The looming sight of Charity Hospital—shutdown and abandoned—first drew me to the area. Now but an empty and immense concrete monolith, Charity was, until recently, the sole public hospital in New Orleans. It was notoriously closed after Hurricane Katrina. Three years after the storm, in late 2008, I heard about government plans to raze more than 200 homes near Charity in order to make room for two new hospitals. The doomed New Orleans neighborhood came to be called “Lower Mid-City” by newspapers and preservationists. Lower Mid-City was a name for this wasteland but earlier recollections place it in “Back of Town.”
Although there were several hundred residents, workers and passersby when I first visited the neighborhood, the streets felt empty. Nineteenth century architectural gems were boarded up and invaded by Cat’s Claw vines. Sidewalks were cracked and littered with debris. Yet even as these streets approached a standstill, everyday life persisted. Demolition workers wrecked, drifters passed through, locals stood their ground. I gleaned what I could, photographing the neighborhood, its architecture, and its residents for the next five years.
The tempo of the place had been languid, but in 2010 and 2011 the pace suddenly quickened to dizzying effect. Demolition of houses accelerated and the place was torn to bits. In a last-ditch effort to "preserve" the neighborhood, historic homes were rigged-up on tractor-trailers and rolled-out, though the former residents had already been forgotten. The preparations for the house-moves ironically pointed toward their very destruction. For the caravans of rolling buildings to clear utility lines overhead, their slate-shingled roofs were decapitated. In order to accommodate sharp turns around city blocks, shotgun houses longer than 60-feet were hacked down to size. A handful of onlookers came down to watch this oddest of New Orleans parades. I heard someone cry as the procession passed, “There goes the neighborhood.”