Gordon Plaza is a housing development built in the late 1970s on top of the former Agriculture Street Landfill, which served the city of New Orleans for over forty years. The landfill, named “Dante’s Inferno” in the 1940s by the Desire neighborhood residents due to the numerous underground fires that burned for decades, was closed in 1958 by local politicians in response to complaints of fly and rodent infestations. Led by Councilman Victor Schiro, who would eventually become mayor, those same politicians envisioned turning the site into a “beautiful subdivision” to provide affordable housing to the city’s low-income residents. These efforts included new federal programs to help residents purchase their first homes. Over the next two decades, the plan was realized through a series of federally financed city programs and the Gordon Plaza residential development in the Upper Ninth Ward was built. However, within just a few short years of completion, residents began to experience clear signs of toxic exposure, including children attending the new Moton Elementary School.
The American Dream Denied: The New Orleans Residents of Gordon Plaza Seek Relocation explores the lived experiences of local communities impacted by pollution, and its concomitant effects on health and environment. Equal parts art show, social history, and critical visualization project, the exhibition presents, in a myriad of ways, a chronological and visually engaging look at the residents’ current argument for a fully funded relocation with an emphasis on the role of women in activism, the effect on day-to-day living, and the frustrations of the “promised” American Dream.
This exhibition was organized by members of the Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML), coordinated by Christopher Oliver, Tulane professor of practice jointly between sociology and environmental studies, Taylor Center professor of social entrepreneurship, and faculty fellow within the Mellon Graduate Program in Community Engaged Scholarship, and in collaboration with New Orleans’ Residents of Gordon Plaza– Shannon Rainey, Lydwina Hurst, Jesse Perkins, Sam Egana, Marilyn Amar, Lionel Youngblood, Sheena Dedmond–as well as community organizers from the New Orleans Peoples Assembly.
The Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML) team includes Natalie Blaustone-Dye, Gabriella Burns, Delaney Connor, Megan Faust, Katherine Herman, Terrence Hixson, Jimmy Irwin, Nathan Jessee, Zachary Kanzler, Emma Maxwell, Dustin Robertson, Emily Szklarski, Sara Thiessen, Chloe Tucker, Sarper Tutuncuoglu, and Flora Whitehead.