I have just returned from a week in New Orleans where I participated in the Nonprofit Technology Conference hosted by NTEN. For many years, I've organized a pre-conference event called the Day of Service, an opportunity for nonprofit techies to share their expertise or volunteer for a local organization on a specific project. I wrote about the experience on BlogHer last week.
As I mentioned, one of the Day of Service activities was a video blogging workshop for local nonprofits given by Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson. Several weeks before heading down to New Orleans, I kept looking my old video camera in the corner of my office. While it is a perfectly wonderful camera, still working, I had not been using it as much lately. So, I thought, why not offer it up as a prize for video blogging workshop participants? Maybe that camera could help someone create some change?
The lucky winner was Common Knowledge who came up with a plan to establish a Neighborhood Digital Archive to catalog and create documentation of neighborhood planning meetings, allowing residents and displaced residents to access information about their neighborhoods via video recordings and meetings.
I've organized social media workshops that also "give away" some equipment or software usually a contest. You never know exactly what will happen with the camera after you leave - and just hope for the best. Well, less than 24 hours after the camera of was in the hands of the activists from Common Knowledge, I received this comment on the Flickr photo of my camera from Karen Apricot. Karen is a New Orleans resident,owner of 3 flooded houses who is rebuilding and documenting the demolitions and losses in the City on her blog, Squandered Heritage.
She pointed me over this post about how and why the camera will be used. She mentions that a lot of decisions about development and rebuilding happen in public meetings that the public is unaware. So the camera will be used to document these meetings and encouraging broader participation.
In the last few days, they have taken what they learned in the workshop and some additional email guidance from Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson and hope to change civic engagement in New Orleans One Video Blog Post at a time. Here's a few of the most recent posts:
This is where magic happens is a brief thank you for the camera and peek at the office and staff.
Moton Elementary: Just Another Abandoned School on a Toxic Waste Dump. This video gives you a visual tour of a historic, structurally sound school that has been slated for demolition or "complete replacement." Why?
The video bloggers have learned that the school is actually located on top of the Agriculture Street Landfill, an infamous Superfund site in New Orleans what was used as a dump and incinerator site after Hurricane Betsy. Later, City leaders gave the OK to develop the area as a neighborhood, complete with single family housing and public housing units. It was sold as an opportunity for African-Americans to buy a piece of the American Dream.
Unfortunately, this particular piece of the Dream came complete with toxic levels of at least 50 carcinogens. The Moton School was built to serve this new community, which ultimately became embroiled in lawsuits over environmental justice and significantly elevated rates of cancer.
The EPA undertook remediation, including depositing a layer of “clean” soil throughout the neighborhood, and ultimately deemed most of the site safe. According to the blog post, it raises several questions. Why is the Recovery School District proposing to completely replace a school on compromised land? And, what are they going to do with the sink holes leading into toxic ground developing around the school?
According to the blog post,the breach of the levees could have provided a rare opportunity to try to correct the mistakes in the past in this neighborhood, built on a toxic landfill. For example, placing a moratorium on building permits, offering homeowners’ equitable buyout programs and assistance in moving to safer areas or returning the area to its natural state. But what appears to be happening is that homeowners are moving back into environmentally compromised homes and the school sits unsecured and full of furnishings.
The Citizen's City Hall Blog suggests that the City’s new code enforcement policies lack of “proper due diligence” in enforcing health and building codes since Katrina. They also observe that the City’s failure to perform its duties to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public is a concern.
I know a lot of digital activists may read this blog. Just wondering what advice you'd give to the folks at Common Knowledge about using the camera to get the word out?