For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Thursday, March 15, 2007

District 6

I will blog more on my overall experience later – the following is my time with Professor Barbarin and District 6:

Tuesday evening, I had the opportunity to tour District 6 with Professor Oscar Barbarin from the UNC School of Social Work, his sister Sylvia who is a life long resident of District 6, Boz Zellinger a 3L, and our supervising attorney Diane Standaert, from the UNC Center for Civil Rights. Professor Barbarin and Sylvia were both raised in District 6 and Sylvia is currently working on renovating her home with plans to move back into her neighborhood as soon as she can. Due to his close ties to the district, Professor Barbarin has chosen to focus his and the UNC School of Social Work’s relief efforts on District 6.

Professor Barbarin first drove us through the district. The Pontchartrain Park area was one of the worst hit in District 6: a middle class African American community built around a golf course which is now completely devastated from the storm. We saw a sprinkle of FEMA trailers and vehicles; however, on the whole, the neighborhood is vacant. In fact, this is true for a lot of District 6 neighborhoods. This becomes most apparent when the sun goes down. Driving down streets lit only by street lamps… no people, no cars, and no lights in windows. Empty.

We also attended two community meetings. At those meetings Professor Barbarin introduced his two pronged “proposal” to help move District 6 forward and ultimately set an example for the rest of the city. The first part of the proposal is “clustering.” “Clustering” is an attempt to get citizens to move back into their neighborhoods by grouping them in houses close to each other in each neighborhood. Essentially, those who move back to their neighborhoods literally cluster around each other regardless of whether they are in their original homes. Everyone really seems to like the idea of clustering; however, everyone wants the clustering to occur around their home.

The second part of the proposal is information centers that would be placed throughout the district and would serve as a data base for citizens to get their lives back in order. For example, at the second meeting we attended, a man from Global Green introduced environmentally friendly energy conserving construction measures in order to “re-build right.” These measures would be beneficial to all citizens of the city and exactly the type of information that would be placed in these information centers. While some data would be helpful to the entire city, other information would be better suited only in certain areas. Therefore, the goal is to tailor each center so that it fully accommodates each district or area.

My feeling from both meetings was that the citizens are extremely thankful for any and all help they can get. Both groups seemed responsive to Professor Barbarin’s proposal. However, it is clear that the community is tired of planning. They have been planning since August of 2005, and now, in March of 2007, they are ready to do. Sadly, what they are most in need of in order to do, is money.

Touring District 6 and listening in on the meetings gave me a very real look at where the city is today, closing in on three years after Katrina. It opened my eyes to the fact that each effort, no matter how small, does not go unnoticed. In fact, as we were leaving the second meeting, a man tapped me and said that he had been reading our blog, and thought is was great. That brought a smile to my face and should give each person who has given their time to the victims of the hurricane a great sense of fulfillment. Seeing the community band together to literally rebuild their neighborhoods is inspiring and telling of this city’s character as a whole. The people here are resilient and the least we can do is help them stay that way.


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