Wednesday, February 21, 2007
The future of one of our greatest cities ...
But in the Gentilly charrette, I was so put off by the blatant selfishness and corruption of many of the local leaders, power brokers and architects that I became physically ill. I understand Andrés's point (see below) about the laid-back charm of the Caribbean, which applies just as much to bohemian villages like the old Greenwich Village and the newer East Village. During the Gentilly charrette, however, what I heard was that New Orleanians want better government, better education, and less crime in the new New Orleans.
So far, they're not getting it.
OLD New Orleans may never come back. Gang members are coming back, so the city's murder rate is climbing, and working people who love the city and who've stuck it out so far are leaving. Others are still living in places they never wanted to be in, like Wichita, because they have no job to come back to, or because FEMA regulations are stopping them from building, or because they can't get insurance money to rebuild.
Andrés Duany, who's bought a house in the Marigny, has an interesting insight on this:
I remember specifically when on a street in the Marigny I came upon a colorful little house framed by banana trees. I thought, “This is Cuba.” (I am Cuban.) I realized at that instant that New Orleans is not really an American city, but rather a Caribbean one. I understood that, when seen through the lens of the Caribbean, New Orleans is not among the most haphazard, poorest, or misgoverned American cities, but rather the most organized, wealthiest, cleanest, and competently governed of the Caribbean cities. This insight was fundamental because from that moment I understood New Orleans and truly began to sympathize. But the government? Like everyone, I found the city government to be a bit random; then I thought that if New Orleans were to be governed as efficiently as, say, Minneapolis, it would be a different place—and not one that I could care for. Let me work with the government the way it is. It is the human flaws that make New Orleans the most human of American cities. (New Orleans came to feel so much like Cuba that I was driven to buy a house in the Marigny as a surrogate for my inaccessible Santiago de Cuba.)
When understood as Caribbean, New Orleans’s culture seems ever more precious—and vulnerable to the effects of Katrina. Anxiety about cultural loss is not new. There has been a great deal of anguish regarding the diminishment of the black population, and how without it New Orleans could not regain itself. Just so. But I fear that the situation is more dire and less controllable. I am afraid that even if the majority of the population does return to reinhabit its neighborhoods, it will not mean that New Orleans, or at least the culture of New Orleans, will be back. The reason is not political but technical.
I went on one of Andrés's New Orleans charrettes and had a very different reaction. I love the buildings and streets of the old city, I've met many people there I enjoy spending time with, and I love the bohemian neighborhoods and atmosphere.* But maybe I'm just too much of a New England Anglo to put up with all the infighting and bad government that's prevented the rebuilding of a great city. There's a tendency to complain about the Federal government, but the Mayor and his government are a bigger problem.
Read the rest of Andrés's article here. Waiting for good government probably won't get the job done. In our charrette we tried to empower the local neighborhoods, but nothing moves quickly in New Orleans.
* Ever since I arrived in Coral Gables last year, I've been meaning to write about the bohemian neighborhoods of New Orleans and why Miami suffers from a lack of similar places — maybe this will get me to write that.
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Mayor Nagin has his faults when it comes to the rebuilding of New Orleans. But much of the attention when focusing on why so little is being done needs to be pointed towards Baton Rouge and the Gov. Blanco Road Home Program. Since the program has been in operation, only a little over 500 grants have been awarded out of over 100,000 applicants. The program was launched last October.
In addition, much of the grant money from the federal government and meant for New Orleans remains tied up in red-tape in Baton Rouge. The governor's response has consistently been to blame Washington. This despite the fact the the state controls the money.
Posted by: Kinch at Feb 21, 2007 12:38:30 PM