May 2011

RTNO Publishes Guide to Rebuilding

how to build a city

Kate Cutrer
Special Projects Officer

“SO YOUR CITY IS DESTROYED.” Few sentences could match the seriousness and sadness of the first lines of How to Rebuild a City: Field Guide from a Work in Progress, and yet, amazingly, the book is far from somber. Passionate and funny New Orleans writers and artists share—in essays, short stories, and advice columns—informed but cheeky thoughts on how to restore normalcy in order to rebuild after a disaster. Editors Anne Gisleson, Tristan Thompson and Catherine Burke contributed not only the material and design, but countless hours to their volunteer project. Bywater press Press Street, of which Gisleson helps run, commissioned the guide.

The book, released in December of 2010, is the brainchild of New Orleans City Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer (who directed Rebuilding Together New Orleans before the election) and her husband Bobby. Field Guide is a collection from and for those who, after devastating chaos, chose creative ways to rebuild their families and communities. At times playful, at others sardonic, it is ultimately a book of hard work, perseverance and celebration on the road to New Orleans’ recovery. And while the storm is clearly Field Guide’s framework, the book is applicable to any community or city in need of redemption.

Featuring more than 100 local writers and artists, the collection acts as a roadmap for navigating the way back in a city with a broken infrastructure. It offers simple solutions to complex problems—from how to build bus stop benches to how to educate the city’s youth if the schools have closed. “Why not start your own?” essayist Susan Gisleson asks before detailing the way New Orleans’ Sugar Cane Academy did just that. The chart of recovery acronyms in the style of the Periodic Table of Elements is an invaluable and ironic resource in and of itself.

While the book recognizes that residents accomplished a substantial portion of the city’s revitalization, it also highlights the incredible work of out-of-state volunteers—particularly young volunteers who came with college spring break groups or through a year of service with organizations like AmeriCorps. RTNO relies heavily on its college student volunteers and AmeriCorps House Captains, believing strongly that their efforts have been paramount in the organization’s success. The guide advises other communities facing future disasters that “this influx of fresh energy and optimism will be crucial.”

The Arts Council of New Orleans and the Zeitoun Foundation underwrote How to Rebuild a City: Field Guide from a Work in Progress. Established in 2009, the Zeitoun Foundation was organized by author David Eggers. Using proceeds from his book about Hurricane Katrina survivors Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun, the foundation awards money to New Orleans’ non-profits that are helping to rebuild the city. All proceeds from Field Guide will go directly to Rebuilding Together New Orleans.

How to Rebuild a City: Field Guide From a Work in Progress: $20.

Available at www.amazon.com

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