The Lower Night ward in New Orleans is getting a new neighbor: condominiums. The area hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina has become the most recent target of gentrification, The Guardian reports.
A three-building, mixed-use development likely to include luxury apartments, office space, an upscale restaurant and a coffee shop has taken shape — at least on paper — turning the area into a symbol for the “new” New Orleans. The plans, understandably, aren't sitting right with a number of the area's long-term residents.
“[After Katrina] they were saying they weren’t even going to rebuild this area,” Ford said. “It was supposed to be grassland. Now to come with this — gentrification didn’t so much concern me, but the condos, that’s gentrification. It’s not being built for people like me.”
Before Hurricane Katrina, the Lower Ninth had one of the highest percentages of Black homeownership in the city. After the hurricane, the area’s struggles became national news as images of people waiting for military rescue on their roofs, of entire neighborhoods underwater, were broadcast worldwide.
The development, planned by one of New Orleans’s most storied development companies, Perez APC, will be right next to the levee, a raised area of grassland that holds back the Mississippi River from the city and is one of the only deliberate green spaces in the Lower Ninth. The development is slated to include two new five-story buildings with 120 apartments. An abandoned four-story city-owned building will also be rehabbed into office space and house a cooking school and a restaurant run by former White House chef Ronnie Seaton.
Ever since the development was announced last year, it has drawn the ire of community groups and preservationists who say that the project could forever alter the character of the neighborhood, which is made up almost exclusively of low-slung, wood “shotgun” houses.
The controversy forced Perez APC to downscale its plan from a 13-story building to a seven-story one, then to five with underground parking. The plan nonetheless required the New Orleans city council to approve it, which it did in May 2014 by a vote of 5-1.
“The area desperately needs activity and development,” said council member James Gray, whose district includes the Lower Ninth Ward. “For this particular site, we’ve waited for close to 10 years, and this is only person that has stepped up and said they’d develop at that site. The details you can argue over, but for me it’s a bigger picture: if the city of New Orleans is going to recover, if the Lower Ninth is going to recover — we need development. We cannot turn it away.”
The redevelopment continues a controversial trend of "Black flight" from many of New Orleans's historic districts. The Bywater neighborhood, which sits on the other side of a canal across from the Lower Ninth Ward, lost 64 percent of its Black population between 2000 and 2010, but has gained 22 percent more white people, according to Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella. Black people now make up about 60 percent of the entire city, down from 67 percent in 2000.
“Our riverfront feels like it belongs to everybody,” said Sarah DeBacher, a neighborhood activist. “Once you start getting condos, it’s going to feel like it belongs to the rich. This working-class neighborhood has to sue the city just to get our voices heard.”
Residents like DeBacher say they want to see parts of the Lower Ninth Ward redeveloped, but they say it has to be done sensitively.
“I think people realized that right now, we’re deciding what New Orleans is going to look like 10 years from now,” said Jason Williams, the only councilmember to oppose the re-zoning of the area. “I think people just want to be heard in that process.”
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(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)