Throughout the 1950s, the city intervened in increasing frequency to combat the insects, pests, odors, and open ﬁres from that landﬁll that threatened nearby residents. In 1950, smoke from subsurface ﬁres grew thick enough that police ofﬁcers were dispatched to Desire to help residents navigate their neighborhood. The Agriculture Street Landﬁll became so noxious and difﬁcult to maintain that the city eventually closed the site in 1958. However, following Hurricane Betsy in 1965, which caused devastating damage to the city, ofﬁcials reopened the landﬁll as a burning and disposal site for hurricane waste. Simultaneously, the city chose to suspend any restrictions on deposited items, which eventually included the disposal of motor vehicles and housing materials.
The movement for environmental justice emerged from the experiences of multiple communities that grappled with the siting of hazardous materials near their homes. In some cases, communities – especially publicly funded residential developments – were sited on top of former industrial waste sites due to the relatively low costs for this land, and the fact that the land was already owned by local municipalities and state government. In 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, which directed the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify toxic sites disproportionately impacting communities of color; the Agriculture Street Landﬁll in New Orleans was listed as a Superfund site that same year. Following the Superfund designation, residents have fought for a fully-funded relocation through building partnerships with universities, scientists, non-proﬁts, and community advocacy groups. One important connection has been the community’s relationship with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (TELC), which has provided pro bono legal representation to the community for over two decades. Since the formation of the New Orleans’ Peoples’ Assembly in 2017, the Gordon Plaza residents’ efforts have been increasingly ampliﬁed. The continuing activities of the Peoples’ Assembly, in concert with the technical advocacy work done by the newly created Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML) at Tulane University, has helped to provide further public exposure for the residents in their efforts to be relocated.
The residents of Gordon Plaza are asking for a fully funded relocation because they are not able to simply “get up and leave." When residents moved into Gordon Plaza, they invested all their money into new homes and the American Dream of becoming ﬁrst-time homeowners. After soil testing in the streets and yards of Gordon Plaza revealed toxic levels of chemicals, the property values of the homes plummeted, making it impossible for residents to sell their homes and move to safer, uncontaminated neighborhoods. A class-action lawsuit ruling in 2006 found in favor of the residents; however, the residents feel that the reported settlements received did not adequately compensate for their suffering: not only their loss in property values and the ﬁnancial costs of their illnesses due to toxic exposure but, most signiﬁcantly, the anguish over the death of friends and family members.
authored by the Critical Visualization and Media Lab