The following is an op-ed by Luisa Dantas, producer and director of Land of Opportunity, an organization based in New Orleans exploring connections between Hurricane Sandy and Katrina.
On the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we were documenting the rebuilding of New Orleans after the storm. We spent about four hot days traipsing around the city with our cinematographer, Michael Boedigheimer, filming events that showed how contested the rebuilding of the city had already become.
A media tour of the Superdome advanced the City (and tourism industry’s) narrative: We’re back! But Michael surreptitiously captured another reality – the undocumented workers, from Brazil and other parts of Latin America, who were working long, underpaid or unpaid hours to rebuild the Dome in time for football season. In the Lower 9th Ward, Mayor Ray Nagin promised to rebuild all neighborhoods (“We’re going to rebuild every corner of this city”), but urban planners and experts were already debating whether this was feasible. In Congo Square, community groups led by the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund came out it full force to assert the Right to Return for thousands of displaced New Orleanians, many working class and black. Needless to say, this event was not on the calendar of “official” anniversary events.
In the media frenzy around the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, we’ve seen a similar struggle over the narrative of recovery. Mayors and governors present evidence of recovery, while those in the most vulnerable communities are telling different stories.
As we experienced after Katrina, once the anniversary passes, national attention will likely die down, and the day-to-day struggles to equitably rebuild communities will continue for years to come.
In making our documentary film, Land of Opportunity, we sought to provide a much more nuanced and layered story of the rebuilding of New Orleans.
Once the film was completed in 2011, rather than moving on to another story, we moved on to finding new ways of making media that supports the equitable and just (re)building of communities–from post-Katrina New Orleans to post-Sandy New York–and beyond. We’re just a couple of weeks away from launching a Beta interactive web platform where stories of disaster recovery, community (re)development, and urban equity live together in one collaborative interactive space online.
Today, we’re excited to share the trailer for the LandofOpportunity interactive platform.
This innovative experiment in storytelling will explore themes of community (re)development in the face of crisis: Devastation/Rebuilding, Displacement/Home, Exclusion/Engagement, and how they play out across time, place, and community. In one narrative space, you’ll find videos, articles, data and user comments about gentrification in Brooklyn; public housing in Chicago; the BP oil disaster along the Gulf Coast; and more. The platform also features a prototype of an interactive timeline that brings together stories of people who survived Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, and juxtaposes those stories at key moments: the storm, aftermath, recovery, and future. We’ve partnered with SandyStoryline and fellow filmmakers in New York and New Orleans to pair and compare these stories.
Our hope is that by creating an interactive storytelling space where communities can connect and draw lessons across post-disaster contexts (and other rebuilding challenges), we’ll be making media that goes beyond anniversary soundbites to support ongoing community rebuilding efforts.
Read more about recovery in the city in the the Untapped Cities Urbanist’s Guide to the New Orleans.
All photos via Land of Opportunity.