Fenced Out at Duncan Plaza

Last December the state hastily decided that they needed to demolish their building north of Duncan Plaza,  a public park across the street from New Orleans City Hall.   Not surprisingly like so many other claims and projects in New Orleans, literally nothing has changed. Except the grass.  There remains the same eight foot tall barb-wired fence encircling the perimeter of the park that existed in late December when the state declared it would be demolishing the building, but with the fence up, there was little reason to actually go through with anything.

The state’s inaction is entirely due to the fact that the whole point was merely to erect the fence in order to usher out its inhabitants.

Prior to the state’s declaration, a strong and organized homeless encampment existed at Duncan Plaza.   Nearly two hundred people slept the night in the park, many occupying bright red tents visible from the road.  From July 2007, a particular subgroup of motivated people organized themselves into “Homeless Pride,” which had vocal leadership who spoke to the city council and other aid agencies in the fall of 2007.  The political group was gaining steam, and attendance at Duncan Plaza increased as folks felt more secure in a lighted and well populated area where a culture of respect and camaraderie was growing.

It was no secret that the mayor found the sight to be an eyesore for the city’s tourism image.  Consistently Mayor Ray Nagin has tried to find his own solutions to the increase of homeless in New Orleans, from 6,000 before the Federal Flood to 12,000, rather than asking national experts and the homeless themselves to see what care they needed and what solutions would work in the long term.

It seems unlikely that there was any intention of demolishing the building in late December without the proper demolition permits and contracts in the works.  It most decidedly could have been, and this is speculation, a safe political favor asked by the mayor of the state to funnel homeless folks back under the Claiborne bridge just blocks away and break up the difficult gains of organizing the homeless that Homeless Pride had succeeded in accomplishing over the past six months.

Now, in mid-April, the fence is still standing, the building is still standing and the hot political debate no longer is the homeless issue.   Signs on the ground behind the metal lattice, read “Duncan Plaza closed due to demolition.”  However, in defiance, someone managed to jump the fence and crossed out the words “due” and “demolition,” and added a phrase in thick sharpie to remake the sign, to bend it toward truth as they saw it: “Duncan Plaza closed to keep ignoring the homeless.”

The resistance will live on.  The question is, what form will it take?

Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 4:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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