Thursday, April 12, 2007
Newcomers who are changing New Orleans
Editor's note: Susan Roesgen is a CNN correspondent based in New Orleans. She has more than a decade of experience covering New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

I'm tired. This town is tired. Tired of waiting. Tired of the run around from the insurance guy, the FEMA guy, the Small Business Administration guy, pick your guy. We're too worn out to be fed up. It's like, whatever.

The people who keep track of things like worn out New Orleanians did a survey. They found that about half the people who've made it this far after the hurricane are seriously considering throwing in the towel. The big indignities -- like crime -- and the little indignities -- like the hole in the street that won't ever get fixed -- are just too much. We survived the hurricane because we said we'd never leave New Orleans, but honestly, other cities are starting to look pretty darn good.

Lucky for us, reinforcements have arrived. Bright, well-educated, and eager. We could hate them if we had the strength. Instead, we're glad to see their new ideas and new energy, and they say they're here to stay. Here are a few:

  • Pastor Ray Cannata from New Jersey. He turned down a cushy job in San Diego to take over a Presbyterian church that was down to just 15 members after the storm. Ray's real world philosophy -- "God is messy; a Christian's job is to go where the pain is" -- and his real world work ethic -- the church has gutted more than two hundred houses -- is winning new converts. The congregation is at a hundred now, and growing.

  • John Alford, whiz kid from New York. Harvard MBA grad. Where is he today? Trying to hire teachers to reopen a flooded New Orleans school. He fell in love with the city's jazz and food, but says the schools here are "a horror." His goal is to start with one fifth-grade class to help spur a new wave of smart kids in what's left of one of the shabbiest school districts in the nation.

  • Sherrita Bishop. Criminology degree from the University of New Mexico. Did the tourist thing in New Orleans a month before the hurricane, then waited for the water to go down so she could come back and strap on a gun. She's one of the first 30 new police recruits since the storm. Why? "I don't know why," she says. "I just found a niche. I want to do what I can to help people."
Who are these misty-eyed idealists? Locals call them the new "vanguard." Tim Williamson, a New Orleans native, founded a company that matches investors to budding entrepreneurs. He says the newcomers will change the city.

"They believe that New Orleans is one of the greatest challenges in their lifetimes. How could they sit back and go to New York, Boston, Atlanta, when they have this grand opportunity in New Orleans?" he says.

Their "grand opportunity" may be the city's salvation.
Posted By Susan Roesgen, CNN Correspondent: 4:46 PM ET
  22 Comments
Bravo for the vanguard. What happened to New Orleans is a travesty. The federal government deserves a grade F for its complete lack of effort to prevent such a disaster and for its failure to try and set things right after the disaster. It is the entire reason we have a federal government. George W. Bush didn't enen mention New Orleans in his state of the union speech. I think I am going to throw up.
Posted By Anonymous Michael Archuleta Austin, Texas : 5:13 PM ET
Came back a month after the storm & worked my ass off. I can't take it any more & plan to move asap to Mccomb. Between the politicians and the conditions it's intolerable. This situation couldn't occur say in a civilized country like Canada or jeez even Tunisa.
Posted By Anonymous jeff, nola : 5:16 PM ET
The stories are great. I wish I was one of them, but after taking a position with a local CPA firm and living near City Park for 2 months, I decided it was too much and moved back to Houston.

I grew up in New Orleans and will always love it, but the housing costs and conditions are prohibitive. Rats that came in with the water are now enjoying a popolation boom due to the thousands of abandoned properties. When a landlord does rehab a building, he has to deal with rats and crime enabled by the surrounding area.
Posted By Anonymous Bill Walker, Houston Texas : 5:21 PM ET
I am a physician born and raised in Philadelphia, PA and now living in New Orleans. My wife (a dentist) have lived here for four years. We actively chose to stay in this beautiful city after Katrina with our three children.

Every place in America has it's particular challenges. This place is no different. But things are looking up. We have hired 4 physician colleagues from out of state in the last six months. People do see opportunities down here. And a beautiful way of life.

Come and interview us sometime. We'll tell you why we life in New Orleans, and why we're choosing to stay.
Posted By Anonymous Bob Etemad, New Orleans, LA : 5:21 PM ET
I am in New Orleans for 3 months working on a project. I was supposed to move here Aug. 30, 2005 but was kept in Chicago by the hurricane and levee breaks. Some days here it is heartbreaking, some days it is uplifting. But more than anything, just being here is important. I can't tell you how many New Orleanians show the fatigue Susan mentioned and express gratitude for all of the people - especially the volunteers working directly on rebuilding - who are here. This city is a national treasure and I for one am so happy to be here right now. And for those who are thinking about coming down to volunteer, to visit, to live, the national media has completely distorted the crime situation. Don't believe everything you see and read. I am a female on my own here and don't feel any more in danger than I do in Chicago. It's all about common sense. It's no more dangerous here than it was before the storm - and especially not in the French Quarter. There are police everywhere!!
Posted By Anonymous Ellen Middlebrook Herron, New Orleans by way of Chicago, IL : 5:21 PM ET
Awesome post! I was fortunate enough to obtain an undergraduate education from Loyola University New Orleans and was even more fortunate to escape the tragedy of Hurricant Katrina. However, I'm about to finish my law school education in Houston, but am postively elated at taking the Louisiana Bar and returning to the city that gave me such a strong foundation. I hope that many more will continue to come to NOLA and I can't wait to see the positive turnaround of my favorite city.
Posted By Anonymous Elizabeth, Houston, Texas : 5:26 PM ET
Susan/AC360:

Hang in there!

I have returned as a volunteer for the recovery process in New Orleans three times and have falling in love with the city. The resiliency of the residents is amazing and is a testament to the ability of New Orleans to rebuild and to once again thrive.

For those of us living far beyond New Orleans, it is easy to forget that the Gulf coast is still in survivor mode. As volunteers, we have seen the residents' nerves shot, patience depleted, and frustration beyond what is humanly possible.

The surge of volunteers during spring break was wonderful, but volunteers are still needed in full force. We have been told tens of thousands of homes still need to be rehabilitated. As volunteers, we take on one house at a time. We will continue to return to New Orleans as long as we are needed.

A grand opportunity to make a difference for New Orleans may also be as a volunteer for the recovery process. Just Google. There are hundreds of opportunities to volunteer from swinging a hammer to working with children or the disabled.

New Orleans is a gem worthy of recovery.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 5:32 PM ET
When the government doesn't step up, Americans themselves come forward and get the job done. Ray Cannata, John Alford and Sherrita Bishop are outstanding examples of Americans' perseverance and hope in New Orleans. It's good to see reports on progress made in the city. I'm eager to see your report tonight.

Any news on the thousands of empty trailer homes?
Posted By Anonymous Liz Y Toledo, OH : 5:33 PM ET
Susan:

It is good to hear the good news about NOLA and humans helping each other. I don't really know how hard it is for you all but we haven't forgotten.

I want to put in a small plug for two of my favorite artists Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis. Harry and Branford have been working in the lower 9th ward building houses and gathering people to help through a Habit for Humanity project.

Harry has a new CD out called "Oh, My NOLA!" Proceeds from the CD will be going to the Habit Musicians village.

When I spoke to Harry at his opening concert tour in Florida, I thanked him for helping and putting his time and funds into NOLA. He said that it is an honor for him and his family to help the people of NOLA. Let me just say that I felt he was humble in his words.

My heros.....everyday people who use their time and talents to improve people's lives.

Oh, yes and when I asked him to sign my IPOD, he said, you want my autograph on your hip? He signed my IPOD.
Posted By Anonymous Renee Bradenton, FL : 5:35 PM ET
New Orleanians are, for very good reason, discouraged and disenchanted. That is why the presence of this new vanguard in New Orleans is so important. Their optimism and idealism is infectious. They make me want to pack my bags and go there tomorrow.
Posted By Anonymous Margo Moscou, Boulder, CO. : 5:41 PM ET
I lived in New Orleans and left years ago. Twenty years ago when I left the city was an accident waiting to happen. I am sorry that it happened, but folks lets be honest most parts of the city should not have been built on years ago. Who would live in an area that rountinely floods with a serious rain storm, then wonder why their house got flooded in a hurricane.

Anyone that knows the history of the city knows the city was founded on the first small dry spot of land up river from the gulf. The city through out history has always flooded so why is anyone surprised?
Posted By Anonymous Gus - Palm Harbor, Fl : 6:11 PM ET
Regardless of how much one loves or hates New Orleans for all the right or wrong reason, it's time for everyone to wake up and realize that this city is one major hurricame away from being gone forever. Save the high ground if you must - leave the rest to mother nature, who will take it sooner or later.
Posted By Anonymous Chad Bushnell, Houston TX : 6:17 PM ET
Hi Susan,
Newcomers, have a way of bringing a new vision to any town they go to. I want to have hope for New Orleans and all the Gulf. My hope is that newcomers and old-timers of the city will be able to work together side by side for their city. In the end, that's the only way to build a HOME. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 6:17 PM ET
I am sick of the negative reporting by Susan Roesgen and others like her. My husband and I lived in Mandeville on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain when Katrina hit. We returned home soon after the storm and repaired our house. So did our neighbors. Much of New Orleans and the suburbs have returned to normal. The reporters who focus on the bad parts of the city are telling only part of the story and are doing a disservice. (My husband's job required us to move to Canada a few months ago, but we still love New Orleans and would be happy to live there.)
Posted By Anonymous Anne, Calgary, AB, Canada : 6:20 PM ET
Ms. Roesgen-

Thank you for your continuing intelligent coverage of the city you love so well.

What do you think are the specific problems (I am asking about a detailed list here) and what needs to be done? What can those from outside the region do to help put pressure on local and national politicians and agencies? Perhaps contact our and your (LA, MS, AL) local, state, and national officials via www.congress.org; contact local and national press and ask them to continue the focus on this long-forgotten region; and e-mail friends and family to ask them to do the same? What specifically should we say when we contact people in terms of bills to be passed, etc.?

What organizations are acting as advocates on the issues and do they have e-mail lists to which we can suscribe to be notified when we can contact politicians for action? To which orgs could we donate and know the money would be spent wisely?

Also, what are the lessons about emergency preparedness--or lack thereof-- about which we should apply pressure so that we can bring about change nationwide?

Poverty? Racism? Global warming and how that might increase the likelihood and strength of future storms? There are so many lesons here that have yet to be learned. While I appreciate that you all at 360 go back to NO regularly-- since most people do not-- it would be great to see more context to these stories as well as national implications. And SOLUTIONS!!! What can we do as individuals and what needs to be done? What programs are making a difference? How can we connect the importance of what we do environmentally in our individual lives to this issue?

Any chance you will have Doug Brinkley and other such people who can put it in context on and also say what needs to be done? Ditto with Times-Picayune staff who have been so eloquent in the past? Specificty on issues and solutions?

While the individual stories are beautfful and sad, they need to be put in context for those of us to realize what the real story is. Which is why airing the story and then doing an in-depth discussion right after would be helpful.

I considered moving there myself, but, honestly, was not sure I could hack it. Lack of electricity and proper plumbing and just how many people were seriously depressed and crime and rats/snakes and lack of hospitals and no affordable housing and on and on. God bless those who stayed and those who join them.

I do hope this rant makes sense as I am sick with a cold and a little loopy on Theraflu (or Therafloopy, as I like to say) just now. Bottom line: I really do want to express my appreciation for all Cooper and Crew do, but hope that you can do even more to put it in context. And I pray that some non-important story (was it Anna Nicole Smith that messed up your coverage down there recently???) will not usurp this coverage. The people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast deserve your--and our-- undivided attention.

How about making sure you have at least one segment a week on the Gulf and what needs to be done? And at least one a week on Darfur or other such disasters that really need our continued attention?

This wound is not yet healed, so keep applying pressure!!!
Posted By Anonymous Norah, West Chester, PA : 6:27 PM ET
Hi Susan~
I feel the frustration and exhaustion in the beginning of your blog and I understand it, yet I find the content hopeful. It sounds like these "idealist" may very well be the new founding fathers of the NEW New Orleans. I know there is a long way to go but I have faith in the good of mankind. Let us know how we can reach out a hand to help.
Susan, you are doing such a fantastic job of reporting on the progress of your city. hang in there sistergirl!
Virtual ((((HUGS))))!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 6:36 PM ET
Leading the Vanguard were Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and their four kids. How did you miss them?

Why don't they get a mention? They've invested themselves, and their love, and their money, and their warmth in New Orleans using their celebrity unostentatuously and for good.
Posted By Anonymous Forestpal, Austin, Texas : 6:47 PM ET
Susan, thank you for posting some positive thoughts. It took 200 years to build the city before Katrina hit and the rebuilding process doesn't happen overnight. It all takes time, but I agree with Anne from Calgary the negative reports regarding New Orleans aren't going to help it. I've been down there several times in the last year and have found many positive aspects that could be brought out. Many people I know who live in New Orleans are tired of all the negative comments they want the world to know that New Orleans is alive and waiting for themto visit.
Posted By Anonymous Marcia, Warren Mi : 7:12 PM ET
I just wanted to interject this fact into the story because I know you all won't include it in your report :

As of April 12, there are 3,992 jobs listed in the Times-Picayune classifieds.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - chicago IL : 8:08 PM ET
You are brave to stay and report these stories. How long can you fight insurance and the government? It is embarrassing that more has not been done by the government to help fix this mess. Thank goodness for new blood. I hope that they bring enthusiasm and great ideas with them!
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago,Il : 8:10 PM ET
It's been mentioned that we only hear about the lack of progress in New Orleans. However, I don't think it would be proper to paint a rosy picture of the conditions and encourage droves of tourists to go down there, unaware. What if it was one of your loved ones who ended up being a victim of the violence? I'm sure people would come back to 360 screaming "why didn't you tell us it was this bad?"
Posted By Anonymous Christina, Windber, PA : 8:30 PM ET
Hi Susan,
I am so happy that AC360 and the crew are back in NOLA, but how about showing some of the positive things going on? I remember when you were a reporter for the local stations here in NOLA, and I appreciate you staying with the story of Katrina. I was hoping that CNN would focus the show on NOLA but it seems Imus mania has taken over. Maybe next time we'll have better luck.
Posted By Anonymous Dixie, LaPlace, LA : 11:14 PM ET
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