The Avodah Blog

Katrina Tour

Ross PeizerRoss Peizer, from Seattle, WA, attended Boston University, where he majored in Communication, with concentrations in Public Relations and Psychology. Ross serves as the Intake Assistant at Rebuilding Together New Orleans, helping homeowners through the application system to receive assistance and finally get their homes rebuilt. Ross functions as the primary point of contact with homeowners and acts as an advocate on their behalf, both within the organization and with other agencies citywide.

My parents were in town for Thanksgiving. It was their first time to New Orleans so they decided to go on a tour. When I asked them what they had seen they said, the Garden District, St Charles Ave, Uptown, Brad Pitt’s house and Bob Dylan’s old house. I asked if they had gone to the Lower Ninth Ward or seen any blighted houses? They told me what their tour guide said, “This isn’t a Katrina Tour.”

A “Katrina Tour!”

My blood boils. There should not be two different tours. This is one city.

I work at Rebuilding Together New Orleans, a nonprofit organization devoted to getting low income and elderly homeowners back into their homes.

Right before Thanksgiving, I visited a homeowner who was ripped off by a contractor for $139,000 and is living in his gutted home without running water or a safe electricity source.

This is New Orleans.

Screw a “Katrina Tour.”

Tourists come, visit the French Quarter, ride the St Charles street car and then go home and report that New Orleans has recovered.  But they are not seeing the whole picture; there are blighted homes right off of St Charles in Central City. I probably bummed my family out by telling them these things while we were out at a fancy restaurant, but at least they know.

If you’re coming to New Orleans here are some things I’d recommend:

  • Backstreet Cultural Museum – you can see Mardi Gras Indian suits and learn about social aid and pleasure clubs while finding out where this week’s second line will be.
  • Join a Second Line
  • Volunteer – Repair the World just put out a new study showing that short-term service learning trips are beneficial to the host community. Rebuilding Together New Orleans is always looking for folks to spend a couple days volunteering.
  • Eat and Drink – Po-boys, red beans and rice, gumbo and mint juleps.
  • See Some Live, Local Music – Frenchmen street, Tipitina’s, The Maple Leaf or just check out WWOZ’s live wire to find out who’s playing at every venue.

New Orleans is one city, not a bunch of splintered neighborhoods and Katrina affected them all. Go visit the Garden District and the Quarter, but make sure you see the other half of the city too. And don’t let the lovely homes on St Charles fool you – until the damage done more than 5 years ago is addressed throughout the city, a Katrina Tour is a New Orleans Tour and vice versa.

One Response to Katrina Tour

  1. David says:

    Ross-

    I appreciated your post. I find ‘disaster tourism’ to be troubling as well, and certainly the division of the city how you described it: Katrina affected vs. New Orleans. I think that is certainly how many people in Lower 9 feel, meaning, they feel that they aren’t seen as truly a part of the city, rather as some depressed area apart from the city, and whose citizens aren’t seen as contributing. This isn’t just a Post-Katrina phenomena either, with residents of the Lower 9 feeling separated (literally) from the rest of the city for generations.

    Even though New Orleans is one city, as you mentioned we don’t want to ignore the differences between parts of the city and rates of recovery. Rather, we need to be diligent in noticing these discrepancies, and calling them out. We need to visit the communities that have been disproportionately affected and we need to do so in a way that honors their stories, and doesn’t capitalize off of their loss. You’re right that “this is one city,” but it is also true that all residents aren’t equal and all areas aren’t treated equally.

    Thanks for encouraging your folks to see the whole city of New Orleans, and to do so in a way that is responsible, and not just on a bus (see this): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2Mwmh647OY