We’re already halfway done with our time in New Orleans this summer. However, I don’t feel like I’ve settled into a rhythm yet. Every week there are new experiences to absorb and learn from. I have been working at HousingNOLA, a nonprofit that is working to rebuild New Orleans into a more equitable, sustainable, and affordable city with a specific focus on affordable housing. It is the first time that I’ve really immersed myself in the local politics, news, and history of a place while also having the opportunity to interact with local leaders and the people of New Orleans as well.
Every morning, I take the 32 bus from Uptown and make my way through Leonidas and Hollygrove into Midcity, where the office is located. During this short 20 minute bus ride, some of the racial and class disparities that exist in New Orleans are easily observable. As we pass from one neighborhood to the next, uninhabited and boarded up homes, results of Hurricane Katrina, become more and more frequent. The racial makeup of the neighborhoods significantly changes as well. Coincidentally, I am researching these neighborhoods at work and I have been able to observe the simultaneous disinvestment and gentrification in these communities for myself.
I can’t help but feel some amount of irony in my situation then, as I am consistently the only person left on the bus by the time it gets to Uptown, my fellow bus riders having returned to their working class neighborhoods many stops before. And although I am not directly participating in the short term rental economy that has displaced many local New Orleanians from their neighborhoods, it feels strangely close to that as I return to the nice apartment that Duke has paid for, largely insulated from the real problems of the city. To be fair, there are very good reasons for why we live where we live, but my daily bus ride reminds me that we carry an important responsibility as visitors to preserve the communities in New Orleans and make sure we engage with the city in sustainable ways.