In Context

In New Orleans, poverty was concentrated in low-lying places like the Lower Ninth Ward, and Hurricane Katrina exposed the intertwined problems of racial discrimination, segregation and poverty in the city. Eighty percent of the city's African-American residents lived in these flood-prone areas, compared to 54 percent of the city's white population.

The Lower Ninth Ward was one of the last areas developed in New Orleans and consists of two neighborhoods, the Lower Ninth North (to the north) and the Holy Cross district, where Carolyn Parker lives, to the south. The neighborhood was formally recognized as the Lower Ninth Ward in the 1920s, following the construction of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, more commonly known as the "Industrial Canal." This canal bisects the Ninth Ward, creating the Lower Ninth Ward to the east of the canal and the Upper Ninth Ward to the west. Holy Cross stands six to eight feet above sea level, between the levees of the Industrial Canal and the Mississippi River. The neighborhood's unique architecture and historical fabric earned it designation as a historical district in 1990.

Before Hurricane Katrina, Holy Cross had about 5,500 residents in 1,900 households. Its population was 90 percent African American, with 30 percent of the population living at or below the poverty level. The Lower Ninth Ward, as a whole, was home to 19,500 people with a poverty level of 36 percent--three times the national average. According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, while nearly 60 percent of heads of household in the Lower Ninth Ward owned their own homes, there was no real opportunity to build individual assets or to enjoy house appreciation. At the time Hurricane Katrina hit, three-quarters of residents in the Lower Ninth Ward had been living in the same houses for five years or longer.

Though the Holy Cross neighborhood now has only half of the people it did before Hurricane Katrina, the community has fought hard to keep its land, navigating often vague, broken recovery programs and bureaucratic red tape to do so. However, the Lower Ninth Ward has always battled inequality and marginalization. Geographic isolation fostered neighborhood unity as early as the 1870s, and the city's attempt to widen the Industrial Canal (effectively removing homes) strengthened that unity further. The high rate of home ownership has also helped contribute to the residents' strong attachment to the Lower Ninth Ward.

Pam Dashiell, director of the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development describes the community, saying, "The Lower Ninth Ward is a place that folks love. It is a place that is vulnerable, there's no question about that. It was a place that had its issues and problems. It had no economic infrastructure even before Katrina, but it's a place that can serve as an example of how people can bring back, restore and regenerate their own neighborhoods and communities in a way that is beneficial to them and the larger community, to the larger New Orleans community."

Caption: Carolyn Parker at church
Credit: Courtesy of I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful

» Community Investments. "Tackling Neighborhood Poverty: Developing Strategic Approaches to Community Development."
» Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.
» Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. "In the Wake of Katrina: The Continuing Saga of Housing and Rebuilding in New Orleans."
» Landphair, Juliette. "'The Forgotten People of New Orleans': Community, Vulnerability, and the Lower Ninth Ward." The Journal of American History, 94, 837-845, December 2007.
» New Orleans Institute for Resilience and Innovation. "Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (C.S.E.D.)."
» Lewis, Peirce F. New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape. Santa Fe: The Center for American Places, 2010.
» Rich, Nathaniel. "Jungleland: The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans Gives New Meaning to 'Urban Growth.'" The New York Times Magazine, March 21, 2012.
» University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "State of the Ninth Ward: An Analysis of the Ninth Ward Since Hurricane Katrina."
» Wolff, Daniel. Fight For Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2012.