Throughout my internship I’ve had multiple experiences that have been culturally enriching. One in specific comes to mind that gave me insight. I was in the Lower Ninth Ward with a colleague and we were walking around talking to people in the neighborhood. We wanted to get an idea of what was already going on in the area, whether we needed to start a project there, and whether people would be receptive to our work.
We talked to a handful of people, but one person who really stood out was a man named John. He was sitting in his truck and we struck up a conversation with him. We asked him our regular questions about community gardens and farming in the area, but he also asked us some questions that put things in perspective. He wanted to know where we were from, what exactly we were doing, and made some interesting comments about the area.
John highlighted an issue that is constantly on my mind with community redevelopment projects: the perception of the community of outsiders coming in to fix their problems. It is a difficult and sensitive topic, one that I have yet come to terms with and would like to discuss further. It’s often an issue of contention, but varies of course by neighborhood. The residents of the Lower Ninth seemed open to community projects, but skeptical all the same.
One comment that John made really stood out to me. We were talking about the houses in the area, “Brad Pitt Homes” (Make It Right Foundation). He pointed out one house down the street and noted that it didn’t have a covering over the front porch. He was perplexed as to why anyone would ever build an incomplete front porch. To him, the covered front porch that typifies New Orleans homes is a dear and essential part of life. It is particularities of areas like this that outsiders can have trouble grasping. Organizations must be intentional about getting community opinion and feedback.