Fucked New Orleans: The Better Than Before Addition

by Eli of We Could Be Famous

How does a neighborhood get the resources to rebuild?

It is not based on how badly it was damaged during the storm.

If you want social services, new facilities, or expedited infrastructure repair you've somehow got to prove your neighborhood has already sufficiently recovered to some undefinable technocratic benchmark.

If your neighborhood is in poor condition and think the restoration of basic social services might help people return or encourage entrepreneurial investment, forget it.

That's called "starving the footprint."

Every important master plan or critical rebuilding decision has been made with this basic ideology as a guide. The assumption that viability precedes social services has been glossed over by the local media, never been honestly brought before the public, informs every critical rebuilding decision and serves to enshrine the federal displacement of New Orleanians, the largest migration of Americans since the Dust Bowl, as amongst the most embarrassing humanitarian hypocrisies in this nation's history.

Look at the important master plans soon to be released or already public.

The Recovery School District is embarking on a vast privatization experiment and will unveil a ten year master plan this summer that was developed by a corporation being investigated for defrauding the US government for shoddy work in Iraq. The future capacity of the school district to educate the children of New Orleans is informed by demographic projections that assume that the lack of housing and social services will prevent repopulation.

The city routinely demolishes private homes of solid foundation. The city knocked down public housing projects that were structurally sound, architecturally significant, and did not flood. Rents are too high and wages are too low. The homeless population is double what it was before the storm. Single-occupancy homes are being multiply-occupied. There isn't enough affordable housing available to rescue our neighbors being poisoned by FEMA's formaldehyde-laced trailers. With places to live at such a high premium and without basic acknowledgment of the immediate need to solve the affordable housing crisis, let alone come up with a plan for doing so, the population of New Orleans cannot return and badly damaged neighborhoods cannot repopulate fast enough to get on the list of communities "viable" enough to receive social services and civic attention.

Management of public transportation has just been privatized after a contract was signed with a French multinational. Though I am looking forward to some of the common sense changes that need to be made, elsewhere bus lines will be rerouted to better service the population that received the least damage from Katrina. Devastated neighborhoods will lose access to a valuable quality of life incentive.

To get recognition and thus, social services, from the planning firms hired to do master plan after master plan, neighborhoods must position themselves against one another, jostling for their slice of a pie that seems to mostly be reserved for those that are already well-fed.

If the determination is that some small portions of the city should not be rebuilt because it can not be protected properly from floods or is environmentally hazardous for humans, that's fine. It isn't about stubbornly replacing every single wood plant, damn the science. The way to do that is to announce why an area is deemed unsafe and then to provide the social services, buyout packages, and higher-ground housing alternatives necessary to help people move to and repopulate safer areas. Instead, the city's strategy has been to let the "free" market to permit New Orleanians to invest their lives into neighborhoods that all along were not going to receive crucial social services based on a preordained ideology that restoration of basic social services fails to act as a stimulus for revival.