An Empire of Vacant Lots
“All the trash comes here” Wolvie replied when i asked why they wanted to be in New Orleans. As a scavenger and builder from free materials, this is the carpenters equivalent of having a free lumber yard. But they went on to explain the much richer and complex relationship between the punks of this town and material wealth. It caught my ear because it centered around sharing.
The informal collection of people living in conventional housing and shacks and vehicles functions in many ways like the intentional communities i am more used to. Cars are lent for long periods, instead of buying or renting tools a distributed informal library provides for these needs, and friends are invited to move in. Wolvie comments that it provides access to the culture and services of intentional community, but they can still retreat to their own private space at the end of the day.
I visit a collection of punk homesteads where different “rent” models comfortably co-exist. Some folks are squatting, others renting, some residents are paying back taxes on abandoned properties in hopes of securing ownership of them eventually, still others have succeeded in owning places. The people i am introduced to flow between these housing options as luck, circumstance and employment permit. Work seems often to be gig based, to fit in with peoples needs for traveling or activism.
The names of collective properties make me smile: Kitty Meow Town, Liability Park and Squatopotomus. This flat rainy city is ideal for bikes and i have several offers for bikes to borrow in my first couple of hours in town.
Over a decade after hurricane Katrina, the effects of the disaster are often visible. “We have moved from shock capitalism to disaster tourism” Catrina tells me, referring to Naomi Klein’s brilliant book Shock Doctrine. Construction is everywhere.
“I am becoming a boat punk.” Wolvie confesses. And within an hour of this confession we are off rescuing abandoned barges of the St John’s bayou. Credit goes to Ruby for convincing the nay-saying boys that we could get these barges out of the water and loaded onto the truck.
With the help of a passing runner we landed this barge which had been built for a recent raft race and left behind. We are particularly excited by the US american flag paint job and make shift paddles.
NOLA is a party town. We stop at a Melba’s a laundromat/restaurant/bar which serves inexpensive frozen daiquiris and i find myself slightly smashed in the late afternoon. Mardi Gras is not just for tourists, the whole city celebrates for weeks with parades and musical performances and pub crawls. The colorful fabric of this place is woven by mixing diverse cultures and taking it to the streets.
All this begs the question, “Can we mimic the benefits of intentional residential community in scattered punk microvillages?” The New Orleans punk scene with its generous material cooperation, low cost and no cost housing, binding festivals and cultural events, and inexpensive social lubricants makes a compelling case.
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