Sunday, July 1, 2007

St. Bernard Parish: New Orleans' Overlooked Neighbor

St. Bernard Parish (County)
Orleans’ Overlooked Neighbor
, La.

June 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

People are drawn to the places they’ve lived. I couldn't imagine returning home to devastation. Still today, sunglasses block eyes, but not tears. For the residents of St. Bernard, many approaching year two in FEMA trailers and frequenting restaurants not quite like they remembered, every day is a struggle for attention.

New Orleans became the crown jewel of KATRINA’s seedy remains and attention. The Big Easy is the high school quarterback in the post-KATRINA competition for love and affection.

It’s made St. Bernard Parish feel like the last kid picked for dodge ball.

Murphy Oil, based in Chalmette, La., failed to properly hurricane-proof one of its massive storage tanks. Twenty-five thousand barrels spilled on the parks, streets and homes of St. Bernard parish. St. Bernard's road to recovery has and will continue to be an uphill battle given its proximity to Orleans Parish.

A friend of mine and fellow AmeriCorpsian, John Haley, is stationed in St. Bernard Parish. He lives in a FEMA trailer. The digs are nice but small. They remind me of a studio in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

John took me on a tour of St. Bernard. Born out of white-flight during segregation, most Chalmettians are white working middle-class citizens. Pre-K population of St. Bernard was 67,000 according to the 200o Census. Locals estimate about 27,000 are there today.

The homes are suburban renditions of the Lower Ninth Ward. Two and 300,000 dollar pre-storm properties sit gutted and vacant block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood.

One high school is open. So is one major grocery store. And one entrepreneurial Domino’s franchise owner operates out of a trailer adjacent to his flooded business. The delivery guys take pizza through a makeshift drive-thru window.

Massive FEMA camps are the new neighborhoods for many Chalmettians.

When a visitor, developer wants to volunteer or help in the gulf-coast they think, “New Orleans, here I come.

It’s only natural.

Overlooking St. Bernard could be fatal for the parish, New Orleans’ neighbor to the east.

Many St. Bernard residents, according to John, are optimistic about their Parish’s future. And in America, the last kid picked for the game usually grows up to be the Doctor of the group.



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