Organizers want to break stigma linked to N.O. East, take matters into their own hands to clean up neglect

“It’s a hard fight, but we’re going to fight it because our neighborhoods and our communities are worth it.”
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 10:19 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Neighbors in New Orleans East said they’re fed up with the ‘bad rap’ the community receives from crime, and some have taken matters into their own hands to restore years of neglect.

A team of residents and volunteers worked to beautify Bundy Road, between Dwyer and Lake Forest, an area they said has been neglected by the city since Hurricane Katrina.

“17 long, arduous years,” said organizer and activist Gregory Swafford. “It was an impediment on the pedestrians and on the oncoming traffic.”

Overgrown grass, vines and brush covered the sidewalk, spilling onto the street. Used diapers, beer bottles and other trash littered the area.

“This corridor hasn’t been maintained, manicured since Hurricane Katrina,” Swafford said. “We’ve spoken to residents who’ve grown up in this neighborhood who said they haven’t walked down this sidewalk since they were a kid.”

Alerted to the problem by a neighbor, Swafford took matters into his own hands. He organized a “Revitalization Community Day,” drawing volunteers citywide to pitch in for the clean up. Around 40 people showed up, with residents across the street helping out as well.

“We can just focus on the things we can control. So, in this particular effort, it was safety,” Swafford said. “I’m not surprised by pretty much anything, at this point, that our city just lets go. So not being surprised, I know that there is a solution.”

His solution improved the quality of life for neighbors living nearby, and gave pedestrians safe access to walkable sidewalks. It’s the kind of event Commelita McKee, a member of the New Orleans East Matters Coalition, said needs to happen more.

“There’s more good in New Orleans East than bad. There are more good neighborhoods than bad,” McKee said. “We’re fighting for our reputation, which makes it harder to fight for our quality of life.”

On Tuesday, a double shooting outside a tire shop in Plum Orchard killed one woman and put the niece of Councilman Oliver Thomas in the hospital in critical condition.

McKee said the quality of life issues and crime are inter-connected: non-functioning street lights, blight, illegal dumping and overgrowth lead to the type of environment in which crime flourishes and economic development falters.

She said it’s on every resident in the East to organize, speak out and take back their community.

“There’s a lot of wealth out here, there are a lot of educated residents out here,” McKee said.

McKee said she has noticed new energy appear in New Orleans East in the past year. Residents are organizing and communicating with one voice about the issues impacting them. She credits much of the progress they’ve made on issues like streetlights and code enforcement to Councilman Thomas, who she said is on the same page as organizers.

“We’ve been forced to shop in Kenner and Metairie and Chalmette and these other areas since Katrina, and that’s unfair because that money, that wealth is right here,” McKee said. “It’s a hard fight, but we’re going to fight it because our neighborhoods and our communities are worth it.”

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