Tag Archives: New Orleans

The Digital Divide in New Orleans

In class, we’ve been talking a lot about the digital divide as an international issue, but it also hits home right here in New Orleans. As most of you know the Times-Picayune now only prints three times a week, making New Orleans the largest city without a daily newspaper. This means that four days a week, the only way for people in New Orleans to read the news is online. Unfortunately, there is a great digital divide in New Orleans and many people don’t have internet access in their homes. As a result, many in New Orleans, especially lower income people, are becoming less informed about important local and international events because of a lack of access to the news.

For many poorer people broadband access is a luxury. Matt Davis of The Lens, a nonprofit journalism organization writes that “Poorer, more African American areas of New Orleans, such as the Lower 9th Ward, have broadband subscription rates between 0 and 40 percent,” meaning that the majority of poor African Americans in New Orleans now have very little access to the news. Tracie Powell on pointer.org explains that lack of broadband access is not only an affordability issue but also a policy issue in New Orleans. Powell states that “policy decisions made by lawmakers in the state minimize competition, which in turn helps keep prices of broadband artificially inflated and out of reach for poorer residents.”

“Lack of access” is a familiar statement when discussing poorer African American neighborhoods in New Orleans. For instance many neighborhoods in New Orleans are known as food deserts because they lack access to a grocery store that sells produce and healthy food. Many consider issues such as the digital divide and food deserts to be a form of racism because they primarily put African Americans at a disadvantage. Both of these examples definitely perpetuate poverty. The digital divide in New Orleans now means that residents who can’t afford broadband are less likely to make informed decisions at the polls about issues that directly affect them since they now no longer have an easy way to read about local and national politics. The digital divide is clearly a dimension of poverty and should be addressed in order to make New Orleans a more informed city.

Tracie Powell’s article on the digital divide in New Orleans can be found here

In class, we’ve been talking a lot about the digital divide as an international issue, but it also hit home right here in New Orleans. As most of you know the Times-Picayune now only prints three times a week, making New Orleans the largest city without a daily newspaper. This means that four days a week, the only way for people in New Orleans to read the news is online. Unfortunately, there is a great digital divide in New Orleans and many people don’t have internet access in their homes. As a result, many in New Orleans, especially lower income people are becoming less informed about important local and international events because of a lack of access to the news.

For many poorer people broadband access is a luxury. Matt Davis of The Lens, a nonprofit journalism organization writes that “Poorer, more African American areas of New Orleans, such as the Lower 9th Ward, have broadband subscription rates between 0 and 40 percent,” meaning that the majority of poor African Americans in New Orleans now have very little access to the news. Tracie Powell on pointer.org explains that lack of broadband access is not only an affordability issue but also a policy issue in New Orleans. Powell states that “policy decisions made by lawmakers in the state that minimize competition, which in turn helps keep prices of broadband artificially inflated and out of reach for poorer residents.”

“Lack of access” is a familiar statement when discussing poorer African American neighborhoods in New Orleans. For instance many neighborhoods in New Orleans are known as food deserts because they lack access to a grocery that sells produce and healthy food. Many consider issues such as the digital divide and food deserts as a form of racism because they primarily put African Americans at a disadvantage. Both of these examples definitely perpetuate poverty. The digital divide in New Orleans now means that residents who can’t afford broadband are less likely to make informed decisions at the polls about issues that directly affect them since they now no longer have an easy way to read about local and national politics. The digital divide is clearly a dimension of poverty and should be addressed in order to make New Orleans a more informed city.

Tracie Powell’s article on the digital divide in New Orleans can be found here http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/making-sense-of-news/178094/how-the-digital-divide-developed-in-new-orleans-what-that-means-for-the-future-of-news-there/

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GIS in New Orleans

I intern at the Beacon of Hope Resource Center which is based in New Orleans. Beacon of Hope attempts to help with community issues. The mission has been changing to fit the needs of the neighborhoods. In the beginning days of Beacon of Hope, the problems were mostly construction related, now, six years after the storm, there is a little less action being taken in terms of helping people fix their homes. Now, it is more about fixing the communities. The main neighborhood that Beacon of Hope works with is Gentilly. In the Beacon neighborhoods, everything from tracking blighted homes and assisting the elderly with their homes, to planning community fundraising events and surveying neighborhoods is done.

Most specific to Beacon of Hope is their mapping capabilities. During class on Thursday, the maps that we were creating reminded me of what I do at the Beacon of Hope. I worked with Beacon of Hope to help them, and the Ninth Ward community, conduct field research in the Lower Ninth Ward using an ArcGIS surveying app. This survey was both for outreach and information purposes. The data collected is a source of information that reveals important information for people and businesses looking to move back to New Orleans and the government. For this event, I we had 20 iPhone owning volunteers for a full day of surveying. Collectively, we entered relevant information pertaining to hundreds of homes and lots. As we have seen there are many ways we use GIS in New Orleans and it very important for us as development majors to understand uses of GIS.

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Crowdsourcing the Gulf oil Spill

In order to track the effects of the Gulf oil spill, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade has launched a Ushahidi supported database. Combining text messages, calls, and e-mails into a visually mapped and searchable source of information allows help to be directed to areas of urgent need. PBS’s Sam Weber interviews Anne Rolfes, who founded the Bucket Brigade, about this project.

Rolfes actually learned about Ushahidi in a class attended at Tulane University! This tool filled her already felt need for a tool to place text messaged information on a map.  The decision to transition to using Ushahidi was swift (done in under a week) and successful (in the interest point of view.) One setback of Ushahidi in this situation is in the reliability of data. Rolfes says that verification is extremely important in making sure that the data is accurate and truthful.

In the specific case of the Gulf Oil Spill, the livelihoods of people who live along the Louisiana coast are the most apparently affected. Alabama and Pensacola fishermen are banned from their careers, often ones that have been passed down through generations. These effects can be reported, while most of the environmental damage that is out further in the gulf cannot be reported.

Rolfes hopes that this project will give people a voice, encourage regular people to share their story, and increase the availability of information about this catastrophe. “It enables that voice to merge with the thousands of other commercial fishermen who are out of work.” Not only are these stories shared and allow these people to connect with others, but it also demonstrates the magnitude of the catastrophe. Rolfes hopes that by the end thousands of stories will be compiled and this project will become a stable source of information for first response teams such as Health and Human Services, the Coast Guard, or Wildlife and Fisheries.

When asked about other applications of Ushahidi in other situations within America, Rolfes says that she can think of 10 other applications off the top of her head in New Orleans alone.

“Think about the complaints over corruption. Imagine if we had an Ushahidi map of New Orleans’ City Hall and residents were able to text in when they had problems with a permit or got the run around getting a particular kind of contract. The [possibilities] are endless. We are extremely proud to have what we believe is the very first use [of Ushahidi] in the U.S. for humanitarian purposes.”

When related to the checklist for planning strategic use of ICTs, this open source of data assists with several criteria. Texts from people who are affected by disasters is a direct supply of information about the context in that area. Problems are reported from the perspective of those in need. By posting information in casual text messages or emails, the content is provided in an easy to read and understand format. This provides additional insight on how to formulate solutions or strategies for problems. Ongoing updates will also aid the monitoring and evaluation of implemented strategies.  Finally, since all of this information is open to public access, other people dealing with disasters that are similar will be able to learn from previous experiences and mistakes.


City of New Orleans Kiosks

In 2004, the City of New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits faced a problem. The task of processing hundreds of permit applications was becoming overwhelming. With many inspectors by necessity out on the field, often at inopportune times, there were long waits at the office to see a permit officer or inspector. In addition, people would often turn up without the necessary documentation to receive the permits they were requesting. As a result, city officials were having to turn them away, despite the hours of waiting time, causing everyone frustration.

As an attempt to alleviate the problem, the city chose 5point, a supplier of interactive self-service kiosks and embedded software, to provide kiosks that would walk applicants through the permit application process, ensuring that they had all of the documentation. In addition, they included a check-in system, which allowed them to use analytics software to determine peak times, allowing city inspectors to be in the office during those hours and on the field when the demand for their time in the office was relatively low. 

The kiosks allowed the department to reduce turnaround and wait times, and provide a more consistent service experience. The program has since been expanded, with multiple kiosks at locations around the city. There are, however, some distributional and awareness problems; not many people are aware the kiosks exist, or where to find them, and the city’s website is vague on the functions that can be performed, and has no information at all about where to find them. While they have become tools for specialized uses, the lack of information has prevented the growth of their use by people trying to interact with the government and benefit from their services.


NolaStat

NolaStat is an advocacy campaign aiming to implement better transparency and accountability policy reforms in the City of New Orleans. Brian Denzer is the founder and is the only one who works for this advocacy campaign. The people and government of NOLA is the targeted group. Specifically, NolaStat advocates that the city should do the following: 1) improve public access to information by publishing city data on a web portal 2) improve government responsiveness to public needs with a performance management process 3) institutionalize reforms exercise best practices by creating an office staffed with technical personnel and performance management professionals 4) close the feedback loop between government and citizens by engaging the community to ensure that performance goals and data needs are satisfactorily being answered.

Brian Denzer used to work for the NOPD and started Crime Watchers before Katrina. After Katrina, he found that there was a need for government transparency and accountability He started a website before the 2010 Mayor campaign in NOLA. The website was supposed to be a place to accumulate knowledge about evidence placed practices, and references to other innovative reform efforts. This website is set up like a blog. My biggest criticism is that Brain is the only contributor to the website. I believe if he got more outside opinions from people like neighborhood leaders, the website would be more effective.  Although the city has adopted NolaStat as city policy, it has made modifications.


Case Study: Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) District Technology Plan

Unlike some of the other case study projects that have examined new technologies that are being developed and used in New Orleans, my project focuses on the utilization of existing technology to better the Orleans Parish School system. Following Hurricane Katrina, the public school system in New Orleans was drastically altered in an attempt to improve the undisputedly failing school system. The district shrunk dramatically after 2005: of the roughly 125 schools open prior to the storm, less than 20 were reopened. They were placed under the jurisdiction of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

In 2007, the OPSB got wind that they were about to have a significant amount of money at their disposal. The Title 1 money that had been allocated for the public schools for the previous school year was being pumped back to the school system through the OPSB and the Recovery School District. Of the money granted to the OPSB, $3.6 million had been specifically set aside for the implementation of a district wide technology plan. The OPSB immediately set into action and the IT Department and the Curriculum Construction Department collaborated to build a network. They began by figuring out what they already had in the schools, and were shocked to find that the people on both teams didn’t know first and foremost what the software programs in place did, and who, if anyone was using them. In the end, after roughly three months of deliberation, they decided to make the existing technology package and pilots in place available to the whole district.

In winter of 2007, the technology plan was set into place. The goal of the technology plan was, and continues to be, that “all Orleans Parish School Board educators and learners will benefit from technology-rich environments that promote maximized student achievement and produce life long learners able to succeed in an information society” (Louisiana State Technology Plan).  The hope is that through utilizing technology students can receive individual lesson plans that are specifically tailored to their needs, shifting the focus away from the industrial method of teaching.

The initial focus of the project was on hardware and the classrooms. Roughly 70% of the original budget was spent on building infrastructure, and purchasing the hardware necessary for the students to access the technology packages. At this time they also pushed out of the data system into a cloud based system so students could have access to this information anywhere. This aspect of the technology plan was a “technological smash hit” as students in theses OPSB schools now had access to computers and programs that  hadn’t been previously available to them. The plan was successful in regards to infrastructure, hardware, and software, but the technology plan faced, and continues to face, countless hardships and shortcomings.

Regardless of all the incredible technology that has been made available to students, teachers, and administrators, utilization of the hardware and programs is disappointingly low. It is extremely difficult to shift the model of instruction away from the industrial model and completely change the classroom environment, regardless of this newfound ability to define each student individually, develop individual instruction plans for each student, and allow each student to drive his or her own learning experience. Teachers are generally dealing with students from low-income families that have behavioral problems and little respect for authority. Often times the main concern of teachers is controlling the classroom and improving test scores, rather than what students are learning. Another huge threat facing the project is a rapidly decreasing budget. The OPBS will never have the same kind of initial funding at their disposal. Although millions of dollars won’t be needed for infrastructure and hardware, a substantial amount of funding is still needed to improve teacher training and professional development, and to manage the technology that has been brought in. It is, as a result, likely that some of the programs will need to be cut back. In order to improve the school system and actually achieve the desired outcome of this technology plan, teachers, administrators, students, and parents, must invest heavily in this new method of teaching and learning, and recognize the incredible long-term benefits that it can bring.


Case Study: The Residential Capacity of Above-Sea-Level New Orleans

My case study is not on an organization or agency in New Orleans. Rather I explored research done by Richard Campanella, a geography professor at Tulane University. As a geographer, Professor Campanella does a wide variety of research that incorporates geography in some way. I chose to discuss his research on elevation and population capacity of above-sea-level New Orleans. The goal of Campanella’s research is to locate vacant lots situated at, or above, sea level and to determine how many people could relocate to higher ground using historical data of population densities. LIDAR elevation data shows that contrary to what many believe, over half of New Orleans lies at, or above, sea level. Since New Orleans is so prone to flooding and hurricanes, elevation is a natural resource that residents should utilize for protection from such disasters.

Professor Campanella discussed how a Geographic Informations System (GIS) is simply the most appropriate technology for his research. He uses GIS to help organize and analyze data and claims it really is the only technology he would consider using (however, he did alter it to suit his needs to some extent). As an expert in GIS mapping, Professor Campanella was extremely pleased with the results of his investigation and views it as a success.

This case study did not have any real stakeholders because Professor Campanella does all of his research for independent reasons. In this type of research, it is most logical to work solo or with a few people, as this creates the most efficiency. Professor Campanella had the assistance of two summer interns on this project, which totaled several weeks long. The beneficiaries of this study would include you, me, and everyone else living in New Orleans; Campanella’s paper was even featured on the cover of the Times Picayune to help bring attention to the issue. Professor Campanella commented that if he published his paper before Katrina, it would have gone unnoticed; Katrina was definitely a wake-up call. His conclusions show that, if developed for residential purposes, the vacant parcels of land located at, or above, sea level would allow for somewhere between 9,000 to 21,000 people to relocate to higher areas. While this discovery could potentially save citizens from having their homes destroyed in future disasters, collective action to relocate seems unlikely. Professor Campanella however, recommends implementing policies to encourage this migration.