Thursday, October 25, 2007


Every morning I remember.

I remember the house that used to stand on our lot, with blonde brick and large picture windows decorated with our Precious Daughter's art work. I remember the houses that used to stand to the left and to the right, three houses in a long line of suburban homes that filled Vista Park, our three properties now vacant and covered in wild greenery that has taken over the void.

I remember the houses that used to stand across the street on land now leveled and vacant. The Marine family who I still think of as neighbors even though they bought a house 850 miles from here and will not return to New Orleans. The retired dentist and his wife who have both since passed away and who I count as victims of the flood.

As I walk to my car, a glinting catches my eye and I focus on tiny shards of mirror mixed with sand and road grit in the street gutter. Although our house and the houses around it were crushed and carted away many months ago, tiny souvenirs still occasionally present themselves. A cap from a bottle of nail polish. A flattened fork. And today, these glittering pebbles of a shattered mirror.

So much was destroyed here, and in the past two years, a flood of effort to clean it up has followed. Houses throughout the neighborhood have been or are being repaired, rebuilt, or replaced with new homes. But the residue of Hurricane Katrina lingers. How long will it be before it is completely washed away? The stop sign at the corner, still tilting at an improper angle, bears the stain of the waterline that drowned this neighborhood two years ago, broke and scattered the people who made their homes here.

The smashed pieces are a constant reminder--as if I need their help. I won't forget what this place used to be and what happened to the houses, the gardens, and of course, the people shattered by what happened here.

Every morning I remember.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Show us a sign

Driving by Pontchartrain Baptist Church today, I saw this sign:

Sign outside Pontchartrain Baptist Chruch near the 17th Street Canal Breach in New Orleans.

The church is located yards from the 17th Street Canal breach site in New Orleans. Although repaired and reopened for business, the building may be demolished to make way for the permanent pump station to be built in the next few years.

A lady leaving church told me they pray for everyone--saints and sinners alike.

She did not indicate into which category they would put the Corps of Engineers.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Oh Snap!

Around the Vista Park neighborhood of New Orleans, several houses are under repair or construction. Although I am disappointed that many people are simply repairing slab-on-grad houses without elevating, I have been encouraged to see construction of new homes at safer heights.

The majority of these new structures are modular homes. Typically these houses are placed on walls or piers about 3 feet above adjacent grade--the minimum height according to the advisory base flood elevation for our neighborhood. An improvement, yes, but I sure wouldn't recommend building so low. As long as you're building a new house, I say go as high as you can.

A handful of houses here have done just that, raising their living space 8 or more feet off the ground. Of course, doing so costs more and requires a much more detailed design.

One such house, just around the corner from our FEMA Travel Trailer, was ready to be lifted into place this weekend. The contractor had started from scratch, driving new timber piles and placing a brand new slab for the garage level. They had then formed up about two dozen square concrete columns arranged all along the perimeter and a row right down the middle.

Saturday morning I saw the two halves of the new modular house being trucked in and the large crane towering above the trees and wires ready to lift those pieces into place. We were headed out for the day and I was just a little disappointed that I would not be able to see the house come together.

Late Saturday afternoon we returned to see the crane folded up and ready to leave, but the modular house was still wrapped in plastic on the flatbed trailers. I went over to take a look and met the contractor, a lanky man with a north Louisiana country accent. He scowled when I asked what happened.

"No rebar," he said. "Barely two inches of it."

At first I did not understand what he meant, but then I looked again at the slab and columns and saw that the entire center row of concrete columns had fallen over!

Toppled columns like dominoes at raised house construction site in New Orleans.

The contractor told me that the first unit was being lowered into position when the columns gave way. They snapped off at the base, breaking cleanly where the cold joint of the column met the slab, each one pulling out the scant two inches of rebar that somebody foolishly thought would be enough to anchor these 9 to 10 feet tall columns.

Shoddy column connection at raised house in New Orleans.

Luckily no one was hurt as they collapsed like thousand-pound dominoes. Lucky still that this defect was exposed sooner rather than later. Had this house been completed on such poorly anchored columns the first stiff wind would probably pushed the house over to one side or the other, where it could have crushed a neighbor's house.

Poor connection detial in construction of raised home in New Orleans.

I've seen a lot of houses near here that have been elevated post-K, mostly pier houses that were lifted and then lowered onto columns constructed in place right under the elevated houses. I don't recall seeing shear walls or even cross bracing on any of them, so these houses rely on the strength of the connection at the base of the column to withstand rotation forces. Let's hope they hired somebody who knew what he or she was doing.

Columns fail to stand in New Orleans.

Of course the contractor in this case blamed his subcontractor for the ridiculously shoddy work, but he has every reason to be red-faced, too. He should have made sure that appropriate anchors were placed in the slab, and he should have inspected the columns to make sure the steel was tied together to provide a continuous load path from the anchor straps at the top of each column all the way into the foundation. To his credit, he told me he is going to fix it as quickly as possible at no charge to the owner, and sure enough equipment had arrived Monday to start cleaning up the mess.

Columns of elevated house fall over during construction in New Orleans.

The lesson is a good one: hire people who know what they are doing and check everything. Going tall is great for flood protection, but let's not forget that hurricanes pack a punch of wind, too. You don't need a degree in engineering to know that taller houses are going to catch more wind, but perhaps you do need an engineer to properly design for it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Malcolm Suber offers leadership

We’ve got an election here on Saturday the 20th, and you wouldn’t know it except for the annoying and slick public relations commercials on TV and radio. Like their national counterparts, the plethora of wannabe politicians wrap themselves in images of family and blue-collar workers, all carefully scripted and created to project an image of trustworthiness and commonness.

But we know it’s all fake. We know that it’s all a fabricated veneer like the rich wood grain skin that hides the cheap and unreliable particle board of low-end furniture. I mean, seriously, is there really an iota of difference in the way the ad people are packaging and selling John Georges, Aaron Broussard or Jeb Bruneau?

But then there’s Malcolm Suber, candidate for New Orleans City Council At-Large.

Malcolm is running for the seat vacated by the reprehensible Oliver Thomas, a “public servant” who will forever be remembered as the man who served himself first and foremost.

In stark contrast to the pack of lifelong politicians, Malcolm is a lifelong community activist. Malcolm does not play the political games of saying only focus-group-tested platitudes. Malcolm does not pledge allegiance to the voters while secretly stuffing his pockets with the contributions of rich paymasters.

I met Malcolm at a party uptown last Friday night. It was a meeting of progressive candidates--no Democrats or Republicans were allowed. Just as Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Jackie Clarkson represent the failed politicians of the past, I believe the Democratic and Republican parties are monuments of past power and money-controlled politics that has led our government far too long. It’s the Democrats and Republicans who have led us to where we are right now.

Happy? Satisfied?

I’m not. I’m going to vote for as many non-Republicrats as possible. I’m looking for independents, Greens and Libertarians. If you think this country, this state, and this city are headed in the wrong direction, then let somebody else drive. Don’t just vote for the same people, the same political gangs, and the same well-connected machine of moneychangers.

With Malcolm on the ballot, we have the opportunity to remove the distasteful flavor of corruption and self-enrichment from the council. Malcolm’s slogan is, “No More Sellout Politicians!” and I believe he means it.

Malcolm and I talked about education, about empowerment, about building a community that trusts its police to protect them. I found him to be sincere and forthright in every instance. I'm not going to try to paraphrase his ideas here; I encourage you to visit Malcolm's web page to read for yourself.

No, I did not fully agree with him on every issue. But that’s one of the reasons I will vote for him. Malcolm is not going to just spout empty slogans and patronize values as determined by public opinion surveys. There’s no bait-and-switch here. Malcolm tells the truth about what’s important to him, about what he wants to do about it, about his desire to lead a revolution in this city.

And by any measure, that makes Malcolm a leader.

Isn’t that exactly what we need in New Orleans?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Produce your rights—or lose them

When danger lurks, Dangerblond writes.

What a pleasure it was to read my follow NOLA blogger in The Times-Picayune today. In “Produce your papers, or else?”, Dangerblond exposes the slow shredding of our Constitutional rights by a cynical, paranoid government. And while she unravels some complex legal issues, she delivers this important dose of civil rights medicine with a generous portion of New Orleans sugar.

I read it out loud to my Precious Wife this morning and she enjoyed it. I’m hoping you will like it, too.