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tv   Witness  LINKTV  May 11, 2022 3:00am-3:31am PDT

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q new orleans. new orleans. n'awlins. nola, crescent city. groove city. jazz city. the big easy. branding and reputation aside, things are far from easy in new orleans. the city suffers from many of the symptoms of the urban american narrative: poverty, social and racial inequity, gun violence, a murder rate twice the national average. then, the world watched in 2005 as hurricane katrina smashed through this place. how does any city rebound from that? how does any community regroup and rebuild? now, we can add a rise in mass tourism and gentrification to the list of challenges that this city is facing. this city still stands, stubbornly so.
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this will be a tale of revival and community, but also of ongoing struggle and survival. - with a history rooted in afro-american, spanish, french, and creole cultures, new orleans is one hell of a town. and with so much eclectic influence, locals have witnessed many periods of change -
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and much hardship. plagued by a violent era of slavery, and ravaged by hurricane katrina in 2005, people here know what it means to survive. the recovery from katrina is ongoing. and some people feel that the aftermath of the storm caused a spike in tourism that has made the rich richer, while leaving the underprivileged - most of whom are african-american - with even fewer resources than before. but new orleanians also know what it means to thrive. because of its waterways, this place was isolated from the mainland for almost 250 years, which made it a cradle for cultural innovation. it's the birthplace of jazz, and boasts a global reputation for producing a unique sound that draws millions of people each year. here, culture and music are synonymous. this is a city that literally marches to the beat of its own drum.
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hey! chuck! how are you doing? hey mike! how are you doing? good, good. what is the identity of this city? the identity of this city is beautiful, colourful, chaotic. mr. perkins! you rock! hey, my man! what's up, baby? anything but bland. - poet, activist and radio host, chuck perkins is new orlean's man-about-town. after joining the marines to pay his way through university, chuck returned to his hometown to spread the gospel on local culture - from poetry to music. this is one of the only american cities that has a very distinct culture, like tradition here is very important. and you know, when people come here for the first time, they feel like they're in a place that's different from any place they've been in this country for sure. it's happy and it's fun, and it's about celebrating life. you can hear the sounds of africa, you can taste the food
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of africa, you can taste the food of france, of haiti. it's all in there. yeah. but what are the struggles that new orleans faces? one of the biggest problems, it does have to do with gentrification. what's happening is that the tastes of the typical americans are changing, you see. i mean, in the 1960's and 1970's, you had white flight, and black middle-class flight as well. and so people's idea of success was going someplace out, an hour outside of the city. but now, that's not the idea of success anymore. like we, in this neighbourhood right here, a block from here if you walk, there's a bar right there where you can go and get a couple of drinks. there are little convenience stores over here. there are restaurants. there are art galleries, right? you don't need a car. it's in your community and you live there, so people with money now, a lot of white people with money, instead of driving an hour and a half out, people would rather
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be where all the action is. yeah. one of the issues is because... early on, we started this conversation and i said how there's a really distinct culture, you know, there's a way of doing things, a way we celebrate, a way we bury people, a way we dance, a way we party. and so, with all the influx of all of the newness, right, then that could change stuff. for instance, you got people who say: "wow! what a beautiful home! i can see myself living there." they like that home, they like all the gingerbread trim and the french shutters and stuff like that, right? so they want that part. but there's a bar over here, you know, they don't want that part. so now they complain about the bar. now, a parade might come by your house, and that's been happening for the last 20 or 25 years, and they don't want that part. because of that, because new orleans is this sort a city with this unique history and because you have people with money and
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influence, and who want that physical part of the history, but they don't want all of the other stuff, now you've got problems. a lot of times, people thinking the more recent times that sometimes, there are really important issues and we need to get serious, and we need to let people know that we're pissed off... but then on sunday, you get to a second line and somehow, the heat is turned down. you know, because you've just been in a street parade for the last three or four hours, you're having the time of your life, so maybe you aren't as pissed off anymore. oh wow! check it. come on, check it out, boys! - parades are a big deal here - all year round. we're not just talking about mardi gras or saint patrick's day. and the marching band always sounds off the celebration.
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formed by the brass and drum band, the second line brings life - and rhythm - to the party. when i grew up, your junior high school marching band... you're proud. you are so proud. we'd come to one of these parades and we couldn't wait to see our school. but now, the schools don't see the value in these marching bands, so we don't have as man so you don't have as many kids playing music. before, you couldn't walk these streets without seeing kids with drumsticks and horns, and tubas and stuff like that. - as lack of funding hit the public school system in a hard way over the last decade, the tradition of the marching band rapidly declined. with less and less money for education itself, arts programs and extracurricular activities are gradually disappearing. enter roots of music. how are you doing, man? everything's good. how are you doing today? good, good. good to see you. now, they're sitting there. they're continuing their education a little bit longer
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into the day, but are they looking forward to playing some music? that's the whole goal. if you do good in school with tutoring, then you're rewarded with the music. o.k. it's like a carrot you're dangling in front of them. yes. we're getting anything out of them. - derrick is a drummer in the grammy-award winning rebirth brass band. he's travelled the world, released multiple albums, been in movies and on tv... he's a pretty busy guy. despite his hectic schedule, he's made time to co-found and direct roots of music, an after-school program that gets kids back in touch with their musical roots. 80% or 90% of these kids live in dangerous neighbourhoods. drugs, violence, abuse, neglect... it's all regular. it's also an any-client program because weave 40 dferent schools that we are servicing around the city and we bring kids from all over the city together to become friends first. new orleans
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has a big thing with territory because we used to have it where uptown didn't come downtown, downtown didn't go uptown. so now, you have people going to different schools in different neighbourhoods after katrina. we want to build friendships. with this program, they're with us four hours a day for 240 days. and it works. yeah. after katrina, i saw that we didn't have any space for kids to express themselves or just to go and do anything. we were focused on the infrastructures. we were focused on building the economy, getting people back in the city. we weren't focused on the kids. i believe kids are the future, and we weren't focused on our future. so i really wanted to give something back to the kids that they can build a future off of. - the program takes in about 150 kids each year. and get this: not only is it free for the participants, but everyone is transported from school
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to the rehearsal. and they all have dinner after practice before being dropped off at home. here, kids are taken care of every step of the way. they're doing all the discipline, the training, the practicing. where do they play? we're one of the featured bands on mardis gras every year. we do five or six parades. this year, we're doing five. like performing, right? you're hired to perform. perform, yes. we're hired to perform all over the city. what are you giving them through this? how are you equipping them for the rest of their lives? what do you think you're doing for them? we say that number one is discipline. it's giving these kids the chance to do something they wouldn't even dream about doing. you know, travelling the world, getting opportunities that some kids don't get. if you look at some of the best musicians in the city, they come from marching bands. you know, there's some things that inspire you from young. and we're ready. we're ready. are we ready? we are ready. one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. ♪♪♪
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- these are the kind of life-sized programs that have the power to transform future generations. being in the room, watching these kids perform and take part in their cultural heritage is powerful - and it's not just about music. be it sports, arts and crafts, or any extracurricular activity - getting kids engaged with their community solidifies their sense of place, and boosts their self-esteem. not only do these kind of programs have immense benefits for local youth, but also for the entire city through the concept of paying it forward. a gift that keeps on giving. - in many ways, treme is considered the cultural core of new orleans. as the oldest african-american neighbourhood in america, it's been the site of important events that have
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shaped the course of black history over the past 200 years. but waves of crime and years of economic neglect are threatening the cultural foundations of this historic neighbourhood. now, locals must unite and fight, yet again, to preserve their neighbourhood's identity for future generations. we have the worst outcomes in the city, the worst socioeconomic outcomes, the greatest disparities, the most people living below the federal poverty line, the worst health outcomes, the least access to jobs and transportation, and really, tragically, a 25-year difference in life expectancy than in our city's wealthier and whiter neighbourhood. - the construction of the i-10 expressway in the late 1960s shut down over 300 african-american owned businesses along claiborne avenue in one fell swoop. it broke the community by obliterating its most vibrant commercial district. to add insult to injury,
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the corridor was once lined with the longest span of oak trees in north america. this is where the cultural innovation district comes in. at its helm is asali, who is leading a massive project to revitalize this 25-block stretch. in america, also in europe, they're tearing down these monsters from the 1960s and 1970s. any discussion about it here in new orleans? well, actually, that was kind of the big sexy discussion around our work, but when we talk to residents about this over the course of a couple of years, right, thousands of residents, focus groups, what we learned is that about 50% say that it's the worst thing that ever happened to our community and it should absolutely come down. and another 50% said it's been here our whole life, this is where we have our second lines, the bands sound really good under here. and what we know is that when these things come down, we get displaced, right? so that was around generational lines pretty much. people remembered what it was like, some didn't,
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but 100% said: "we want economic opportunities, we want housing affordability, we want cultural preservation, we want environmental sustainability and transportation choice and access." so we decided to work on what 100% of people wanted. - this is way more than a cute park with a couple of food trucks thrown in for good measure. the plan is big. we're talking green spaces, performance areas, playgrounds, water management reservoirs, a community centre, a public market, bike lanes, a skills and learning campus, and even a skatepark. the goal? to boost commerce under the expressway and hopefully in the surrounding neighbourhoods by osmosis. more business means more jobs, and more opportunities for local entrepreneurs to thrive once again. this is a major project, and of course, it needs major funds in order to be carried out. through philanthropy and government grants,
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they've managed to raise a portion of the 26 million dollars needed. and you can be sure that asali and the people here won't stop until they realize their vision. these are settled businesses we're really excited about. as part of the redevelopment of the street, an african-american developer and business owner started a coffee shop called café addiction that actually was in the french quarter. she's brought to claiborne a barbecue shop and an oyster shack right there. o.k. and she also acquired this old theatre here on the corner. it's called the claiborne. it was the first theatre where african-americans were able to go into the front door. oh, really? yeah. - wow. so we're still living with some of that history, right? when we first started doing this work, we had to combat a lot of, you know, not so great activity that was happening. for a while, it was just a dumpsite. people would dump stuff. a lot of houseless encampments. yeah. so one of our first things was just about cleaning it up and
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making it more...i mean, there's a lady right now walking with a baby. you wouldn't see that before we started cleaning up. oh yeah. over there. the family there? yeah. you know, so just making it more hospitable for commerce and just doing something for these businesses that have struggled for so long. so tell me about the demographic of this neighbourhood. what is it like now? so, claiborne quarter neighbourhood is still about 84% african-american. 18 000$ is the median household income, which is horrendous. how would this project contribute to this issue? well, with the access to entrepreneurship, being able to start businesses, one of the projects that we're actually working on with the city now is black masking indian co-op where they can actually figure out a way to commercialize their product. so whereas you usually only see mardi gras indian beading on the times when they come out, now, they'll be making
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fine art products that they can sell all over the world. right. o.k. it could be a busine that would support them and their children and grandchildren. so part of our goal with the cultural innovation district is actually to use culture as an economic drive. how do we innovate our own culture so that we're able to benefit from it, at least equally? - if you're hoping to revitalize a neighbourhood, you have to connect it with the rest of the city. it's only logical. and what's the ideal way for a city to do that? if your answer wasn't "build a bike path", then you haven't been paying attention, have you? one of the infrastructural bonuses of the claiborne corridor is that it intersects with the lafitte greenway, a walkable and bikeable commuter pathway that runs through several neighbourhoods. i think it's the crown jewel of the new orleans bike network, partially because it's so comfortable and easy to ride, but also in the way that it acts as a bit of a spine
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for the network, as we have a lot of other bike lanes across through here and really creates a good connector through a major part of the city. - founded in 2003, bike easy believes in the power of bicycling to help create a healthy, prosperous, resilient, and equitable future for locals. well-organized bike paths reflect a safer urban transit system on the whole, for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike. the bike i'm riding on, how new is this one? the blue bikes, they're called. so the blue bikes system is just a little over a year old actually, and it's something that, at bike easy, we were advocating for for many years. pretty impressive numbers in the first year and we continue to do a lot of work to make sure that it's particularly accessible to folks who might not otherwise have a good transportation option, so that includes low-income folks, people in the service and hospitality industry all have access to the reduced fare passes and just know about
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the details of how these systems work. - the rise of the bike share system has been an absolute game-changer in cities around the world, and has made the bicycle a reliable option for urban transportation once again. it's been a slow start, but new orleans plans on having over 1000 bikes in circulation in the next few years. what percentage of the population in new orleans is riding a bike for transport? yeah, so according to the american community survey data, which is the census data, we're around 3.5% folks who are biking to work, which is what they measure, which is really impressive. it puts us in the top 10 large cities in america of the number of folks who are biking to work. it's kind of weird to use a bus lane. yeah. bikes and buses together. i'm not a big fan. no, me neither. i think this is an example of some of the stuff we need to overcome here in new orleans, where you come off this nice greenway where you're feeling comfortable, and all of a sudden, it's chaos on the road and you're competing with buses.
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you can think about a 10-year-old or someone who's new at riding trying to do that and just really struggling. we need a complete comfortable system of protected bikeways that allow people to bike around safely. i think the benefit there is that bike infrastructure can really help solve mobility challenges that everyone is facing, whether you drive or walk, or bike. with the right street design, you can improve safety, reduce traffic congestion. so moving towards this idea of a really complete network is the next step in the evolution of new orleans bicycling. - katrina made landfall on the gulf region of the united states in august 2005, killing some 1800 people, displacing over a million others and causing more than 135 billion us dollars in damages. and new orleans was caught in the eye of the storm.
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- hurricane katrina flooded 80% of new orleans. 80%. in the lower ninth ward, flood depths reached 12 feet, and remained in some areas for weeks. it was the last neighbourhood to regain access to power, the last to have water service restored, the last to be pumped dry. and the residents haven't all returned.
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fewer than half of the households affected by katrina have reclaimed their home. - while the devastating impact of katrina was unforeseeable, many citizens feel the problem actually arose from the city's flood prevention system... or lack thereof. the co-director of the university of california berkeley's study said in the introductory: "the new orleans flood, or katrina, was the greatest man-made engineering catastrophe since chernobyl." - if you recognize harry shearer, it's because you've problem seen, or at least heard him before. for more than 30 years, harry has lent his voice to the animated sitcom the simpsons, and he played a legendary role in the cult classic film this is spinal tap. but as a long-time resident of new orleans, harry also made a documentary called the big uneasy, which gave locals
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a voice to express how they felt about katrina, and pointed to the man-made causes that left people to fend for themselves in the horrible aftermath. we had a hurricane equally as big in 1965. it flooded 20% of the city. 20%. o.k. this event flooded 80% of the city after 40 years of "protection" by the army corps of engineers. - the flood control act of 1965 gave the united states army corps of engineers permission to build various flood control projects, including the lake pontchartrain and vicinity, and the louisiana hurricane protection project. these projects were meant to protect the people in the event of a disaster like katrina. but the plans fell through... quite literally. give me the context. describe to me what failed. the flood walls collapse was a major vector of the city being flooded. the corps of engineers was saying at the time: "oh, this was so powerful a hurricane, these walls were overtopped."
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i.e., water was coming over the top, pushing them over from the top. - yeah. the high-water mark was halfway up the wall. they were undermined from below. this was poor construction and the corps of engineers actually sued a contractor who, in the 1990s, said: "we're not digging the support for these walls deep enough. we're just hitting muck. they're not anchored in anything." right. and the corps went to court, said: "you do as the contract says." and the court supported the corps, and the company did and that wall collapsed. this city, because of its unique shape and geography, the water stayed here for six weeks. six weeks. six weeks. it was six weeks before the corps of engineers succeeded in, in their words, "dewatering" the city. we were feeling like the rest of the country didn't care. yeah. it was those people down there, i.e., mainly black people. "their own fault for living below sea level". so there was a feeling that the rest of the country... if this incident had happened in kansas city, the response might have been a lot more...
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done with a lot more alacrity. - there are 6.5 million kilometres of roads in the united states, and more than 65% of them are paved. add sidewalks, driveways, parking lots to the mix, and that's a lot of asphalt and concrete. and more cement means more consequences. in cities that are already becoming warmer through climate change, the last thing we need is to heat things up with more concrete. in flood-prone areas, the consequences can be even worse. we're below sea level. we get 64 inches of rain. we got subsidence and some parts of town, we're sinking as much as 2 inches a year. we're a coastal city, but we're seeing that coast evaporate. we're seeing land loss along the coast, and we're seeing rising sea levels. so all that together means we've got serious problems that we've had for a long time, but we had this false sense of security that we could pump our way out of it. and what changed post-katrina
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was that we can't rely on the pumping system. we have to start back here. we have to start in our yards. we have to figure out how to manage the water, control the water, tell the water where to go, find space for the water, slow it down, spread it out, let it soak in to recharge the groundwater to reduce the subsidence. we have to do all of that. we can't wait for the city to do all of that. we, as individuals, each have to own the water where it falls. - dana leads urban conservancy, a nonprofit that encourages citizens to roll up their sleeves, and get a little dirty. today, the team is helping john here to transform his front yard by setting up a unique water retrieval system. here you go. so we're actually going to crush these pieces down and recycle them. basically crushing them to gravel to then use as an underlayer for other drainage projects.
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like what we're seeing out here? similar, yeah. but at least, with gravel, the water is able to go through and reach the ground. we'll just take it as is. realistically, this kind of acupuncture urbanism, this one home here, another home over there, does it have an effect? what the plumbing system can do is pump out at any given time 450 million gallons of water out of the city. wow. what we can do is supplement that. on the residential side, with even 20% of the houses participating, you've got 20 million gallons per rain event. and more importantly, you're building in that understanding with every homeowner you touch. you're building in their education of why this matters. you may feel like this doesn't matter, but in an aggregate, it does make a difference. today, we have worked with 55 homeowners. we've removed over 30,000 square feet of paving, and we estimate that that's about conservatively 70,000 gallons of water kept out of the storm per rain event.
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- for urban conservancy, partnering with like-minded organizations was clearly the most efficient way to grow. so they joined forces with soul nola who plants trees, and greenlight new orleans who installs rain barrels. and then they hired local landscapers who now get to learn a whole new way of improving front lawns across town. a friend of mine told me about this program and i saw another avenue to help my business grow, make that another asset for me. how do you choose the trees? that's a cyprus and that drinks, once the tree is mature, 880 gallons of water per day when it's raining. wow. o.k. so, if we just planted only of those trees on the street, it wouldn't necessarily have an impact. but we have planted, thanks to john, our block captain, the homeowner, we've planted the entire street. so then, you have a lot of trees that drink a lot of water and can live through being inundated with water if we have a street flood.
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right. and then, they can drink up thousands of gallons of water per day once they're mature. right. that's what we do. we try to cluster trees around the city. why is this important? a rain barrel is pretty much the easiest, simplest way for a homeowner or a renter to actually retain that water. it doesn't make sense to go and buy tap water out of the faucet if we have too much water already. right. it's about $1.15 worth of water. this fills up over the year. we did some research. it fills the barrel up about 40 to 50 times. so this saves about $50 a year. what's your vision for the future of new orleans? everybody's doing a little something. we had some severe flooding in august of 2017 and the question everybody had after that... it was a microburst. so, just out of the blue, we got 7 or 9 inches in a matter of a couple of hours,
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and we had severe flooding. that really threw everybody back on their heels, sent a lot of us into post-traumatic stress syndrome after katrina, and the question was: can we continue to live here? that's a scary question, you know? and the answer that we've come up with is: "yes, we can, but we've all got our bit to do." - thousands of people were displaced from their homes after katrina, which left thousands of properties vacant. so newcomers did what many prospective homeowners do: seize the opportunity to take advantage of a collapsed real estate market. that math makes sense for the people who can afford it. 4000 homes are now registered as short-term rentals for tourists visiting new orleans. yeah. you heard that right: 4000 homes. so, in a city with under 400 000 people, no kidding locals are having a tough time affording rent and mortgages. the math sucks.

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