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Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (C.S.E.D.)

Pam Dashiell, director of the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (C.S.E.D.), speaks very seriously about the state her beloved neighborhood was in after Katrina. “It was very clear that the Lower 9th Ward community and Holy Cross were in danger of not being able to come back,” says the 21-year Lower 9th Ward resident.

Dashiell, who is also an active member and onetime president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association says that after the storm she and a small group of people including Charles Allen, Tulane Center for Bioenvironmental research, and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources decided to craft a plan to save their community. In efforts to combat plans that would turn Holy Cross into an industrial district and the Lower 9th Ward into a drainage ditch for the rest of the city the C.S.E.D. was formed.

There were about 50 people living in the area at that time, residents were not able to move back until May of 2006. The plan was in place in June of 2006 with help from a variety of organization, and the operation was formed in January of 2007. The mission of the C.S.E.D. is: “to effect the sustainable restoration of the lower 9th ward through civic engagement.” Its goal involves principles of civil society, and to restore the community so that it is resilient, energy independent, beautiful, prosperous, protective, and strong.

“The Lower 9th Ward is a place that folks love,” says Dashiell describing it as a bit of country in a city. “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.”

The Lower 9th Ward is also a place that is surrounded by water, which, especially with current coastal erosion and other environmental concerns, can pose additional problem. There is the river, Bayou Bienville, Industrial canal, and Gulf of Mexico. “We are water-loving folk and that of course is a challenge; living with water. Making sure it’s a resource rather than a vulnerability.”

The community of the Lower 9th Ward is very special, and almost unique compared to the rest of New Orleans given its geography and more rural feel. “This is country and over the centuries it attracted a certain kind of person. Individuals with grit and gumption, and an agricultural ethos.”

After Katrina the survival of the area fell onto the people who live there. The Holy Cross Neighborhood Association played an important role as being a place where members could meet and discuss plans of rebuilding and how to form a more sustainable, resilient community. “The people of this community have been working really hard and independent of government for the past 4 years.” Meetings were forums where people could find out how they could “be the best agents for their own recovery.”

Pre-Katrina the association met monthly and primarily focused on fighting the Corps of Engineer’s plans to widen the Industrial Canal. While it continues to advocate historical preservation, and address issues of crime and other neighborhood concerns like trash, noise, chickens, etc, it has changed the way it did things. It has really reached out to the community and is a place to exchange information and ideas.

In the early days after Katrina the association became a lifeline as well. “Really one of the most important things it did, and continues to do, but really critical in early days, was just being a vehicle for seeing one another. I can’t tell you what it was like not knowing what happened to people.”

The 9th Ward unfortunately is a place where visitors to the city go to get a sense of the devastation Katrina brought. Even those who live in New Orleans go and say it reminds them of ‘Katrina New Orleans’. There is work to be done and the C.S.E.D. is taking important steps in strengthening and revitalizing their neighborhood.

Their initiatives include:

  • Restoration of Bayou Bienville: restored it will provide a significant level of protection to the community as well as educational opportunities and economic development
  • Carbon and climate neutral goals: support of this are supporting historic preservation efforts, which is one of the ‘greenest’ thing you can do. They provide access and information to programs and projects assisting neighbors and individuals
  • Provide access to volunteer services /coordinators who want to come down (for example the Historic Green Project): young architects, engineers, construction, technologists
  • Provide sustainable building materials and help people understand that the benefits of energy efficient and sustainable building
  • Landscape architecture initiative funded by the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation
  • How Safe? How Soon? which goes into nonstructural mitigation-rain gardens, storm water management and evacuation strategy
  • Advocacy projects around energy efficiency
  • Restoration of the wetlands
  • Closure of Mr. Go
  • Stopping the Industrial Canal project
  • Supporting efforts of Global Green and Make it Right through recruiting other sustainable development to the neighborhood
  • Making St. Claude avenue an energy efficient business corridor where alternative energy efficient technology entities can gather and rent space
  • With funding from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, create an implementation plan for the sustainable restoration of the Lower Ninth Ward

Dashiell states that because the people of New Orleans and South East Louisiana coast know more about immediate effects of climate change more than most in the county they “have been wonderfully accepting and embracing of green technology, wetland restoration and alternative technologies.” She continues that the biggest challenges to achieving goals are governmental and institutional; that the systems need to change. Governing bodies need to take the role they are supposed to and citizens need to start expecting accountability and performance.

While Dahsiell isn’t certain traditional partnerships are the way to continue, she says it is heartening to see the amount of people working for the same goal. She thinks that although working together with outside entities, such as corporations, churches, foundations and other establishments providing support is crucial, it is more important to start making systems with the resources work for people in the communities.

To Dashiell, the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans in general can be a model of how to cope with challenges of this generation, and the next, and fix problems with new and innovative ideas.

Website: Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development

5130 Chartres St.
New Orleans, LA 70117

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