Anthony Martin wants the lights on in the park. Corinthian Ancar wants a boat hauled away. And John Press wants the snake-infested grass behind his church cut so kids can play there.
All three Upper 9th Ward residents rallied Monday against what they see as a continued lack of investment and attention for their neighborhood. They gathered at Odile Davis Playground, which faces the site of an April murder that some said symbolizes how blight leads to crime.
Some of their ire was directed at the city, which they said should take a firmer hand in cleaning up overgrown properties, including the land bordering a nearby railyard. Many of those lots are overgrown with weeds and strewn with dumped items.
As the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, some said, their part of the Upper 9th Ward still feels far from recovered.
“We’re hearing these reports about how everything is going so swell,” said Debra Campbell, chairwoman of the Upper 9th Ward chapter of the nonprofit group A Community Voice. “But let’s be truthful. It’s going swell in SOME areas.”
Ancar, who lives just down Law Street from the park, said she frets constantly about snakes, rats and raccoons hiding in the overgrown lots near her house.
The city lists several code violations at Ancar’s own property. She fumed that she was targeted for enforcement even though other nearby lots feature violations as egregious as a small boat, which she says was dumped there about two months ago.
Elsewhere nearby are overgrown lots on Montegut Street bordering Norfolk Southern’s Oliver Yard Terminal, houses in varying states of collapse, and pitted roads that threaten to damage cars that venture on them.
City spokesman Brad Howard said the Landrieu administration has invested heavily in New Orleans Recreation Development Commission programming citywide.
“While Odile Davis Park has been heavily vandalized and repairs would cost the city a substantial amount of capital funding, NORDC is committed to working with community partners, neighborhood associations and the Upper 9th Ward community to rebuild and sustain a safe space for children and families to learn, play and grow,” Howard said.
Sitting in the bleachers at the park, Anthony Martin, 31, said that before Katrina, it was a hub for neighborhood youth. He hopes to see more recreation programming in the park. Short of that, he said, the city could keep the park’s lights on at night to provide local children a safer place to play.
“From my recollection and experience, the park saved a lot of lives,” Martin said. “If there were more activity in the park, I know crime would decrease.”
Across the street from the park at the intersection of Montegut and Law streets occurred another sign of the Upper 9th Ward’s shaky recovery — a murder on April 24.
About noon that day, Marcel Coleman, 20, was found shot to death in an empty lot. He was covered in blood and not wearing shoes or pants.
New Orleans Police Department spokesman Tyler Gamble said the investigation into Coleman’s murder is active, but he had no news on any suspects.
Gamble said that besides that April killing, the area around Odile Davis Playground has not seen a recent surge in crime.
He encouraged concerned residents to come to police-community meetings.
“We’re open to working with them and addressing any kinds of concerns they have,” he said.