From Blog and Tan
I'm preparing to visit New Orleans next weekend, for the first time since Katrina hit. I am going to spend a day or two with my extended family--aunts, uncles, cousins, etc--who have been cleaning and reviving their homes in the suburbs to the west of the 17th Street Canal since returning.
What do I say to them? I live in metro Atlanta, which is now home to a significant number refugees who have discovered a place that has been moving forward at the same pace it was before the storm. Life is no different here, but it is totally upended in New Orleans. The NFC South rivals could hardly be more different.
New Orleans was a deteriorating city before the storm, and those economic challenges to the devastated city
are amplified in the hurricane's aftermath. There are a number of challenges the city faces at this time:
- First, as a matter of security, there's the challenge of protecting the area from future storms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the New Orleans Area Hurricane Protection System, currently being repaired in preparation for the next hurricane season beginning June 1.
- Corporate presence was nearly nil before the storm--Entergy was the only Fortune 500 company headquartered there, and several notable small companies including Ruth's Chris Steak House moved away in the immediate aftermath. Several bedrock items that companies evaluate--education, infrastructure, tax base--do not appear to be in a condition that would attract any influx of company offices.
- Many areas, like the poor Lower 9th Ward, remain as devastated as they were just after the storm hit. Most of the residents of that area have not returned--most likely because they lack the resources to rebuild, and perhaps even the resources to secure transportation back to their homes.
- The rest of the country appears ambivalent towards the future of the city. There is no sense of urgency or sense of unity with regards to preserving the city or its inhabitants--I believe this is partially engendered by the right wing media's depcition of "Katrina victims" as "FEMA refugees," unwilling to work and wholly addicted to welfare. People in other cities openly mock their misfortune, yelling "FEMA can't buy you everything!" when the LSU Tigers lost at the University of Georgia late last year (as just one example).
The future doesn't look promising. A rosy picture shows the "sliver by the river
," the higher ground initially developed before roughly 1875 which was largely undamaged in the storm, returning to life basically as normal, but the land behind it--including the low-lying 9th ward--abandoned and returning to swampland. The population of the city will be much smaller.
So what does one say to elderly family members so entrenched in local culture that they're incapable of considering a life anywhere else? What does one say to younger family, of professional age, who will have limited career opportunities in such a landscape? What about to parents of the youngest, children of grammar school age, who should be ultimately looking out for the future of their children?
Should they stay, hoping that things will work out and that there will be opportunity--either employed by a large company or in the form of starting their own company--in the future? Or should they assess the situation and relocate, before another devastating storm hits? This would partially depend on the confidence one has in Ray Nagin
, who was re-elected yesterday
as Mayor of New Orleans
. Harry Shearer writes that Landreiu's campaign
as challenger fit right in with the leaders of the Democratic party--simply running as the alternative, not stating in bold terms what his agenda included.
How do I tell an upper-lower or lower-middle class family in a poor, deteriorating metro area that their families would be better off living somewhere else? Who am I to assume they've not thought about this already? How do I express support for young school-age children with plenty of potential to remain in a city with limited hope (except, apparently, for the Saints
), future and opportunity?
So many questions, and so few clear answers.