Project Lower 9th

This blog is an archive of design process created by multi-disciplinary students from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. We are exploring how design can make a difference in the course of reuniting Lower 9th Ward residents. Please join our journey in helping the people of New Orleans.

February 28, 2006

E-mail from Edgar

Our friend Edgar in New Orleans forwarded this e-mail from his friend.

About 15 miles east of downtown New Orleans, the community of Versaillesis nestled into the edge of a long, thin reach of the city called New Orleans East. Once home to 90,000 people, including most of the city's black middleclass, New Orleans East is almost entirely deserted. But it's never been busierat the Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church.

The Rev. Nguyen The Vien, church pastor, points out that the 6,500 peoplein his congregation before the storm were used to difficult times. Many of them had been displaced twice before, once when they moved from North to South Vietnam, then again when they fled for refugee camps as Saigon fell. Among them is 88-year-old My Huynh, whom Vien was giving a lift home on a recent afternoon. Stranded and alone after the storm, she picked up fish that had been deposited on her street by the flood, filleted them, salted them and dried them on cars that had been abandoned on her block. "The military found her and brought her out, but she was calm as couldbe," Vien said with a chuckle. "She was fully prepared to be there for a monthor more."

Within days of the storm, Vien recognized the Catch-22 of New Orleans' redevelopment: People want to return to revived neighborhoods, but neighborhoods will be revived only when they are repopulated. Vien determined that if he brought enough people back to Versailles with him, local officials would be forced to provide them with enough infrastructure to survive. He was right. When the electric company blanched at Vien's demand for power, he brought photos of hundreds of people attending Mass on Sundays, and signed papers from hundreds more saying they were preparing to come home. Soon, the lights came on. City officials managed to get a company to deliver giant bladders of water to the church for drinking and cooking - no small matter, considering that the water system wouldn't be functioning for months. The church has served as the base of what is, effectively, a collective movement; Vien collects money from shopkeepers who have reopened so thathe can hire cleanup crews to prepare stores that still need work.

Today, the church and the surrounding community have made progress that seems staggering in comparison with the surrounding areas. More than 1,000 members of the congregation are living within a mileradius. Another 1,000 can't yet move home but drive into New Orleans every weekend to work on their houses. Ninety-five percent of the families that made up the congregation have pledged to return. The church recently held a meeting at which urban planners devisedintricate plans for community housing, a retirement village and a pedestrian bridge connecting residential areas to the business district. Vien organized a community-wide poll on the plans, the results of which were turned into colorful mock-ups and posted on bulletin boards in a lecture hall. Not only did FEMA agree to bring in 199 trailers for temporary housing,but Vien persuaded the agency to design the power, water and phone lines for them so that they could be used once the retirement community is built on the same lots. Dozens of businesses have reopened. "The critical mass is here to do a lot of things," Vien said. "We have enough people to patronize our businesses. So more businesses reopen, and that engenders more confidence in the community, so more people move back. It's a snowball effect." Vien acknowledges that he was lucky in several regards. Versailles received only a portion of the floodwater that most surrounding communities shouldered. The trailers are coming partly because the Catholic Diocese owned 28 vacant acres near his church and agreed to use it for temporary housing - and assumed all of the liability for it, which the government did not want to do because Versailles was still so isolated from other functioning pockets of the city. In the end, Vien said the progress had its roots in community, in the fact that almost all of his congregants' ties date back generations to three tiny villages in North Vietnam. "We have an implicit 0bligation to help each other," he said. "People want to return, to be with each other."

February 27, 2006

Political Issues

Today a well-respected professor at Art Center asked me why Project Lower 9th is not recognizing any of the politic issues. I thought it is a good and relevant question to ask. The problems with politics are the politicians. The self-righteous language used by politicians has created a space between evacuees and the rebuilding process.

The politicians are definitely the cause of resentment because of non-stop rhetoric and the assumption that citizens want someone else to rebuild the city for them. Here is an example of the language: (We have evaluated the land and rebuilding will begin soon. Once our workers complete the community we will invite them back to the city.) This example is parallel to phrases I’ve heard firsthand. If one were to examine the language closely, one would realize the lack of camaraderie between the politics and the people. The language simply makes the displaced feel overlooked and unappreciated.

In conclusion, the reason we are not focusing on politics is because our main focus is on empowerment of the people. Plus, the gap between the displaced and the politicians is astronomical. It is my belief that New Orleans will not efficiently rebuild until the powers that be embrace the displaced as part of the rebuilding process. I know I’m ranting, but next time you hear a politician speak about rebuilding New Orleans, listen if he/she includes the 300,000 displaced residents in the plans.

February 26, 2006

we got website!!!

we got a website dedicated to our project!!!
We don't have anything on it YET, but hopefully soon!!
We had really busy weekend. Friday lunch with Richard Koshalek (president of our school) and other influential leaders of our school and different communities and all-day meeting on Saturday....
This project is taking us so many different directions...full of opportunity.... sometimes I stop and can't help to think "how the hell did we get here???" I also can't stop being thankful to everyone who is collaborating with us including other students, instructors, stuff from school, people from New Orleans....and so on. I'm getting 3 units working on this project but Angela and Chris are working completely voluntarily....and so as everyone else who is involved....this project has proven me that the world is full of good people:) and it makes me happy to get to know them.

February 24, 2006

Addressing Assumptions about New Orleans

Assumption 1
Many New Orleans’ neighborhoods were poor and rundown, the streets were terrible and crime was a problem. Who would want to come back to that grime?

Our take
It is true that many citizens of New Orleans are poor and simple people. What a large number of outsiders do not understand is that the people of these communities have a rich and historical connection to their culture. A large aspect of their culture is the community. Kill the community, kill the culture.

Assumption 2
I can help New Orleans by designing flood proof neighborhoods. Green spaces will raise the quality of life and sustainable design will solve housing problems.

Our Take
New Orleans needs a lot of help, but designers are counting their chickens before the eggs hatch. A great design in the studio does not necessarily translate to a good design in everyday life. We need to close the books, stop the rhetoric, visit the devastated neighborhoods, and discover how design can truly matter.

Assumption 3
New Orleans is still flooded and in mayhem.

Our Take
New Orleans is drained and the levees are repaired. Not only is the water drained but the population has departed as well. Before Katrina, New Orleans was a city of approximately 400,000. Presently, the population is around 90,000 along with 40,000 out of state workers.

Assumption 4
As long as the French Quarter
survives New Orleans will be all right.

Our Take
The French Quarter is an important tourist draw, but New Orleans was made up of diverse, small, family businesses. Without the return of small privately owned businesses, New Orleans will not be able to survive.

February 23, 2006

Small set backs for visiting StoryCorps

I was so excited to visit StoryCorps while they are still in San Diego... but I just found out that they take a day off from recording on Tuesday.....(the day we wanted to interview them). Damn it!! We're really busy right now preparing for our mid-term... so I don't know if any other day would work out for our visit...I guess for now...I have to say that it will all work out if it's meant to be.

Small business in New Orleans

"After the Flood, Free Advice for Entrepreneurs in Need"
Published: February 21, 2006 on NY Times.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit group in Kansas City, Mo., dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship created a new program called "Katrina Urban Entrepreneur Partnership" to help small business owners whose business and facilities were damaged by hurricane Katrina.

I was very happy when I read this article because I know how important it is for New Orleans to bring small business back to the city. One thing we noticed when we were visiting the city was the numbers of small business that we saw. It's nothing like LA where we see Starbucks every corner. I think that the unique personality of the city partially comes from having so many small business and this is one step forward to protecting it.

my friend is reading this:)

One of my really good friends told me that she has been reading our blog ever since we started posting daily activities. It made me so happy and gave me extra strength to stay positive and keep looking at the bigger goal.

StoryCorps_we're going to visit them next week!

I have been contacting facilitator of mobile booth for StoryCorps last past week....

Chris and I are going to visit San Diego next Tuesday to interview facilitators and hopefully people who are participating. I think it will be very interesting to hear about their experiences and also learn what kind of equipment they're carrying etc.

another question to chris

also i like to know if you can give me a questions that we worked on... i have all the answers written down on my note except one for "why shold lower 9th matter to audience?" i remember you were taking note on that....

you can just post it on blog and i'll copy it.


February 22, 2006

We need HELP!!!

We need a copywriter (we can write... but we need somebody who can really WRITE and edit what we like to communicate as a message) and web designer (We need to establish a website for project. It will be where we introduce our project to public but also an archival tool for information which we will be collecting from original Lower 9th residents as part of design solution) ASAP!!!! If you know anybody who can collaborate with us, please let me know!! Thank you:)

We got an advisor for our Project Identity!!!!

Now Angela being part of our team, she was able to bring another project advisor from graphic design side of Art Center!!! His name is Richard Keyes and teaches many graphic design classes. He has worked on projects that are very socially driven before and very good in color and type design....(sorry...I don't know all the lingo in graphic design..) We had a meeting with him this afternoon as an introduction to the project and also to get some feedbacks on logo and identity design which Angela is working on. He is very critical... (which is very good:) Since he is new to this project, as we explained him where we are, he brought us very simple but real questions to us. Some of the questions that he asked was: "How and when do we know when our project succeed?", "What kind of message are we trying to communicate to our audiences", "Who are our audiences", "Why are we focusing on Lower 9th ward?"...etc. He also pointed us out that it's easy to fall in the pitfall of feeling satisfied from the process of working on humanitarian project but neglecting creating a real meaningful design solution.
Ideating with Chris by trying to answer his questions for the rest of afternoon really pushed us to move tiny bit forward with our project (or I think it did....). I'm looking forward to his next input!!!
Also we saw Roman briefly today at school!!! We met him a week before we went to New Orleans but since we shared such an intense and emotional visit to the city together... and now we don't get to see each other so often, we miss it was great to see his smile and catch up little bit:)

February 21, 2006

work in progress

We started laying out our design process on one wall of alcove. Hopefully it's the beginning of good stuff to come.... we'll be filling up the whole wall pretty quickly as we move through research phase into ideation phase. Chris and I are usually in alcove on Monday and Wednesday for couple hours. When we're there, we try to discuss about our design but we also use the time for explaining our experience to other students and the rest of Art Center community.

Contacting StoryCorps

I have e-mailed StoryCorps couple days ago because I was really interested in what they are doing!! I got an e-mail back from Heather (Development Officer of Sound Portraits Productions) that led me to Jacki and Piya (Facilitators of west coast mobile booth). I hope we can interview them while they're in San Diego or better yet invite them and their mobile booth to Art Center so that a group of people who are involved in project Lower 9th can be interviewed and be part of American history which StoryCorps is trying to capture and archive. We'll see what happens:)

for Wednesday

I created a "hit list" for tomorrow....

1. Create a research page for :MTV/videoblog under "share"
2. Work on 11x17 page layout
3. Create "assumption" pages
4. one page each for open inspirational image and analysis of "correct", "archive", and "share". (I think we both should bring one set... so we have more resources.)
5. Ideation sketches

1. Research pages on "correct": trailer, material, and mobile structure
2. Title pages and description of titles for "correct", "archive", and "share".
3. one page each for open inspirational image and analysis of "correct", "archive", and "share".
4. Ideation sketches

I think you're bringing in 8 different directions for our logo. Also for our template of title, instead of 6' banner, we're doing 17" wide by whatever length it needs to be....'s a lot to do along with other home assignments and stuff we have to do for other classes... but if we can push bit harder today, tomorrow... it will be easier for next week to come.

February 20, 2006

E-mail from Edgar

I got another response e-mail from Edgar. He says really nice things about our project:) So I wanted to share with you guys.

Dear Wakako;

thanks for the kind words. and i'm glad you have taken an interest in this project for the sake of a lot of people. it's hard to predict what will happen in the lower 9th ward, but whatever the consequence, i hope it's a blessing for all. i was very impressed with you guys and appreciated the visit to my house. the weather is a bit cold and rainy, but the city keeps its warmth for nice people like you. i hope this is not your last visit here. if you want to come and visit again, do let me know. and if you need a place to stay, i can always accommodate you, even though hotel rooms are not too expensive now, do keep me in mind as arefuge of last resort, if necessary. ok?
all is well for now.
good luck to you guys with your

February 19, 2006


I want to interview StoryCorps!!!!
StoryCorps' mobilebooths are traveling around the country. They stop at different cities and have an audio studio available for two people to come in and interview each other. Interviewes are archived and available for anybody to listen to online. Afterward all the interviews are going to museum as a piece of American history. They're in San Diego now but only until March 5th. I tried to make a reservation for interview online, but they're all full!! I think there are some interesting lessons we can learn from what they're doing. I e-mailed the organization to request interview personally, but haven't heard from them yet. I really hope we get to see it before they leave Southern Cal. Posted by Picasa

Design brief (refined: Feb.18th)

Chris and I worked all yesterday on refining our design brief. We wanted it to be simple but to the point. Hopefully we will get an approval from Karen and Tisha. It's interesting. We live about 30 miles away but can still work as if we're working in the same room!!! Thanks to the technology.

Our mission: We will develop and discover how design can matter in the course of REUNITING THE COMMUNITY OF LOWER 9TH WARD.

Derived from our research, which includes two hands-on investigational trips to New Orleans and surrounding communities (Nov. 05 & Feb. 06), we discovered the essence of the city. New Orleans can be described as a city of integrating cultures and family harmony. Therefore, in order for New Orleans to survive we must bring citizens of this magnificent city back together. In New Orleans alone, hurricane Katrina has forced approximately 300,000 people to evacuate and relocate, leaving family and loved ones scattered and isolated. Only as a united voice can communities like Lower 9th Ward come together and make an attempt to rebuild their cherish land and preserve their rich culture and history.

Our proposal includes 3 sequential phases.
1. Collect _voice, story, information, and photos
2. Organize & Archive
3. Share_ making connections, creating a voice and promoting nonresidents’ understanding

Our project will create a tool that reunites and amplifies a community’s voice during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Not only will our design have the opportunity to aid the community’s recovery process, it also serves as a device to archive and share precious pieces of American history from a very personal level.

Letter from our friend Edgar in New Orleans

This is an e-mail sent from our friend Edgar in New Orleans. We met him at the restaurant K-Paul's when we were visiting the city. He showed us amazing photos that he took during the aftermath of Katrina. He also invited us to his home and told us his story of survival during and after Katrina. He went through a lot in last five months but his spirit is very strong and gave us a lot of encouragement and support to keep moving forward with our project. I really hope that we can keep in touch with him....since we are in LA and hard to know the details of what is going on in the city of New Orleans, it would be great to hear the real story from very personal level.
Dear Wakako;
I was down in New Orleans East visiting the Vietnamese community and buying stuff to support their businesses. One lady told my friend that after surviving the horrors of the Vietnam War and the subsequent boat journeys across the oceans, they were ready for anything--Katrina was bad, but that they would make it, regardless. And making it, they are! businesses are open, bakeries, stores, restaurants, etc. It is a model of how people can come together on the face of adversity to rebuild their lives. We left New Orleans East via hwy 510 to St. Bernard and Chalmette. The metallic looking waters of gulf inlets were quiet, and the tree trunks emerged from the distanc like mangled industrial towers amidst overturned boats, reminders of Katrina's fury.
Along St. Bernard and Chalmette there are miles and miles of empty homes and broken dreams. In one house in front of the door we saw a statue of St. Joseph with a rosary wrapped around the neck, in another on top of the roof, a refrigerator, and on another a big sign that read: "au revoir" goodbye! It is a terrible sight that spoils the appetite. Few can understand the devastation without really seeing it in person, and even then, it is hard to comprehend it.

working hard in alcove!!! Posted by Picasa

Pics from the Lower 9th Ward

Here are some images from our trip to New Orleans. These pictures were taken during a six day period, Feb 2-7 2006.

February 18, 2006

Creating Beignet!!!

Sometimes I need to take a BREAK from working on project on Saturday afternoon.... so I decided to make Beignet for breakfast / lunch. I miss them!!! It's a doughnut with lots lots and lots of powder sugar. I think they came from French tradition. That's all we ate every morning when we were in New Orleans. With some coffee and Beignet....yummy. My beignet didn't come out as good as the ones I ate there.... I guess I have to go back there for my Beignet...

New York, New Orleans and MTV

I am beginning to notice that New York City is making a huge effort of focusing attention on displaced New Orleans’ citizens. I wonder if the experience of 9/11 has given New Yorkers a greater understanding of what the golf coast is going through. I know the N.Y. Times has a section where displace golf coast residents can be heard and seen. I also recently saw a great MTV commercial that focused on displaced teenagers, now living in NY, that want to go back to New Orleans and rebuild. I think we should keep our ears and eyes open for any contacts in the NY area. Also, contacting MTV would be worth a shot.

Here's a link to MTV's site. They have a documentry called "After the Storm" and they are also promoting students to help with the recovery process during spring break.

article from NY times

I found this article yesterday at NY Times. It really shows the different kinds of contrast that city is facing....can we use this abstract idea of "contrast" as our positive design attribute???

February 17, 2006
Mardi Gras Set for City Stripped of All but Pride
NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 16 ・With a purplish dusk settling over the city, a few workers in a hurricane-damaged warehouse daub the final garish touches on an armada of Mardi Gras floats. Any day now, these grotesqueries on wheels will roll through city streets, reminding all who see them to seize the day, for tomorrow we fast.
Across the rutted street from the warehouse, the workers can gaze at the railroad tracks and see an endless stretch of unspoiled white government trailers, sitting on flatcars like a broken string of oversize, colorless Mardi Gras beads. A different kind of grotesquerie on wheels, these trailers will be homes for the fortunate, reminding all who see them that six months after Hurricane Katrina, hard times, not good times, continue to roll in the great city of New Orleans.

the rest is:

Brand identity

so now we got angela from graphic department to collaborate with us as a brand identity creator, we can really work out how we want to present ourselves to possible sponsors and also public. Yesterday afternoon three of us met together at school and discussed some of the fonts we might be able to use for our official project logo. some of the attributes we are going to carry through our project is: soulfully warm, contrast between elegance and grounded....

angela is going to come back next week with different directions that we can move forward based on our discussion yesterday. can't wait to see them!!

February 17, 2006

Photo Journal installation at Alcove

This is how our office / presentation area / gallery for project looks like right now. We're using one of the wall for rotating exhibit which Chris, Roman and I are going to take a turn to share experience from our trip through our filters.

Hope we get some feedback:)

Project Lower 9th

Project Brief (rough draft)

Our goal is to address the first needs of recovery process: REUNITE THE VOICE OF LOWER 9TH COMMUNITY in New Orleans. From our research phase which includes two research / investigation trip to the city of New Orleans, we realized what community needs at this moment is the way to voice themselves together which has been very difficult since many of the community members have been re-located to different parts of the country. We used New Orleans East Vietnamese community as a successful model/casestudy of a single community that has survived threat of almost losing their neighborhood by using the power of communal unity.
Our proposal includes 4 phases of process.1. Collecting2. Organizing 3. Archiving4. Sharing
Through the process, this project will create a tool to amplify community’s voice in this urgent time of recovery process (using multi-space) but as a consequence will become a device to archive and share a precious piece of American history from personal level as the community come together.

I know i'm missing stuff that needs to be there...any comment???

February 16, 2006

first blog for us!!!

Here is one for our first blog!!!
I just let everybody in the entire world who is going to check this blog that how happy I am working on this project with a group of such an awesome people with amazing talents:)

u guys are the best!!!!

with that, i'm going to go to sleep. i'm meeting up with Angela and Chris at 1pm tomorrow afternoon!!