A chronicle of my first trip to the remarkable and resilient City of New Orleans

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Boarded up, unlivable homes speckle a community that once was home to approximately 15,000 residents who lived in orderly rows of charming single-family homes.  The devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina was astounding.  Some sections of the Lower Ninth Ward, in particular, sat under 15 ft of water when breaches in the levees of at least four canals caused massive flooding that lasted for several weeks forcing residents to evacuate their homes and relocate to surrounding regions.  As of the 2010 Census, only 2,842 people have returned to the Lower Ninth Ward – that’s only 20% of the population that had once called the area home prior to Katrina.

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While some residents have returned to the Lower Ninth Ward and rebuilt their homes, many homes still remain vacant, giving crime, poverty, and corruption a stronghold in this community.  Here, an abandoned, boarded-up home sits in the middle of two homes that have been rebuilt by returning residents.

Many local groups, including Global Green USA, are working hard to rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward in an environmentally conscious and sustainable manner that also focuses on local economic growth.  As part of its Holy Cross Project, Global Green has designed five single-family homes, an 18-unit apartment building, and a community development and climate action center that serve as an incredible catalyst to influence and educate homeowners, developers, policy makers, media and the public at large.

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Following Hurricane Katrina, these markings made by search and rescue teams are still quite prolific in the Lower Ninth Ward today thus holding the loss and devastation close to the hearts of those who have since returned to the neighborhood.  The spray painted graphic with alphanumeric markings decorates the outside walls of local homes, schools, businesses, and places of worship, and welcomes both visitors and residents alike with the stigmata of immense loss and unexpected death.  In reality, the markings can be deciphered as follows: A single slash indicates search operations currently in progress. A crossing slash indicates personnel exits from the structure.  Distinct markings are made inside the four quadrants to indicate time and date searched, search and rescue team identifier, personal hazards, and the numbers of dead victims (human or animal) that remain in the structure.

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This corner establishment advertises itself as a super market, but it is really just one of two venues (unfortunately liquor stores) that sells "fresh" produce for the families that have returned to the Lower Ninth Ward.  In reality, residents of the Lower Ninth Ward have to travel more than 3 miles into St. Bernard Parish to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables at the Wal-Mart in Chalmette.

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The most heartwarming part of our tour of the Lower Ninth Ward was seeing that children are extremely resilient.  Childhood games continue in neighborhood streets where laughter and play permeate the air to add comfort to this physically shattered area.

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These homes were built as part of Phase I of Global Green's Holy Cross Project. Completed in 2010, Phase 1 has been heralded by the local community and Global Green’s partners. Global Green’s objective for Phase I was to bring back residents who had emigrated to surrounding neighborhoods and regions following the devastation that Hurricane Katrina left behind, and helping to restore the City’s historic vibrancy and strength.  With these five LEED Platinum single family residences now complete, Global Green is giving returning families the opportunity for home ownership in residences that not only provide a healthy and sustainable environment, but that also are economically beneficial for each family.

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Global Green recently broke ground on Phase II of the Holy Cross Project following years of red tape from local and city government. The journey has been full of obstacles, and learning opportunities, all of which have positively influenced green building and green affordable housing in the Lower Ninth Ward and throughout New Orleans. Thanks to Global Green’s leading edge efforts, the cost of green building has been significantly reduced.

Once complete, Phase II will be the centerpiece of the Holy Cross Project and will anchor Global Green’s ongoing presence in New Orleans.  The Community Development and Climate Action Center will advance the green rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, making sustainable development the new standard for the region. The Center will also help export knowledge to other cities—especially those in endangered coastal areas or otherwise threatened directly by climate change—to create a unified front on the adaptation to and mitigation of the dangers of climate change.  Locally, the Center will create new jobs, provide job training, incubate small business, and provide ongoing outreach and education on green building and renewable clean energy to daily visitors.

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The massive flooding of the Lower Ninth Ward following Hurricane Katrina was caused by significant breaches in the levees of at least four canals.  Pictured here is one of the canals that flooded the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower Ninth Ward causing it to remain under 3-5 feet of standing water for weeks.  To help mitigate future flooding, Global Green USA is working on coastal and wetlands restoration efforts.  Its wetlands outreach extends along the entire coastal zone of Louisiana and involves government officials in order to incorporate a policy component (including carbon offsets) in restoration projects.  These efforts also engage and empower as many wetland owners as possible to connect them with project developers to launch carbon offset projects that will reverse wetland degradation and create a more resilient coastal Louisiana.

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New Orleans as a whole, has a complex relationship with water, and recent weather events (including the Hurricane Issac) have made it clear that we must dramatically revamp our water paradigm. Locally, Global Green USA continues to play a key role in nurturing and supporting sustainable water practices through its Holy Cross Project as well as through its involvement in local and regional groups promoting sound water efficiency and management.

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The Global Green USA team is working really hard to transform the Lower Ninth Ward, an area where residents are still living the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina.  You'd think that local, state and federal government (with all the money that was poured into the area) would have much more to show, but unfortunately, it takes citizen entrepreneurs like us to really make an impact on the lives of those most in need.