If This Were Only Cleared Away: The Nation Takes on Fantasies of Future New Orleans, Plus a Few Other Thoughts Of My Own
From The Nation: New Orleans: Raze or Rebuild? by Christian Parenti:
Though the area is routinely designated a ghetto, the homes of the Ninth Ward are mostly beautiful, century-old capes and bungalows, some with ornate wooden detailing reminiscent of old homes in the San Francisco Bay Area. "They'll have to bulldoze it all," says a visiting New York City cop, surveying the damage from inside an NYPD van.
Is that option--the right's much-touted tabula rasa--inevitable? "They don't have to tear all these down," says Joe Peters, a Ninth Ward tier repairman. "Under that siding, that's all cypress frames and barge board." Peters seems to think that the more solid homes of the Ninth Ward can be saved. Increasingly the holdouts here see the mandatory evacuation order as part of a huge land grab.
I track down Mike Howell, a Nation reader I'd met several days before. "Yeah, this could be their dream come true," he says. "Get rid of all the poor African-Americans and turn the place into Disneyland." After camping on Howell's roof, my colleague and I leave him and his wife our extra water and gas and push on. . . .
"The evacuation order is just trying to get out the criminal element," says the cop in the classic flat, nasal Yat accent common to the Irish- and Italian-Americans who make up much of the city's white population. He explains how the military is mapping the city for holdouts using helicopters with infrared, and how troops on the ground mark the suspect building with a system of Xs and checks, a code that indicates to the police how many people are inside. The cop finishes his drink, shakes a few hands and rolls off.
Facilitating the tabula rasa agenda is an increasingly militaristic attitude that borders on boyish fantasy and seems to pervade the numerous federal SWAT teams, out-of-town cops, private security forces, civilian volunteers and even journalists. There are exceptions: The young soldiers of the 82nd Airborne and First Cavalry seem much less caught up in it and are quite generous with their ice and MREs.
. . . two vehicle convoys from Blackwater USA--one of the biggest mercenary firms operating in Iraq--cruise the deserted city, their guns trained on rooftops ready for snipers, who have recently shot at a cell-tower repair crew. . . .
Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, Bush-connected firms like the Shaw Group, Bechtel and Halliburton are lining up to get big portions of the $62 billion in federal money that will soon flood the storm region. The fact that some of these companies had been convicted of defrauding the federal government in the past, are under investigation again for corruption in Iraq and were once banned from federal contracting due to unethical practices has not stopped the process.
(Photo of Paretti from the Mother Jones web site. 9 Ward photo from the Washington Post.)
MEANWHILE, from the New York Times:
More than 1,000 displaced residents from St. Bernard Parish crowded the State Capitol to learn about the state of their devastated houses. No one has been permitted to re-enter the area to retrieve belongings or examine their houses. News of the meeting traveled by word of mouth and Web sites, and people lined up for blocks outside the Art Deco Capitol, where Gov. Huey P. Long was assassinated in 1935. Some drove from Houston.
Local officials did not try to hide the bad news.
"You will not recognize St. Bernard Parish," the parish president, Henry J. Rodriguez Jr., told hundreds of residents in the marble foyer of the Capitol. "All you will have left of St. Bernard Parish is your memories."
Now, I've looked at photos of St. Bernard (see for example this one; compare to this image for reference), and I'm not sure exactly what he means. His statement implies that the building are gone. But they're not. Most of them are still standing. Shouldn't it be up to the owners and residents whether to give up on properties in St. Bernard?
I should add that I have looked up lots and lots of specific NOLA area addresses on the Digital Globe (and occasionally NOAA) images, and I have not yet had to write the "you house is smashed to bits" letter, though I did ask one person if he had a really big side yard (see image below), since the pre-Katrina satellite image was too blurry for comparison. Except in obvious cases, in which a house has been replaced by a debris field, it should be up to homeowners, in consultation with structural engineers and other such professionals, whether NOLA homes that are still standing need to be demolished, not handwaving politicans making sweeping generalizations. The vast majority of New Orleans are still standing and should not be razed without their owner's consent.
For further contemplation of Future New Orleans, see Joel Garreau writing in the Washington Post, whose piece entitled A Sad Truth: Cities Aren't Forever, is an odd combination of hard-headed realism, and politically-naive passing along of the current spin. His last paragraph reads:
I hope I'm wrong about the future of the city. But if the determination and resources to rebuild New Orleans to greater glory does not come from within, from where else will it come?
Let the people go back to their houses to make their own decisions, house by house. They want to do it, but grand plans are afoot that seem likely to preclude that process. In the end, Hurricane FEMA could do more damage to the city than Katrina if let to run its course.
UPDATE: I just this one below. The building that was inquired about looks at best very badly damaged. It is down the street from the Michoud NASA facility, also shown (aerial photos from Globalsecurity.org).