Fighting Poverty with Passion
A day full of great conversation, light shopping, and great food begs the question, “Are we working hard, or hardly working?”
I always say Urban Conservancy is involved with anything that has to do with sustainable city living. We are a part of so many projects from reducing yard-paving, to urban water management, to local business promotion that my job requires to me to be a green-jack-of-all-trades.
Our biggest initiative is StayLocal – a Greater New Orleans’ Independent Business Alliance that connects locally-owned, independent business to customers, resources and each other. It is our job to raise the visibility and viability of these businesses. One part of this includes our Neighborhood Guides that are a compilation of local businesses in New Orleans’ neighborhoods. The guides also include valuable community resources, “5 Great things to do,” a short history of the area, and how to get there. Seems like a lot to fit on a 12inch by 8inch piece of paper! Yet, the compact folded design makes it easy to tote around town.
In order to make a Neighborhood Guide we need at least 20 local businesses. To recruit local businesses we go door to door around a neighborhood introducing the project and ourselves. Our next guide will be for Algiers Point, so my co-worker Mark and I set out to the other side of the river to talk with businesses.
From my intern years, I am all too familiar with cold-calls and online research, but I had never been door to door. I can’t say I felt trepidation or fear because talking has always been a strength of mine. Yet, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Would people talk to us? Would they kick us out the door (the equivalent of the sting of being hung up on during a cold call)? Mind you I only pictured the worst-case scenarios.
Before our outreach day I had only been to Algiers twice. Once for my internship last year to talk to a neighborhood association and a few weeks before for Wednesdays at the Point, the summer concert series held at the park at the tip of Algiers Point. Each time I had been, I never ventured far from the ferry stop in the park.
Mark and I’s first stop was at Vine and Dine whose owner Vanessa reached out to us to help her build up Algiers’ business scene. Eager to seem like an in-the-know local, I told her about how I went to Wednesdays at the Point and how it was great for business in Algiers bringing so many people over from the other side of the river. Boy was I wrong! Vanessa politely told me that Wednesdays at the Point do not bring in many customers. Just like when I visited, few people leave the park, they just hop off and then back on the ferry and never stay to explore the area.
Vanessa told me that the series used to take place all over Algiers in front of different local businesses. Once the series was taken over by Algiers Economic Development Foundation, they planted the festival in the park.
I heard this same story from every business we visited and it made me think about my original naïve comment. I have been living in New Orleans for 5 years and would say I know the city well, yet did I understand all of it? Learning more about the history of Algiers and the first hand accounts of residents made me realize how my knowledge did not necessarily translate into understanding. In an effort to connect with business owners, I assumed I understood.
Moving forward with plenty of other neighborhoods to visit, I want to be more cautious of my assumptions. Instead of saying, “You must really like Wednesday at the Point,” the real question should be “How does Wednesdays at the Point affect your business?” The connection forged with people in the different neighborhoods doesn’t always arise from already knowing, but rather admitting that you don’t.