Morris F.X. Jeff Sr. Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park. At the time, the proposed professional services agreement drew controversy, due to Juneau's relationship with Nagin (he had hosted the mayor's much-mocked "Excellence in Recovery Award" gala back in August 2008), as well as for the fact that LeTriomphe was the sole bidder on the project. In December, New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux slammed the deal, urging the New Orleans City Council not to approve it. In January, city attorney Penya Moses-Fields slammed right back, saying the IG's recommendation was premature and that there was "no existing contract."
This morning, Juneau announced that LeTriomphe was requesting a "temporary suspension of negotiations" on the Municipal Auditorium deal:
LeTriomphe Property Group, LLC (LTPG) announced today that it has requested a temporary suspension of negotiations on a professional services agreement for the redevelopment of the Morris X. F. [sic] Jeff, Sr. Municipal Auditorium.
LTPG remains confident that providing a landmark home for the cultural arts and creative industry in New Orleans in the damaged and unused auditorium is one of the most important projects that will be undertaken in the city in the near future.
The letter gave no reason for requesting a suspension of negotiations, but concluded on an optimistic note:
We look forward to working closely with all segments of our great community on making the mission of providing a landmark home for the cultural arts in New Orleans a reality.
The City of New Orleans has withdrawn its request to FEMA for funds to move City Hall to the Chevron Building, according to a source in the New Orleans City Council. FEMA officials were scheduled to hold a meeting this Monday to begin reviewing the citys plan, but it has been cancelled.
My first impression of Dave Eggers during our recent interview was how much he cared about the Abdulraham and Kathy Zeitoun and their children, the New Orleans family and subject of Egger's book, Zeitoun. He had spent a lot of time talking on the phone with Zeitouns, and made numerous trips to New Orleans to learn more about their experience following the levee failures. He said he had learned quite a bit from these visits, and he looked at Abdulraham and Kathy as teachers.
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