Friday, September 23, 2005

new orleans reconstruction - ethnic cleansing?

the billions pouring into the Katrina relief effort (and doubtless billions more to follow for the Rita aftermath) have left me feeling uneasy for the big easy. here is a picture-perfect opportunity for the unscrupulous monied interests in the region (and opportunists from far and wide) to rebuild new orleans in their own image: clean, tourist-friendly, white.

playing devil's advocate with myself (as I often do), I counter, "But who's going to tell the Red Cross how to spend their donated capital?" the answer, of course, is the local experts to whom they will turn for advice in such matters: the local and regional officials whose fingers are already stained green with money. surely not all of them are corrupt, but can you imagine that the poor, now-homeless, economically disenfranchised, or other "undesirables" are well-represented in their ranks?

Naomi Klein, writing in The Nation today, offers a hopeful and compelling, if sketchy, analysis of how the former poor residents of the beleaguered city can be included in its repopulation and reconstruction. according to her study of census figures, the big easy was already in a slump, with high vacancy rates in many neighborhoods (parishes). one forward-thinking idea, ironically enough, seems to have come from the unlikeliest of places: new orleans's top corporate lobbyist, Mark Drennen, president and ceo of greater new orleans inc. His analysis of the situation, according to Klein, leads to this suggestion:

As for the hundreds of thousands of residents whose low-lying homes and housing projects were destroyed by the flood, Drennen points out that many of those neighborhoods were dysfunctional to begin with. He says the city now has an opportunity for "twenty-first-century thinking": Rather than rebuild ghettos, New Orleans should be resettled with "mixed income" housing, with rich and poor, black and white living side by side. [from the article]

one significant problem, of course, is that this must all happen very quickly. There are perhaps 200,000 homeless residents waiting to return to their city. another problem: the diaspora of the evacuation sent many of them thousands of miles away; travel back to "the big swampy" may be financially impossible for them, often the poorest of the poor. (for conspiracy theorists: chew on the details of the evacuation--- why were the poor bussed so far from home? any chance this wide distribution was not merely chance?)

I hope the powers-that-be in new orleans are not all corrupt, monied real-estate speculators. port of entry for my irish forebears, god be with you now!


At 9/26/2005 12:21 AM, Blogger tess said...

Urban Renewal, anyone? It's an old, old, old phenomenon in this here country of ours. There was an excellent discussion of this very question on a fine NPR program by the name of Open Source ...



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