Kevin and Mary Daniels: Making a Difference in New Orleans
Though he had no personal ties to New Orleans and had never visited the city prior to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Kevin Daniels was deeply alarmed by the slow pace of the recovery effort, especially in already economically distressed areas like the Lower Ninth Ward. He and his wife Mary would not acquiesce to the demolition of so many historic homes without a fight, and these dynamic Seattle residents quickly went to work, putting their long-standing preservation ethic in action by assembling teams of colleagues, friends and family members to participate in the historic community's rebirth.
Since 2007 Kevin has coordinated four teams to date to focus on the Holy Cross neighborhood, collaborating with local residents to bring historic "barge" style homes back into use. Kevin notes that his "first team consisted of professionals that were on my company's high rise construction project in Seattle. Rather than go on a retreat for a few days of relaxation and team bonding, I brought them to New Orleans for a more meaningful purpose."
That first experience in the disaster area immediately hooked him, and since then Kevin has coordinated many more teams of volunteers, tackling everything from major structural repairs to interior finishing. This work has been in collaboration with an array of groups, including the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, Historic Seattle, and the Washington Trust, as well as local Seattle chapters of American Institute of Architects and Architects Without Borders. His most recent team was in New Orleans in April and another team will be there again in September.
Through this extraordinary effort, Kevin and his volunteers have gotten to know many local residents, including a man named Charlie who lived next door to the first house they helped rehabilitate. Charlie chose to stay during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, after nearly drowning and losing everything in the storm. He has great pride in having remained in the neighborhood and has done his best to contribute to its recovery. This commitment, along with the dedication of so many other people from the neighborhood, has led Kevin and his volunteers to recognize their work is just as much about social justice and providing opportunity as it is about saving historic places.
Today, thanks to the Daniels' ongoing involvement, the neighborhood is coming back to life, with new local businesses and residents moving back into rehabilitated historic homes. Though this gives the Daniels' satisfaction, the juxtaposition of these rehabilitated homes with the continued devastation of the area remains a major concern. Kevin continues to be a strong advocate for this neglected community, for historic preservation, and for his reaffirmed belief that reusing the built environment is the key to true sustainability.