The Urban Conservancy in New Orleans was designed to preserve historic landmarks in the city. But since its genesis in 2001, the community it serves has been rocked by two of the biggest environmental, economic and human tragedies in US history so the non-profit has evolved accordingly.
As the fifth anniversary of Katrina (Aug 29) nears, many in the city are reminded of just how much local efforts such as those provided by Urban Conservancy matter. As New Orleans and the entire Gulf coast struggle to be restored, and long after the media storm and the volunteerism have faded, social service and community outreach programs matter more than ever.
Toward that end, Urban Conservancy’s executive director, Dana Eness, may not appear to be the image of a tough-minded lets-get-it-done “community organizer” (a phrase that lost luster during the Obama presidential campaign), yet she is. A slight woman with an easy laugh, Eness is more Southern belle than blowhard; but perhaps it’s her easy way that does affect change.
And, Eness is definitely someone who has a clear vantage point to assess what has occurred in the past few months. The well in the Gulf is not only not yet killed, but there has been so much devastation to fishermen’s and other people’s lives as well as horror to marine wildlife, that it’s clearly far too premature to celebrate anything.
Eness told the Examiner that the Conservancy was “already pre-Katrina in our motives.” When disaster struck five years ago, the Conservancy was there to help the community rebuild. Now that New Orleanians and others in the region are dealing with the oil spill, the agency is also there.
The Conservancy’s Delta Working Group — a consortium of concerned citizens and organizations such as the United Houma Nation, New Orleans Insitute City-Works, the center for the Study of New Orleans at Loyola University and the National Wildlife Federation, for example –initially met in New Orleans on May 25, 2010 to brief on the status and impacts of the disaster, and what a comprehensive strategy of response must include.
Since then, they’ve made continued progress to raise money and bring appropriate parties together. Further, since the working group commenced, a website has been set up to provide donations. Many people tell Eness that they simply don’t know how or where to give their money. The website includes myriad sources, with compelling videos by those asking for your help. Givers simply click on the individual cause they wish to support.
Eness said they want to grow the website: “As we listened to people – [we kept seeing that] here’s another unmet need, here’s a gap, and people are reluctant to donate in the [same] way [to the oil spill that they would for] a natural disaster – they want BP to do it [all].” She said that unfortunately, that’s unrealistic.
With Oilspilldonation.org, Urban Conservancy was able to “create something that would allow people to follow their heart and donate – whether that meant to coastal, marine, or other sources. This would [facilitate donors to] cut through [red tape].”
“In addition to the donations we facilitate for the oil spill-affected, The Urban Conservancy is helping residents of the Delta plane by engaging in research on the economic impact of the oil disaster on local businesses and partnering with social service agencies to connect business owners with social, legal, and financial assistance,” Eness said.
She also said the Conservancy plans to have multiple sites up to help save the Gulf.
Asked how donors can be assured their money goes to whom they think it will, she said that the site is just a portal that links to individual groups’ donation page rather than to Urban Conservancy.
Eness is very worried that the fanfare will fade and the media attention will move on. The effects of the BP oil spill will remain long after the bottom kill has been performed on the well (at an as yet intederminate date, but likely this month).
After all, the coastal wetlands have been a grave concern even pre-BP oil spill and pre-Katrina, for that matter.
“The bigger story [than even the BP oil spill] is coastal restoration and the fact that we’re on a tight timeline to get that right,” said Eness. “It’s been described as a death by a 1,000 cuts, and has been degrading for a long, long time.” So even if, “in a best case scenario [the oil spill is permanently plugged], we will still have this larger infrastucture problem.”
It was Hurricane Katrina, Eness said, that “exposed weaknesses in the system, and the oil spill exposed that nothing got fixed in a critical way.”
Information about the Urban Conservancy’s efforts can be found HERE.