Thursday, February 23, 2006

Interesting Editorial in Today's New York Times

As an urban scholar, I have always seen the beauty and potential for New Orleans prior to the storm. This unique city had much to offer the rest of the country, and perhaps the world, in the way we can be both creative and carefree. It affected what we were able to create in the city (from food to Jazz) and how we paced our lives (what many call our "Live for the Day" attitude). I still believe New Orleans can come back with all of this and more. Apparently, there are others who feel the same way too. Let me know what you think:

February 22, 2006 Op-Ed Contributor From Hell to High Water By ROBERTA BRANDES GRATZ PREDICTING that a good number of evacuated residents will never return, a New Orleans mayoral commission recently declared that the city should abandon flood-ravaged neighborhoods, invest only in stable areas on high ground and shift residents to new developments. If a neighborhood isn't "sustainable," the city should raze it.
New Yorkers with long memories can't help but feel they have heard all this before. These proposals aren't much different from the ones for the "planned shrinkage" of New York in the 1970's, when abandoned buildings seemed more plentiful than occupied ones. The experts said that investing in neighborhoods where few people remained was throwing good money after bad; those areas were unlivable. Restoring old, deteriorating buildings was a waste of limited resources; the city was getting smaller. We should focus instead on populated neighborhoods and healthy commercial districts.
The experts, of course, were wrong. And the thousands of New Orleanians fighting experts' recommendations to shrink the city should take heart from New York's experience.
In the 1970's, New York was losing 36,000 residential units a year citywide to neglect and arson, after decades when cities were out of fashion and investing in them was discouraged. New York was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the assumption was that everyone wanted to escape urban life.
But the New Yorkers who stayed were undaunted. Residents in the communities that urban experts had given up on took back the streets, scraped together grants from foundations and meagerly financed city programs, occupied and renovated abandoned buildings, and turned rubble-strewn lots into neighborhood gardens. One building, one block, one neighborhood at a time, citizens chose to improve rather than move.
The South Bronx, one of the most devastated areas, saw an endless variety of innovative efforts starting in the late 1970's. By 2000, the South Bronx had 57,361 new units in rehabilitated apartment buildings and 10,000 units in new two- and three-family town houses.
A community group called Banana Kelly rebuilt three vacant four-story apartment houses scheduled for demolition by the city and went on to renew a 10-block area of the South Bronx, with regeneration spreading beyond. Another organization, We Stay/Nos Quedamos, resisted plans to force out residents and businesses in the Melrose neighborhood by razing old buildings and replacing them with a low-density, middle-income project. Today, mixed-income, high-density town houses and low-rise apartments reflect a repopulated and vibrant community.
Artists converted part of the monumental American Bank Note complex in Hunts Point into the Point, a cultural center anchoring a solid mixed-use district. Several groups came together to clean up the Bronx River. An old concrete plant is being turned into a city park, and a multifaceted greenway along the river is emerging.
In these neighborhoods, residents were the catalyst for renewal. City officials eventually recognized the momentum and responded with support. Citizen efforts made areas attractive to developers who, with generous incentives, then built housing and took credit for the renewal visible today.
Just as in New York, New Orleans residents can defy official prescriptions. As I saw on a recent visit, New Orleanians feel abandoned by everyone and cheated by insurance companies. But instead of quietly accepting the government's declarations that their houses are unsalvageable, they're cleaning out flooded homes and learning how to rebuild. Their outcry against the mayoral commission's recommendation that the city impose a moratorium on reconstruction in flooded areas effectively killed that idea.
It is those kinds of efforts that will bring New Orleans back. Organic urban neighborhoods are self-generated, not developer-built. The family enclaves, extensive social networks, well-attended churches, historic attachment to property and fierce dedication to local culture and place make New Orleans unique. If that authentic energy is stifled by misguided strategies, neighborhoods will die.
"Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration," Jane Jacobs wrote 45 years ago in "Death and Life of Great American Cities." This can be true of New Orleans today if its leaders allow those seeds to be sown.
Roberta Brandes Gratz is the author of "Cities Back From the Edge: New Life for Downtown."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Monday Morning Jazz Set

As some of you know, I was a DJ at WWOZ prior to the hurricane. I really enjoyed the shows and have only recently started to begin my research on jazz again. Here is the show playlist of albums (and some selected singles) I would be playing today if I was on the air. I will try to update this on a weekly basis--there seems to be a good amount of jazz out there right now.

Four Classical Jazz Pieces:
1. John Coltrane, My Favorite Things, My Favorite Things
2. Horace Silver, Song For My Father, Song For My Father
3. Thelonious Monk, Well You Needn’t, Monk’s Mood
4. Cannonball Adderley, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Live at the Club

The Charlie Parker Set:
Taken this week from Disk 6 in the Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings
1. Bird Feathers
2. Klactoveesedstene
3. Scrapple From the Apple
4. My Old Flame

New Releases:
1. Jae Sinnett, The Sinnett Hearings
Yes, indeed. One of my top picks for this year. Exactly what I look for in a jazz cd. Great drummer, great band.
2. Ray Marchica, In the Ring
Another percussionist—hitting the mark dead on. Great CD. Another one on my top list for this year.
3. Shahida Nurullah, The Ruby and the Pearl
Nice, very nice. Great vocalist, with artists backing her up that don’t take away from her sound.
4. Edsel Gomez, Cubist Music
I continue to be impressed with Zoho Music and their artists.
5. Chris Stewart, Phoenix: A Tribute to Cannonball Adderly
A nice sound, a good tribute to Cannonball.
6. Laura Caviana, Going There
A Very nice sound. A very good cd.

New Orleans Artists
1. Various, Our New Orleans
2. Marlon and Stephanie Jordan, You Don’t Know What Love Is
3. Donald Harrison, New York Cool
4. Wynton Marsalis, Amongst The People
5. Various, Higher Ground
6. Christian Scott, Rewind This

1. Brian Lynch Latin Jazz Sextet, Conclave
I haven’t heard it, but I’m sure I would love it. Add to the playlist.
2. Jerry Gonzalez and the Ft. Apache Band, Rumba Buhaina
Again, I haven’t heard it, but I’m sure I would love it. Add to playlist.
3. Trio da Paz, Somewhere
A nice sound, soft and subtle, but with a wonderful Brazilian flair.
4. LUIS OCHOA, Cimarron
A nice cd, very “Cuban.” If you don’t get up and dance to this cd, you’re dead.
Recently released, I would give it a listen.
6. Ibrahim Ferrer, Buenos Hermanos.

Banzai Bill’s 2006 Top List To Date:
1. Jae Sinnett, The Sinnett Hearings
2. Ray Marchica, In the Ring
3. Shahida Nurullah, The Ruby and the Pearl
4. Edsel Gomez, Cubist Music

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

And the hits keep coming...

I just received this "testimonial" from one of my students who is currently residing-in-exile in Houston. I guess we've "overextended" our stays in our communities-in-exile. Terrible thing is, well, we got nowhere to go.... So, you better get used to us in your neighborhoods--we aren't changing....

Hello Dr. White:
I'm e-mailing you in response to the message left on the class's discussion board. As I mentioned previously, being here in houston has definitely not presented what i thought that the 4th largest city in america would have presented. In all honestly I believe i would rather roughing in out in n'awlins than be here, but when you are responsible for others, their welfare becomes primary and everything else comes second, if at all. Just this morning when calling for a job lead, the recruiting lady said after asking if i had 2 forms of i.d. and i said i had my ss.card and a LA driver's lic. that "we're not in the business of giving jobs away to you new orleans people" and that "you're going to have test like everyone else and if you evacuated with no transportation, don't bother cause we need to know that you will show up on time to the site with no excuses." so it's back to the drawing board as far as trying to find a job.

I even tried to participate in this federally funded program that was recruiting specifically to the hurricane evacuees. It's called, "Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston" and people come dwon from the Library of Congress and teach selected evacuees for forty-fifty hrs. in 5 or 6 days at the Univ. of Houston how to effectively interview and work a video camera, tape recorder, etc. Then after the week of instruction evacuees then must find ten people to interview and transcribe each interview and then after the directors okayed the final product, you got paid 2250.00 Well after i passed the first phase a graduate student from Tulane interviewed me and asked me about my experiences so far. after i gave her three or four examples of what i had experienced b/c we only had like 5-6 mins. to talk to her, she said that she was sorry for my experiences, but the project was looking for interviews not only of people who had evacuated to houston, but to highlight houston churches who did alot for the evacuees and businesses that pitched in or whatever, the new communities that formed and what contributions are the survivors making. To me, it seemed like there was a slant to what was supposed to come out of this whole project. I know that my personal truth is that i can't hardly do any thing without feeling like i'm being watched or scrutinized. I thought that as time passed, we would be more accepted, however on this past saturday, i went to purchase my two brothers each a pr. of shoes, well when the lady took my debit card and asked for my i.d. i asked was the store giving a discount to La. residents, the woman behind me huffed and puffed and said, "well if you have money to be buying those name brand shoes, you obviously don't need a damn discount. this is my city and if i have to pay full price, then you should have too as well. you in texas now baby, so act like it. oh and by the way "[a ticket] for failure to produce a texas driver's license will cost you at least 150.00" i was so pissed that the lady at the counter didn't say anything, i just left the shoes there, but the other clerk next to her said she would give me the employee discount for the actions of the other customer. i mean everyday it's literally something, it makes my head hurt. sorry for going on and on dr. white, i don't have any friends or family or anybody in texas and it's just mind blowing the effort that alot people seem to be placing on harrassing hurricane evacuees. e-mail me back when you can....

Saturday, February 04, 2006

This is a great letter....

Chuck Taggert's Web Blog "Looka!" ( is one of the best New Orleans related blogs on the internet. His stories and reflections are incredible, informative, and extremely sensative to the situation many of us face as we try to rebuild New Orleans. His recent post (Feb. 3) had a letter from a resident on her assessment of where New Orleans is today. Read it and spread it around as much as possible, especially to your elected officials in Congress who seem totally unsympathetic to our condition in New Orleans.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Will New Orleans Lose It's Soul?

There was an excellent editorial in today’s (Friday, Feb. 3) Washington Post examining the real fear many of us have that the “New” New Orleans will lose its soul:

What will New Orleans become? I think that is the question that many people in the city either understand or are trying to avoid answering for fear of what the answer might be. It is interesting to see those who are rebuilding, in areas that can be rebuilt, who feel confident that things will return to "normal" (whatever that means these days). People who are not back yet to rebuild, for whatever reason, are less confident. I feel that the farther away you are from the city, the less confident you are that it will come back.

Those of us who are "academically" grounded in the urban environment, I think we understand the relationship between land and "value." As the residents and community businesses are scattered to the four winds, speculators will take advantage of a "good" situation and purchase land as cheap as they can and either sit on their investment or develop the land as new housing or new commercial space. The closer the area is to the "core" downtown, the more aggressive the land-grab will be.

Honestly, I don't know why people would at this time develop in the Lower 9th Ward, but it's access to the French Quarter and the CBD is well situated to cheap but potentially profitable speculation, both in housing and commercial development. On the other hand, the area near Tulane University along Claiborne, Carrolton, and Washington could turn into some incredible housing and greenspace development. Both options must "wait" a little longer for the residents to figure out if they are coming back. Both areas also were rich in some of the makers of New Orleans culture, such as the Mardi Gras Indians, and if they are not able to come back home, then those traditions and cultural entrepreneurs will not be in New Orleans to continue "mixing the Gumbo."

I do not feel that many of these people are going to come back. Finances and the reality of moving on with their lives will be too much to overcome. Like the patron who left Tip's with his head down saying he was heading back to Georgia, many of us who find ourselves far from home will become nothing more than occasional tourists to the city we once knew. And as the culture of the "New" New Orleans takes shape, it may not be the place we would want to visit or live in anymore because it will have lost it's soul.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Well, Here It Is, Folks

I'm officially a member of "blogland"....

Watch out, world.

For those who know me, I will indeed be posting various "playlists" that I "would have been" playing if I was still on the air at WWOZ. Ambitious, yes, but maybe I'll even add some good links to music on-line.

And, as the name connotates, I will be "Speaking My Mind," especially as it relates to the post-Katrina recovery efforts as I watch in exile here in Killeen, Texas.

Hope you all enjoy. And, as Bob French says "If you like what you see, go tell your friends. If you don't like what you see, don't tell nobody...."