This is the time we pause to recall, as we do with so many tragedies, where we were when the Army Corps of Engineers' levees broke in New Orleans and the city was flooded.
I was 3500 miles away in Portland, Oregon, in a blues club watching Reggie Houston, a New Orleans saxophonist and then a recent émigré to the Northwest, pour his breaking heart out on the bandstand at one end of the club. At the other end of the club the endless video of the disaster repeated on CNN.
Since then we have learned some things:
How angry we can become at the willful actions of the Bush administration to leave the city in ruin and despair.
How Republican Mississippi got a hugely disproportionate amount of recovery money compared to Louisiana.
How, as we felt the depth of New Orleans culture from so far away before the flood, we feel the sorrow and depression just as much after.
How a city can be proud of its citizens' efforts to rebuild their lives.
How a city can be ashamed of the killing fields its streets have become.
How hundreds of outsiders can come to a strange place just to help...some for months at a time.
But the folks in New Orleans don't want our analysis, or our pity. They'd like us to have some understanding and remember that things are still in ruin. And that they're still worried about the next storm. Face it, The Army Corps of Engineers built the failed levees and also the new devices to keep out the water. Why should the folks who look at that water every day feel any more confident about what the Corps of Engineers did this time?
And the wetlands are still not reclaimed.
When you consider the plight of New Orleans it's easy to feel overwhelmed. What can you do? Yes, you can visit New Orleans and leave some money but that doesn't get to the problem.
I could rail on against the Republicans' criminal inaction, but perhaps today we should just look at one single program that might help matters, not solve them, but help. Mercy Corps is based in my city. They've been on the ground since they were allowed to be. Here's one thing they're doing. It's constructive "deconstruction." It's green and it's positive. If you're looking for a place to put some money where it'll help, this is a good one.
I'll shut up and let Mercy Corps do the talking:
In New Orleans, building back begins with taking down - by hand.
-- Since Katrina, Mercy Corps advocates for widespread use of "deconstruction" to create much-needed jobs.
-- An alternative to demolition, deconstruction brings dignity to the rebuilding process and lets homeowners re-use materials in new homes.
Two years after Katrina, some owners of condemned homes are opting out of the FEMA demolition program for an alternative called "deconstruction" to dismantle buildings by hand. Many homeowners choose deconstruction over demolition because the process grants a dignified way to remove their home, save many belongings, and re-use some of the salvaged materials in the construction of a new home. Deconstruction also provides much-needed jobs, keeps solid waste out of landfills, and preserves historic architecture.
"Even two years after the storm, many people whose homes were destroyed still haven't done anything with them yet - it's a very emotional process," explains Rick Denhart, Mercy Corps' Gulf Coast Recovery Program Director. "Homeowners are choosing deconstruction to help preserve familiar artifacts and the collective memory of their neighborhoods. That means a wainscot, door, or window frame from a home or church can appear in another building."
Since Katrina, the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps has been advocating for the widespread use of deconstruction as an economic development tool that can be implemented neighborhood by neighborhood. One of the challenges the agency has faced is educating homeowners about how to use reclaimed materials. This requires a change of the traditional mindset in the community away from one that believes new is always better.
"Deconstruction is not widely accepted yet in the consumer culture here in New Orleans or in many places in the United States," adds Denhart. "We're working in a culture that certainly has kept architectural artifacts for reuse, but we need to jumpstart a shift in cultural norms to get people to accept used building materials for everyday needs."
To help spread the word about deconstruction, Mercy Corps has offered trainings for local contractors who are now engaged in their own successful deconstruction businesses. Mercy Corps is working with nationally recognized deconstruction experts on a 15-house pilot project to document the value of materials recovered and the advantage of keeping thousands of tons out of overflowing landfills. The program also demonstrates the employment benefits of deconstruction; typically, for every one job demolition provides (the bulldozer driver), deconstruction employs four or more people in jobs that require minimal training.
Mercy Corps recently partnered on a deconstruction project with the City of New Orleans' Office of Disaster Recovery involving the local chapter of the Association of Minority Contractors, interested in adopting deconstruction as a jobs creation technique. Mercy Corps staff are also working with FEMA to add deconstruction as a reimbursable option for homeowners since the cost is usually comparable. Currently, FEMA reimburses only for demolition or for partial deconstruction of homes that are listed on the historic register.
If 500 homes were deconstructed in one year in New Orleans:
- At least 220 living wage jobs would be created.
- Approximately 75,000 cubic yards of debris would be saved from landfills - approximately 2,500 truck loads.
- Sales of reusable materials could reach $5,000,000 on the private market generating $450,000 in local sales tax revenue.
- Property owners could benefit from tax deductions for materials donated to non-profits.
For more information about deconstruction, and an interview with Rick Denhart, please visit
There is ample proof of my statement about the disparity between what Mississippi got and what Louisana got. Plus, Haley Barbour was the CHAIRMAN OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY for chrissakes!
Here's the link to the facts http://http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/08/officials_la_still_shorted_on.html
from the New Orleans Times Picayune.