First Impressions: Doing an anthropology of infrastructure in a city with no infrastructure

All pictures credit to author.Image

To say that New Orleans has no infrastructure would be an exaggeration. There is definitely infrastructure present, but its ubiquity varies, depending on the neighborhood you’re in at the time. Because I am interested largely in how different people use public space in New Orleans, I have been making sure to pay attention to how people are living and moving in my neighborhood, how they choose to navigate the city’s infrastructure. Whats so cool about N.O. is that there is a different, more relaxed set of housing and residential codes in this city (this is a mental note to myself: go research the building codes of this city.) Businesses, cafes, stores and shops are littered in between residential spaces, sometimes popping up between two shotgun row houses. Almost everybody here sits on their porches/stoops for at least a few hours a day, people watching and socializing with their families and neighbors.Image
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities on planet Earth, largely because I think this city makes the geographies of exclusion clear in a way that many other American cities go to great lengths to try to hide. I am living in a home in the Bywater area of New Orleans. The neighborhood is clearly being gentrified, but I have never seen such a dizzying juxtaposition of the realities of this clash of economic resources, race, and culture. On the main thoroughfare by my home, St. Claude Ave, one can find check cashing place, next to a hipster record store, next to a fried seafood fast food takeout, next to a old blues dive bar, next to a yoga/pilates studio, next to an H&R block office, etc etc. Seeing poor and working class black folks bumping elbows with presumably middle class young white adults on their bikes and in foreign cars, navigating the same streets, while occupying separate and distinct social spheres in the same exact physical location. This part of the city appears to be at a mid-stage level of gentrification, so I am interested to see what the local politics are, in addition to talking to people to gauge their perceptions of crime, safety, and danger in this area. I’m gonna try to join the neighborhood listserv (if there is one) to keep tabs on the gentrifier pulse.
I have also been driving around, and intentionally getting lost. I want to see all of the local HBCUs here, so far I have only seen Dillard University, and I walked around the Gentilly neighborhood. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what I’m seeing, so I have been taking good fieldnotes and jotting down my impressions. I saw this sign while in Gentilly, which is at the location of the London Avenue Canal breach. Note the “offering” of crawfish shells at the base of the memorial. I wonder what an archaeologist would say about that 200+ years from now.
I peeped over the floodwall to see the waterflow. To me, the most disconcerting and scary part about New Orleans is the overwhelming presence of water. Maybe its just me, but being surrounded by this much water and faulty infrastructure is unsettling. I wonder how people who actually have property around these areas feel about living in these zones (another mental note: Ask them!)

I stop whenever I see a school building, and take pictures. Most of the public schools that I have seen are shuttered and closed up, presumably since the storm. I want to figure out who are the major players in school rebuilding, as well as school marketing, in New Orleans. This photo below shows construction workers building a new KIPP Charter School on St. Claude Ave, about half a mile from my home. What role do these new schools play in neighborhood gentrification? Do they buffet it, conform to it, or are they irrelevant to it?


I also stopped every time I saw schools being advertised. I have never seen such targeted marketing to black folks in my life, lol. In my rapidly gentrifiying neighborhood, I have yet to see 1 white child walking around, playing, frolicking, but I’ve seen several white adults. But when the neighborhood turns around, surely people will begin raising families here? Or are these purely investment properties for people to live in for a certain season, after which they will retreat to suburban family life? Just a few questions I have.


This summer enrichment program is sponsored by the National Society of Black Engineers.


I’m trying to figure out who the major players are here in terms of educational infrastructure. Thus far, I have seen KIPP, Capital One, and other financial institutions as being major players, but there are many more.

This is a boarded up/shuttered school, you can still see the advertisements of the registration day, August 17, 2005, and advertising the student return on August 18, 2005. Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005.


2 thoughts on “First Impressions: Doing an anthropology of infrastructure in a city with no infrastructure

  1. Dope. It would be good to explore the “major players” more closely. I see Chevron on that summer camp ad. Also check those construction companies. Finally on a personal note, it would be interesting to see if most of the new teachers hired are from New Orleans or recruited out of state.

    • Those are good questions! I talked to a lady outside of the KIPP school on St Claude, turns out she was the educational director for the school. License plates California, Columbia University sticker on her back window, and she and her family live as far away from the school as possible. LOL

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