Sunday, October 30, 2005

Purging the Poor from New Orleans

Mark Drennen, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., is enthused about the opportunities opened up by Katrina. Klein (2005) comments on “his reference to African-Americans in New Orleans as ‘the minority community.’ At 67 percent of the population, they are in fact the clear majority, while whites like Drennen make up just 27 percent.”

Klein observes that “New Orleans is already displaying signs of a demographic shift so dramatic that some evacuees describe it as ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Before Mayor Ray Nagin called for a second evacuation, the people streaming back into dry areas were mostly white, while those with no homes to return to are overwhelmingly black.”

Klein notes that we are assured that this is not a conspiracy; “it's simple geography -- a reflection of the fact that wealth in New Orleans buys altitude. That means that the driest areas are the whitest (the French Quarter is 90 percent white; the Garden District, 89 percent; Audubon, 86 percent; neighboring Jefferson Parish, where people were also allowed to return, 65 percent).” She mentions that some dry areas, like Algiers, did have large low-income African-American populations before the storm. She failed to mention the devastated, and largely white, section called Lakeview.

Drennen points out that many of the destroyed 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.

Malcolm Suber, a longtime New Orleans community activist, concedes that this type of resettlement will be difficult: The old-line families in Audubon and the Garden District may pay lip service to "mixed income" housing, "but the Bourbons uptown would have a conniption if a Section 8 tenant moved in next door. It will certainly be interesting."

Klein, Naomi “Purging the Poor from New Orleans” September 27, 2005


You've Got to See It to Really Believe It

Stephen Perry, president of the convention bureau, suggests that the badly damaged neighborhoods to the east are what will allow New Orleans "to literally develop a living template of urban reform, something that we never before had an opportunity to even dream about in the United States."

King (2005) points out that “Spared by Katrina, for the most part, were the city's most viable portions: the French Quarter, which brings in the tourists; the hotels, which put them up; the older, architecturally refined neighborhoods that attract a core of urban professionals (and give the tourists something to do beyond trolling Bourbon Street); the Central Business District; the port and its shipping construction. These will provide a starting point for renewal.”

As part of this renewal “Lost, in the main, but not exclusively, were poorer neighborhoods where tourists rarely ventured. And these, once cleared, will offer a canvas on which the urban visionaries can paint. In this view, what the floods accomplished, albeit brutally, was something no politician could ever suggest: Take the poorest and most crime-ridden portions of a city, sweep them more or less clean, and start anew.”

"Of course, such social engineering could draw battle lines beyond demolition: over who will control the effort, who will land the contracts, who will be hired to do the work, how much to rebuild and how much to leave as open space, how to negotiate the racial divide, how extensively to fix the city's levee system.”

King, Peter H. “You've Got to See It to Really Believe It” Los Angeles Times October 2, 2005


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