Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Molly Fleming has lent a helping hand in flood relief efforts in New Orleans and Cedar Rapids and thinks these two cities are experiencing many of the same struggles.

“They are long-lasting, deep-rooted communities of working-class people,” said Fleming, a graduate student in The University of Iowa’s Urban and Regional Planning program. “Those are the communities in both of those cities that have been utterly wiped off the map. Those are the people who have been displaced.

“That’s what affects me the most when you go to those places. Those are the people who don’t have the means necessary to rebuild.”

Fleming and her 10 fellow students in Professor Jerry Anthony’s housing policy class spent two Saturdays last October helping clean up the yards of two flooded houses in the Time Check Neighborhood in Cedar Rapids. The students removed branches, shingles, and siding, and mowed the lawns. “The focus of this trip was to help students understand the extent of the flood damage and the impact it has had on families,” Anthony said.

The graduate students saw the citizens’ plights first-hand. “I saw a lot of hopelessness in that neighborhood,” Meembo Changula said. “People had written comments on some houses saying, ‘I used to live in this neighborhood.’ There was such a sense of loss I felt for the former residents of that place.”

But those comments don’t represent the feelings of all citizens. “The people I spoke with are incredibly hard working. They’ve embraced this idea of putting their heads down and grinding through the work until things are better,” Robert Laroco said. “They are fully aware of all the barriers lying in front of them. They are excellent at being optimistic.”

Anthony assigned the students to write critical analyses of the recovery efforts in New Orleans and Cedar Rapids to see if there were any lessons to be learned from recovery efforts in New Orleans that could be used to help rebuild Cedar Rapids.