New Orleans' Do-It-Yourself Recovery
ALEX COHEN, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
I'm Madeleine Brand.
Nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans neighborhoods are still missing some of the basics, even street signs. As many as 27,000 signs were either damaged during the storm or stolen during the recovery. As with a lot of problems in New Orleans, the government has been slow to act. So some residents are taking it upon themselves to replace the street signs.
Eve Abrams reports from New Orleans.
EVE ABRAMS: Driving around New Orleans you sometimes have to rely on memory as to where certain streets are located. Occasionally, you get lucky and you come across a handmade sign nailed on a telephone pole or a tree.
Ms. KATHLEEN KRAFT: There's North Rampart. It's a little yellow sign with orange edges and a purple North Rampart written on it.
ABRAMS: Kathleen Kraft(ph) steers her pickup truck through the Holy Cross neighborhood of New Orleans. She is one of the people who decided to paint her own street signs.
Ms. KRAFT: I wanted it to be cheerful because it's pretty darn ugly back here right now. One night some other people made signs, too. They weren't there before. Oh, here we have Jordan Avenue.
ABRAMS: Kraft lives in the Lower Ninth Ward and returned home a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina. She used leftover house paint and scraps of wood to hang street signs in her neighborhood.
Ms. KRAFT: I put them up because all of the FEMA people and the Road Home inspectors could never find it. They would just call and I'd have to explain to them how to get there by, like, their visuals. I figured I should put up some signs at least to my house and my friends' houses so we could take care of our business.
ABRAMS: Some of Kathleen's sign have faded but they're still up. As New Orleans officials grapple with much bigger problems in the rebuilding, residents are making their neighborhoods more livable. Kathleen's do-it-yourself-if-you-want-to-get-done attitude is typical in the city.
City Park is a sprawling 1,300 acre former plantation that is home to one of the largest collections of mature live oak trees in the world. The road leading up to the New Orleans Museum of Art was once lined with these trees, but the hurricane's flooding brought up to eight feet of salty, toxic waters onto the grounds. So these days, a small group of New Orleanians gathers at the park entrance every Saturday morning with their push mowers and their weed whackers.
Merry Antoon is one of the group's organizers.
Ms. MERRY ANTOON (Fundraising Coordinator, Mow-Rons): When we really first started, it was like seriously going in there and chopping down sometimes five feet of grass and brush. And under that, of course, is debris and trash. Now, it's like just kind of trying to keep it beautiful, and before it was like we were pioneers.
ABRAMS: These pioneers call themselves the Mow-Rons. Merry's husband Trey(ph) Antoon says the name fits.
Mr. TREY(PH) ANTOON (Husband of Merry Antoon): When you're cutting 1,300 acres with a push mower, you don't feel too smart. That's why we're mow-rons.
ABRAMS: The Mow-Rons slogan - weeding by example - makes their intentions plain: to get other people to help care for the city. The hurricane cost $43 million in park damage, decimated maintenance equipment and forced park officials to layoff 90 percent of their staff.
Merry Antoon says it's hard to imagine folks in another American city getting together each week to mow the lawn of their premiere public park. But here in New Orleans that's what it takes.
Ms. ANTOON: As someone who had a flooded home and who was dealing with sort of chaos at the house, you know, you want your public face to be beautiful at least. That sounds, like, really lofty but that's exactly what it is.
ABRAMS: It's not just that the residents of post-Katrina New Orleans are tired of waiting, it's that they can't wait. They're helping each other get mail and telephone services restored. And they're gutting and repairing each other's homes.
Taking up the slack for the government slow pace in simple, everyday ways is part of living in the new New Orleans.
For NPR News, I'm Eve Abrams in New Orleans.
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