The Bling of Sustainability

The Bling of Sustainability, 2009


On the clearest autumn night, in the 8th Ward of New Orleans, long after the horizontal rains of Katrina and Gustav, the precipitation is the lead of a gat 9 Glock: “poppoppop-pop—pop-pop—poppoppop.” A staccato riff delivered into street party crowds confounds DJ Baby Boy’s remixed “hammer hammer hammer.” The unequalized, contrary rhythms are background to a screaming stream of adrenaline athleticism, a frantic race on this crumbling asphalt track of a road between streets named Music and Arts.

Police lockdown and the lamenting, open, unedited howls of a mother cannot shake the brooding silence of eventual retribution that hangs out on the corner of the scene.

In some other worldwide corner you can download the lowdown on “sustainability.” It’s a jewel-like Venn diagram of interlocked translucent orbs labeled in primary hues of SOCIAL, ENVIRONMENT, and ECONOMIC that yield complementary-colored in-betweens of Bearable, Equitable, and Viable and a gray-matter core of Sustainable.

That being said…back to this corner in New Orleans.

What bullets swept away in the night, trash talk replaces, and laughter peels away the yellow tape. Grandmothers with strong wit who will carry the new child through great generations make a courageous stance in the day. And with the help of mouths of the south at least a Bearable love is available and audible.

In this unrepaired, flood-wrecked, poverty-and-drug-dosed neighborhood, discover the other gray ore. Lead of nano scale in the soil, micro bullets industrially made and traded on stock exchanges, yielded great wealth to a few but is now stripped into dust by time or by labor, from old house paint, or spit from exhausting autos as tetraethyl lead. It is mined by a baby’s lung or child’s hands and is conveyed through blood to be locked away in the bone and brains. Here it will confound education’s promise and complicate the body with a lifetime of elusive health.

Where the magnitude of environmental injustice is figured with the math of hurricane destruction, for those without options to flee, tragedy roots deeper and deeper into humid and heavy air, where a beautiful culture defiantly clings thick.

Here “Sustainability” is a flawed bauble, an imperfect luxury for those who can afford its bling, or an exclusive delusion for those who can even consider it an option.

originally published in Public Art Review, spring/summer 2009