The NOLA 25
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These Ingenious Middle Schoolers Used Advanced Technology To Help A Little Penguin Saving penguins between P.E. and band practice like it’s no big deal
The NOLA 25
Check out these short profiles of 25 of our favorite people, businesses, and organizations working in New Orleans right now. We apologize to everyone we couldn’t fit. Keep up the good work.
Click "Next" to check out the NOLA 25.
Larry Sass's prefab shotgun homes are simple--but not at the expense of history.
Larry Sass, an assistant professor at the MIT Design Laboratory, is redefining the phrase "some assembly required." His yourHOUSE project is working to develop prefab shotgun houses consisting of geometrical interlocking parts made from recycled plywood that can be put together with just a rubber mallet. With this simplified assembly process, houses could be constructed by as few as two people (and they won't have to worry about losing tiny screws or other parts). Sass toured New Orleans for inspiration back in 2007 and made sure to incorporate and elaborate on the ornate designs he found throughout the Crescent City, giving each home a historic touch. Thanks to their modular design, these kits could be mass-produced very cheaply if there's sufficient demand. That might mean the end of the unsightly FEMA trailer.
Celebrating famous cuisine by turning food lovers into food growers.
New Orleans has long been linked to regional cuisine standouts like jambalaya, gumbo, and beignets, yet the city has a rich history not just of cooking food but of growing it--though that history is often forgotten in the world of supermarkets, specialty groceries, and imported strawberries. The New Orleans Food and Farm Network, a food-policy advocacy group that helps connect the city with fresh local produce, is working to keep that heritage alive with programs that strengthen the area's community of urban growers. Among its many other efforts, NOFFN advocates for better access to healthy food, and has recently been working together with Second Harvest Food Bank to help provide food to families directly affected by May's tragic BP oil spill.
Reinventing a neighborhood while preserving its character.
Historic Green brings together preservation and sustainability, adding in a healthy dose of volunteerism. The goal is to rebuild the historic Holy Cross neighborhood in the flood-devastated Lower Ninth Ward using the most advanced green building-and-design practices, while respecting the rich history and heritage of the place. On top of the organization's year-round efforts--which include energy-efficient restorations, clean-energy generation, and long-term planning for walkable neighborhoods and mass-transit connections--for two weeks every March, hundreds of volunteers descend on Holy Cross to help with special "Spring Greening" projects that have served to continue the neighborhood's rebirth. Organizers call it "sustainable preservation": creating the world's first carbon-neutral community and re-creating the unique character of a neighborhood that has evolved over generations.
Making sure people return to their homes
The teacher Liz McCartney and the attorney Zack Rosenberg moved to New Orleans from Washington, D.C., in early 2006 for what they describe as "an unconventional vacation." Once they got there, they knew they wouldn't be returning to the capital. "We couldn't just leave and say, 'Goodbye, good luck with that,'" says Rosenberg. "We moved down three months later." They landed in the working-class parish of St. Bernard and quickly became frustrated with the status quo--a disaster-relief model that focused more on process than results. So they founded the St. Bernard Project, which focuses on one success metric: the number of residents who return to their homes. Four years later, the organization has worked with more than 20,000 volunteers to rebuild the homes of more than 270 families. Their newest endeavor, Good Work, Good Pay, hires unemployed veterans and other out-of-work locals to build affordable housing. "We believe that these problems are solvable," says Rosenberg. "I hope other people can see that too."
Rediscovering New Orleans's riverside roots.
Sean Cummings is reinventing New Orleans through real estate, combining an entrepreneurial spirit with an abiding social conscience and a love for design. As the president of Ekistics, he was behind International House, a popular boutique hotel, and introduced SoHo-style lofts made from industrial spaces into the city's historic architectural vernacular. More recently, he created Entrepreneur's Row, a shared workspace that houses several of the city's promising startups. But his Reinventing the Crescent project is by far the most ambitious. Cummings has assembled an all-star team of architects and planners to transform six miles of prime Mississippi riverfront on which the original city was settled into new residential neighborhoods. The plan will reintroduce New Orleans to its historic birthplace and, in so doing, help Cummings beloved hometown find its future.
New Orleans's newest musical accomplishment
Like Creole, Cajun cuisine, and Mardi Gras, "bounce" music--a form of hip-hop characterized by call-and-response lyrics--has the essence of New Orleans in it. The first professionally produced bounce track, MC T.Tucker and DJ Irv's "Where Dey At," hit the radio all the way back in 1991, but until recently remained in the cultish fringes of the genre. A new media fascination with "sissy bounce"--a sub-subgenre performed by androgynous or transgender rappers--has bubbled up. Thanks to that, and the critical buzz surrounding the multimedia exhibition Where They At?, an homage to the music's pioneers at New Orleans's Ogden Museum of Southern Art, bounce may finally see its impact spread far beyond the 504 area code.
-Rebecca McQuigg Rigal
New Orleans businesses keep it real
The charm of New Orleans, says Dana Eness, the executive director of the Urban Conservancy, is in its informal economy: "In discovering the places that don't necessarily keep regular business hours or have a big sign." To encourage this state of affairs, since 2003, Eness and the Urban Conservancy project StayLocal! New Orleans have been working to promote and protect the city's homegrown businesses. StayLocal! maintains an online directory of more than 2,000 local operations, helps them pool resources to buy print ads or TV and radio airtime, and educates the public about their importance. And after Katrina, she says, the value of their work became more important than ever. "Local businesses were back before the infrastructure," says Eness. "Before the lights came on." And now that the city is beginning to rebound, it's up to StayLocal! to make sure they stay that way.
Bringing new meaning to factory farms
In a city long celebrated for its distinctive cuisine, it has taken some time for local and sustainable foods to catch on in shops. Jack and Jake's, a supermarket operating in a restored turn-of-the-century chewing-gum factory, plans to sell foods that have been grown within a 65-mile radius of the city and within three days of harvest, noting on computerized in-store displays their food miles and environmental costs. The first of several planned shops, the store will also offer local charcuterie from a Cochon Butcher concession and American farmstead cheeses from the St. James Cheese Company, and will serve as a pickup point for fish and community-supported agriculture farms. Says owner John Burns, a New Orleans native who spent 20 years as a restoration ecologist before embarking on this project, "We can take one hell of a foodie town and help it become a national example of how to hang on to culinary history and become a more healthy community."
Affordable health care for the city's music scene.
The nonprofit New Orleans Musicians' Clinic is dedicated to promoting the health of local music--literally. Since 1998, the clinic has doled out free or low-cost health care to the Crescent City's musical masses (and their families) who are contributing to the city's musical economy but aren't getting health insurance in return. The dedicated staff of nurse practitioners and volunteer doctors provides basic care and access to musicians on a sliding scale. Play the tuba and need knee surgery? NOMC's got you covered. The clinicians also provides musicians with basic health knowledge about early detection, prevention, and treatment of various diseases. Next time you wander into a tiny New Orleans club and get swept up by the local sound, you can thank the band, and also the benefactors in white smocks up on Napoleon Avenue.
Enticing new media to put down roots
Drawing new businesses to New Orleans is key to revitalizing the economy. Establishing high-tech companies there will only help the economy continue to grow. To that end, following 2002's Motion Picture Tax Incentive Act (which gives tax breaks to movies shooting in the state), Louisiana last year passed the Digital Media Act to help attract companies working on software and mobile and video-gaming applications. The legislation provides digital-media companies with a 35 percent tax credit on labor expenditures and a 25 percent credit on digital media expenditures made in the state--the most robust credits of their kind in the country. Best of all, the credits are marketable and transferable within the state.
Modern art, New Orleans-style.
Kirsha Kaechele was raised in Guam and has traveled to more than 50 countries in what she calls "a hands-on investigation of the idea that life designs itself." It took a row of abandoned cottages in New Orleans to get her to plant her feet. Here --at her KK Projects exhibition space-- she invites contemporary artists to work within the chaotic context of a ruined neighborhood, creating site-specific art that transcends the traditional white-box museum. Past projects have included a John Lennon-inspired bed-in and a discourse on New Orleans's sugar-farming history in a sugarcane maze. Her most recent project, the Eiffel Society, combines art, biodynamic farming, and communal living in a building that was constructed in 1986 from a steel skeleton of pieces removed, like Adam's rib, from the Paris landmark and shipped to New Orleans.
Ending a culture of consumption
In our culture of convenience, replacing something broken with something new is usually the easiest option--if not the most economically or environmentally sound one. But what if reusing became too irresistible to pass up? That's the thinking behind New Orleans's new ReUse District, a collective of more than 20 existing businesses and nonprofit organizations in the city's Seventh Ward, Bywater, Marigny, St. Claude, and St. Roch neighborhoods. They've joined together to show people how they can reuse things and support the local economy to boot. According to Beth Stelson, the marketing and outreach coordinator for the Green Project, which spearheaded the program by selling salvaged building materials, "For whatever reason, with its auto-repair shops, thrift centers, and even an urban farm constructed out of reclaimed materials, this has always been a reuse district."
Building houses, without the limelight
The Brad Pitt-backed Global Green may have received more press and employed fancier architects, but Project Home Again has quietly constructed about 45 homes in New Orleans's Gentilly neighborhood--with another 55 on the way. A nonprofit development group created by Barnes & Noble's chairman of the board, Leonard Riggio, and his wife, Louise (who have donated $20 million to the effort), Project Home Again has, since Katrina, focused on providing durable, affordable, energy-efficient houses for families who lost theirs during the storm. Says Carey Shea, a PHA project manager, "With the new housing, dozens of new trees, landscaping, sidewalks, and the cleanup of blighted lots, we see the neighborhood becoming a really wonderful place to live again."
- Allison Arieff
Investing in recovery, one neighborhood at a time.
"New Orleans is a prophetic city," Mary Rowe likes to say. Rowe believes New Orleanians's spontaneous post-Katrina self-organization will provide a lesson in disaster recovery for the world. For two years following the storm, as an urban fellow with the resource-management-focused Blue Moon Fund, Rowe identified nonprofit organizations worthy of investment. She later moved to the city permanently, and created the New Orleans Institute to foster the resilience and innovation of its citizens. The institute encourages different nonprofit organizations to share success stories, while finding ways for people and organizations to form coalitions and collaborate to further their goals. Meanwhile, Rowe has advocated, to any donor willing to listen, for giving on a micro level to local recovery efforts--trusting that citizens have the potential to transform their own neighborhoods. Ultimately, her intuition for successful foundation giving has led to the growth of many high-impact nonprofit organizations in the city. To any supporter of New Orleans's renewal, Rowe's work itself has been nothing less than prophetic.
Salvaging the city's heritage
Inside a blighted, 100-year-old craftsman cottage in New Orleans's Broadmoor neighborhood, Rebuilding Together's team carefully removes a built-in cabinet that still shows a faint water line from the flood. Later, the crew will shore up a wall before taking out some custom casement windows. These and other architectural materials will later be sold at the Rebuilding Together's salvage store. Founded in 2009, the deconstruction-and-salvage program provides material for use in the highly regulated rebuilds of historic New Orleans housing. An alternative to traditional demolition, Rebuilding Together has kept 500 cubic yards of solid waste, salvaged from more than 126 New Orleans homes, out of landfills, and at the same time helps perpetuate the historic beauty of New Orleans homes.
Four companies shaping the future of New Orleans.
New Orleans will be rebuilt on the backs of small, locally owned businesses. Here are four that are paving the way.
The Icehouse Need a creativity-fueling communal workspace for your company? The Icehouse's "entrepreneurial ecosystem" is a community in a renovated warehouse that allows different fledgling businesses to interact with one another on a daily basis, fostering great ideas.
The Idea Village Identifying, supporting, and, maybe most important, retaining entrepreneurial ventures in (and for the benefit of) New Orleans, this nonprofit organization provides networking opportunities and other initiatives for entrepreneurs, professionals, and investors in order to bring ideas to fruition. Its mantra--"trust your crazy ideas"--proclaims its willingness to support innovation.
Naked Pizza This pizzeria strips one of America's favorite foods to its bare essentials, and uses it as a mechanism to promote healthy eating. The eventual goal is not only to expand as a food company--though it does want to be as big as Domino's, but with a high-quality product--but also as a grassroots health organization that gets people to rethink their consumption habits.
Trumpet Specializing in building and rebuilding brands, this creative marketing and advertising agency's campaigns for everything from the New Orleans Hornets basketball team to the New Orleans Police Department have played a crucial role in reviving civic pride--proving that advertising can not only reflect public tastes, but also shape public consciousness.
The city's story, in its own voice.
There exists a long tradition of writers obsessing over the "authenticity" of New Orleans, consumed with the task of accurately representing the city and its people--especially its unique black community. (David Simon's detail-laden HBO series Treme is only the latest example.) But if you want stories from the "real" New Orleans, why not cut out those earnest middlemen and read the words of the ordinary (and not-so-ordinary) people who make the city so special? That's the idea behind the Neighborhood Story Project, a nonprofit publisher whose roster of authors includes corner-store owners, high-school students, street-parade organizers, and public-housing residents. Part community center, part boutique imprint, the NSP was founded six years ago by Abram Shalom Himelstein and Rachel Breunlin. "When people talk about authenticity, it's about whether justice has been done to the subject," says Himelstein. "Our subjects are collaborators, so media justice is the business we're in."
Modern art to modernize the city
After Katrina, a New York-based curator named Dan Cameron wanted to help New Orleans. As a specialist in the art-world phenomenon of biennial exhibitions (he ran them in Istanbul and Taipei), he was uniquely suited to bring an edgy art happening to a town that can tend to rely more on tourist traps than contemporary art to draw visitors. From November, 2008, through January, 2009, Prospect.1 brought 42,000 people to its citywide collection of critically acclaimed exhibits from 80 international artists, generating an estimated $23 million for the city. Due to fund-raising difficulties, Prospect.2 has been postponed until November, 2011, but stay tuned--Cameron is organizing a showcase of local artists from November through January called Prospect.1.5.
John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces is often considered the sine qua non of New Orleans literature. Here are six writers who have more recently captured the essence of the city's life.
Dan Baum Frustrated by the media's emphasis on disaster, which overshadowed New Orleans's great culture, history, and people, this former New Yorker staff writer sought a way to represent the human aspect of NOLA. So he chronicled the stories of nine residents in the book Nine Lives, a celebration of the city's inhabitants and a testament to its rich heritage.
Will Coviello He heads the arts and entertainment section at Gambit, an alternative weekly publication based in New Orleans. As a blogger, he covers festivals, concerts, theatrical productions, and other cultural happenings about town.
Dave Eggers His 2009 book Zeitoun follows the real-life Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian Muslim immigrant--a minority often ignored in the popular conception of the New Orleanian. Zeitoun, who used a canoe after Katrina to aid displaced neighbors, was accused of terrorism and jailed without trial after the hurricane. But while his story paints a disturbing picture of American force police run amok, Zeitoun himself continues to work in New Orleans, willing to simply rebuild, and move on.
Lolis Eric Elie The writer and co-director (above) of Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, a 2008 documentary about one of America's most historic black neighborhoods, currently writes for HBO's acclaimed TV series Treme, alongside the David Simon-led team that made The Wire.
Tom Piazza This longtime resident and accomplished author loves his city. His book Why New Orleans Matters is a treatise on the culture and tradition of a city discounted by most of the world after the 2005 disaster. It asks readers at large to consider the contributions of the city, and warns, "If it dies, something precious and profound will go out of the world forever."
Chris Rose The former Times-Picayune columnist has written extensively on his experiences living in the ruins of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. His book, 1 Dead in Attic, chronicles not only the city's attempt to achieve a state of normalcy, but his own depression after living against the backdrop of catastrophe.
A trumpet on his lips, the future of New Orleans jazz on his shoulders.
The first song Irvin Mayfield learned to play on the trumpet as a kid growing up in New Orleans was "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," a traditional hymn taught to him by his postal-worker father, himself an amateur trumpeter. Several months after Katrina, with his father still among the missing, Mayfield--by then a trumpet virtuoso, composer, bandleader, and passionate cultural ambassador for his hometown--took the stage at New York's Lincoln Center and played that hymn as a dirge of solitary mourning, with a soaring finish suggesting hopeful possibilities yet to come, befitting a young man already carrying much of New Orleans's jazz future on his shoulders. Today, the 32-year-old Mayfield's resume is already a long, brilliant riff: founder of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute, the first artistic director of jazz for the Minnesota Orchestra, chairman of the New Orleans Public Library board, member of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. His latest composition: "The Elysian Fields Jazz Suite," named after the street where his father's body was found just days after the Lincoln Center concert.
A fur hat to save the wetlands.
Righteous Fur is determined to save the Louisiana wetlands, one jaunty fur cap at a time. "Assemblage artist" Cree McCree won a grant last year from the state's Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to launch a line of garments made from the fur of the nutria, a semi-aquatic rodent and the scourge of the Louisiana wetlands. The state placed a four-dollar-a-head bounty on these nonnative marsh chompers back in 2002, but the critters continued to digest tens of thousands of precious acres annually--further endangering the state to hurricanes and, McCree points out, the damage from oil spills. "It's my job to get these nutria out of Louisiana," she says. "But we should honor them by wearing their pelts." McCree's next marketing stop: New York, where she'll stage Nutria-Palooza!, a multimedia fashion and art event at that city's Fashion Week in September.
A people's history of New Orleans
Visit the website for the I-10 Witness Project and you'll see the face of a New Orleans resident and hear a recording of her voice, telling her story. Refresh the page and a new face will appear, and a new voice. The project, which is made possible by community partners like the artists' collective Mondo Bizarro and the Xavier University Communications Department, interviews residents about their personal experiences during Katrina and broadcasts their stories. These narratives make up an oral and visual history of the city, giving voice to everyone from high school students to retirees. Since Katrina, the term "New Orleanian" has been associated with many things: survivor, refugee, evacuee. The I-10 Witness Project lets each narrator claim his or her story and make it public.
Getting power from the river's flow
For nearly a century, the Army Corps of Engineers has been trying to tame the flood-prone Mississippi River with levees, deep channels, and new drainage paths. While the resulting network of controlled, concentrated flows hasn't always prevented disaster, it could be ideal for creating clean energy. A company called Free Flow Power wants to try, which is why it has a plan to install 19,000 turbines in the Mississippi's deep channels and bends between St. James Parish, Louisiana, and the mouth of the river, to be driven by the water's flow. If the permits and environmental studies work out, the Mississippi's legendary power could be harnessed to provide clean electricity to as many as 150,000 homes in the area by 2013.
Six organizations are empowering local kids and turning the city into a rich place to grow up in.
KidsWalk Coalition New Orleans has a notoriously rich diet, so the nonprofit organization in the KidsWalk Coalition champion play space to reduce obesity rates among local kids, bicycle lanes, navigable roads, and incentives for grocery stores to stock healthy food.
Ninth Ward Field of Dreams Brick by donated brick, George Washington Carver High School is raising $1.85 million to build an innovative, multipurpose stadium to replace the one the community lost when Katrina hit.
Operation REACH The classroom doesn't always cut it. With that in mind, Operation REACH makes educational success for underprivileged students a community project, even involving the students themselves. REACH's youth-led programs reinforce learning after class is dismissed.
RUBARB Bikes After Katrina, when piles of rusted bikes were growing, this group repurposed them for use by New Orleanians. Its earn-a-bike program lets kids who complete a four-step series on basic bike building and maintenance ride off with one of their own for free.
Samuel J. Green Charter School At the heart of this campus--which was unserendipitously reopened as a charter school a week before the levees broke--lies a one-third-acre organic garden where the curriculum includes gardening and cooking lessons in regional cuisine. Last year's harvest weighed in at 2,900 pounds, and test scores are growing, too.
YA/YA On international field trips, the fledgling artists in this after-school program work with established artists to serve as cultural ambassadors of the New Orleans art scene. Ninety-eight percent of students who join YA/YA graduate from high school.
Crowd-sourcing satellite imagery of the oil spill
Grassroots Mapping, founded in January of this year by Jeffrey Warren of the MIT Media Lab's Center for Future Civic Media, is producing imagery of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that is created by volunteers and released into the public domain. By using balloons and kites equipped with inexpensive digital cameras and geo-referencing technology, such "community satellites" are able to create maps with a resolution that is 100 times higher than what is available on Google. These maps could be critical in the environmental battle and litigation proceedings sure to come in the next few years. Orientation sessions are being offered in New Orleans to teach more community members how to mount their own balloons, and a DIY wiki is available on the organization's website.