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BARD COLLEGE STUDENTS SPEARHEAD REBUILDING AND EDUCATION PROJECTS IN NEW ORLEANS Student Volunteers Build a Comprehensive Digital Database and GIS Map—Nicknamed “The Bard Map”—For Redevelopment Plan of Broadmoor District and Assist Teachers at McDonogh 35 Senior High School, New Orleans
Jennifer Wai-Lan Huang
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—More than a year after the initial devastation of Hurricane Katrina, political, economic, and structural problems challenge recovery in New Orleans. Stephen Tremaine, a Bard College senior and Trustee Leader Scholar from New Orleans who mobilized more than 130 Bard students for volunteer rebuilding efforts last January, returned to New Orleans and set up two projects: building a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) map of New Orleans’s Broadmoor district, and assisting Philip White, principal of McDonogh 35, one of the first public high schools to reopen in New Orleans after the hurricane. “Chaos is in the city,” says Tremaine. “We wanted to work in a way that was systemic and would have results in the long term.”
In June and July 2006, Tremaine and 30 Bard student volunteers worked each day from 7 a.m. to noon at McDonogh 35 in the Seventh Ward, assisting more than 70 students to prepare for a retest of the Louisiana Graduate Exit Exam. Fifty percent of the New Orleans students tutored by Bard students, including some of the nation’s top high school athletes, passed their summer retest. White wrote to Bard, “Unlike many offers, your assistance was genuine and real. It was not superficial or exploitative, like a number of the offers we have received in this post-Katrina environment.” The Bard students taught classes of 30 to 40 students, without the aid of desks or books, and created their own curriculum, based on previous years’ state exams. “We treated the New Orleans students with respect. Each class turned into a seminar, in which mutual intellectual trust was encouraged,” says Tremaine.
Stabilizing the transitional post-Katrina school system is central to citywide recovery, says Tremaine. “The dangerous position that the New Orleans school system has been placed in—stuck between a devastating lack of resources, the uncertainty of the city’s population, and the complexity of the new system—is one that endangers the longevity and vitality of the communities served,” he says. “If schools fail, community members will not return to a neighborhood, and that neighborhood will in turn lose its tax base and governmental support, leaving it to fall apart to blight. But the risks faced by the school system are frightening most of all because those struggling schools have in their care an invaluable resource and charge: the generation of young people that will inherit a broken New Orleans.”
In addition to working at McDonogh 35, the Bard volunteers spent the two months generating a comprehensive digital database and GIS map of Broadmoor district. “We chose to work with the Broadmoor community because the resources and support we needed to accomplish the GIS map were already in place,” says Tremaine. When Broadmoor’s 2,000-plus homes were slated for demolition unless their viability could be proved, the neighborhood became a beacon for New Orleans community organizing. In March 2006, the Broadmoor Improvement Association (BIA) reached out to Bard College and Plan Ready, a technology and mapping firm in California, to create the GIS map and database. The “Bard map” (as it was nicknamed), the first interactive self-portrait of a neighborhood in New Orleans, has become the backbone of Broadmoor’s redevelopment plans and is likely to affect the whole city’s rebuilding process.
Working each day from noon to 5 p.m., Bard students conducted interviews, took damage reports, collected information, and photographed every one of more than 2,000 buildings and lots in the community. Detailed information about damage and rebuilding needs, structural data for each household, and a profile of ownership and occupancy is attached to every building’s digital image. Planners, community organizers, administrators, government officials, first responders, and businesses can isolate the information provided on the database and GIS map for their specific purposes. For example, first responders can pinpoint exact residential locations of the handicapped and/or elderly during an emergency evacuation; urban planners can isolate patterns of flooding; city officials can mark missing stoplights and stop signs for repair.
Three weeks into Bard’s mapping work, the city released a planning document that made a comprehensive GIS map a mandatory component for all New Orleans community redevelopment plans. BIA and Tremaine produced a downloadable guidebook about GIS mapping for neighborhood associations and community development corporations. “Informational mapping and surveying offer a neighborhood in post-Katrina New Orleans an invaluable resource: a readily available view of the neighborhood that the community can use to follow its recovery, aid its regrowth and plan for the future,” explains the guidebook’s introduction.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks in rebuilding efforts is poor access to centralized information, says Tremaine. During the summer, he worked daily with city administrators to help remedy this problem, setting up a citywide online clearinghouse for post-Katrina housing, services, and demographics information. This semester, Tremaine and several other undergraduates are enrolled in a seminar at Bard, “New Orleans after the Disaster,” which includes a January 2007 practicum with visiting lecturer Kristina Ford, New Orleans director of city planning from 1992 to 2000.
This event was last updated on 01-29-2007