he area that would become the Lower Ninth Ward was originally low-lying cypress swamp, which partly explains why it has long been a neighborhood for the New Orleans working class (in this city, lower ground has always been cheaper ground). Because of its (relative) distance from the city center, the Lower Ninth long had a rural feel to it. This was an urban area where folks raised chickens in their yards (and to be fair, some still do).
At the turn of the 20th century, the land here was poorly drained and inadequately served by the city sewage system; the construction of the Industrial Canal further exacerbated the isolation of the neighborhood. Despite this neglect from the city government, the area continued to thrive as a residential and commercial area, but the 10-foot storm surge of Hurricane Betsy (1965) overtopped the 8-foot levies that protected the Lower 9th ward, and some 80 percent of the neighborhood was flooded as a result. Businesses closed or moved out, and a poor area grew more destitute. The levy system was never updated adequately to deal with Katrina’s storm surge, which devastated the Lower 9th. Media attention turned the neighborhood into the poster child for failed Katrina preparation and relief.
Despite (or perhaps, because of) its history as one of the poorer areas of New Orleans, the Lower Ninth has produced a slew of activists, musicians and artists well out or proportion to its relatively small population. Jazz legends Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino and Kermit Ruffins came up here, and Louis Armstrong Elementary School (then McDonogh 19) was one of the first desegregated schools in the Deep South.