My friend Sam took this picture with his cellphone camera. We must have walked about a square half-mile through this neighborhood and of the houses we saw, scenes like this were the median condition: moderate-to-significant decay, some spray-painted bureacratese remaining on the facade, at least one broken window, no one evidently home. Some of what we saw was better — new doors placed onto crumbling houses, cars with shiny rims parked outside, at least one roofing crew at work on a Saturday afternoon. But there was also tremendous blight — a house with no floor, a telephone pole resting on the cracked gutters of a roof, posters wheatpasted onto boarded windows informing squatters of severe consequences, spraypainted warnings like DOG UNDER PORCH. Nearly all the sidewalks we saw were overgrown with dull-green weeds. There were seashells on the shoulder of the road.
Mike observed that it seemed like three months after the hurricane, not three years. I suppose I wasn’t able to conceive before Saturday how bad it remains in the Lower Ninth Ward. The missing element, most ominously, was people. In a residential area on a crisp and pleasant fall afternoon, we saw probably four people who weren’t there for the same art installation we were. Sam remarked that he was uncomfortable — going to the L9W felt too much like taking a cheap holiday in other people’s misery to him. I’d like to think that at a time when we’re discussing bailing out the banks and the auto industry, people should see how there’s no bailout of any significance for the poor people of New Orleans. But I don’t know that Sam was wrong.