Sunday, August 29, 2010
Some Things to Be Understood about New Orleans and Katrina
A few years ago, I ran into the father of a friend of mine in Tallahassee. He was with her uncle, who I was meeting for the first time. We talked a little, the father asked how I was liking New Orleans, and I told him how much I loved it. Suddenly, the uncle busts out with this rant:
"I don't know why they're rebuilding that city. It's all under sea level, and it's raising my insurance premiums. It's ridiculous!" Or, something along those lines.
Now, I don't know why this Florida resident thought that rebuilding New Orleans would increase his insurance premiums anymore than a beach house in Panama City. And I don't know why all the rancor. But it shed a little light on the feelings not a few Americans have about New Orleans.
Not everyone loves this city. It's hard to believe, because so many people do. People have their hearts buried here. But some people have no love for New Orleans. Maybe they have a bad memory of puking their guts out on Bourbon Street in their fraternity days. Maybe they are just not moved by a brass band marching down St. Charles Avenue at Mardi Gras.
When it comes to Katrina, some people have opinions that, really, if they don't live here, why do they even bother? For people who don't love the city, Katrina gives them this reason to say the city shouldn't even exist. It's below sea level, people shouldn't live there, they don't want their taxes payin' for it.
Here are a few things those people need to understand. They are not righteous in their opinions. And they are wrong about the facts.
While Katrina damaged many buildings, it was the flooding that killed people and created most of the property damage. The flooding actually occurred hours after the worst of the storm had past.
The Industrial Canal that flooded the Ninth Ward is a man-made body of water. People were living in the Ninth Ward before the canal and levees were built in the 1920's. It is and always has been the Army Corps of Engineer's responsibility to maintain the levees that protect this neighborhood. The levees broke because they were poorly maintained.
The flooding was not inevitable and does not have to happen again. It was not purely a natural disaster. If the Army Corps of Engineers maintains the levees the way it should, this disaster does not have to be repeated. So, why shouldn't people live here?
Not all of New Orleans is under sea level, but most of New Orleans was flooded. Is it reasonable to think that the entire city should have gone without rebuilding?
Tax dollars. I hear people complain that tax money shouldn't go into rebuilding New Orleans. One, Louisiana pays taxes like any other state. Two, it was the government's responsibility to maintain the levees and it failed. Why shouldn't it foot the bill?
That being said, how much money has really gone into rebuilding when there are so many people who have yet received money to come home?
Now for some City Oppression Olympics: Do people really talk about Los Angeles, with it's earthquakes, wild fires, mudslides and droughts, with the same venom? Do people hold the same belief that Las Vegas shouldn't exist because it is so unsustainable? Miami and Galveston have been hit with monstrous hurricanes, and will be again. Does anyone question why we rebuild them? The entire country of Bangladesh is under sea level, prone to horrible natural disasters. Should we withhold aid from Bangladeshis until they live where we want them to? Home is home. What right does anyone have to say the Ninth Ward shouldn't be rebuilt when the people who lived there want to come home?
Perhaps because Katrina was such a dramatic disaster, everyone has an opinion about the city's existence. It is one of the oldest cities in America, of extreme importance to America's history and present. From Louisiana, the rest of the country takes oil, seafood, music - and New Orleans is the center of industry, a major port, the entrance to the Mississippi River. It's not worth rebuilding? It's not worth protecting?
It angers me to hear people ask why the city should be rebuilt. One, it has already been rebuilt. The Ninth Ward is coming back, with or without the support of everyone else in America. So, it's a little late to say it shouldn't happen. It doesn't seem to matter how many times Anderson Cooper comes down here and reports from some revitalized neighborhood - some people still envision the city under water. Some people will always see New Orleans as suffering. And that's their problem, not ours.
Americans should question their own neighborhoods. Do they have the same culture, history and heart as New Orleans? What makes your home worth protecting? If you dare to question the validity of this community, are you really ready to defend yours against such questioning?
Gulf Restoration Network
Harry Shearer: Five Myths about Katrina