by Kevin Allman
"When I was a kid, NORD had great playgrounds and sports teams and even theater, dance and music programs. But when I came into office 67 days ago, I found a recreation department that would make you weep, one that is under-funded and under-prioritized. We found many of NORDs facilities are in shambles swimming pools without filtration systems, no restrooms and no shower facilities."
For the three weeks before the mayor's speech, Gambit had been looking into the state of NORD facilities around the city, visiting 25 of them in representative neighborhoods around New Orleans and recording the conditions there.
What reporter Matt Davis found was more than "swimming pools without filtration systems" or a lack of restrooms -- it was vacant lots listed as playgrounds, abandoned buildings and seemingly dangerous structures, rusty playground equipment, bulldozed lots listed as playspots, and, in one case, a open manhole large enough for a child to fall down.
In our cover story, Davis looks at the history of NORD -- from its founding in the 1940s, when Life magazine hailed it as the nation's finest summer recreation program, to its current state of neglect ... a neglect so profound that it was FEMA, not the City of New Orleans, who could provide us with the most up-to-date list of NORD's own facilities. We talked to city councilmembers, to city officials, and to the neighbors of these blighted properties; we took photos, video, and ranked each property.
Landrieu and other city officials want to make a change to the city charter (which will be taken to the voters Oct. 2) to turn NORD over to a public-private partnership; and NORD just received its fourth director in two years -- but will it make a difference this time? Is it possible to double the NORD budget when the city coffers are facing a $67 million deficit? And if NORD can't even manage to keep the grass cut on its existing properties, what does that say about the city's stewardship of even more money for the program?
There's more in this week's issue -- from a first-person account of what volunteering to help oiled wildlife really entails to a fun Gambit interview with burlesque queen Dita Von Teese -- but we really hope you take the time to read about the current state of the New Orleans Recreation Department.
Here's a quick video of what we found -- and please keep in mind that these aren't abandoned or defunct playgrounds: these are active NORD facilities, this is is where the city of New Orleans expects its children to play, today ... and this is only the first installment of what we expect will be an ongoing series of reports.