Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Uncertainty Principle

From today's WaPo:

A Shared Uncertainty
Hurricane Unites Evacuees on Both Sides Of New Orleans's Divide of Race and Class

NEW ORLEANS Joseph and Kesa Williams have come home once since Hurricane Katrina chased them off to Atlanta. Once was all they could bear.

Inside their ruined house on Delery Street in the Lower Ninth Ward, they found ceilings collapsed, possessions rotted and mold triumphant. They had expected as much from watching TV news. Much more disturbing was the abandoned-graveyard feel of the entire neighborhood, where working-class black families have owned houses for generations.

"From what I could see, nothing was happening," said Joseph Williams, 32, who has a new job as a probation officer in suburban Atlanta. "The only thing I found in my house that was worth taking was my high school class ring. I threw it back on the floor and we left."

Across town, Gary and Bea Quaintance, together with their son, Steven, 16, have moved back into their house on Memphis Street in Lakeview, a white middle-class neighborhood that was also wrecked by Katrina. Theirs, though, is an isolated, post-apocalyptic style of housekeeping. Lakeview is a neighborhood in name only, especially at night. The Quaintances are the only family on their block...

Politicians have yet to agree on a master plan for redeveloping the city or for deciding which neighborhoods should not be rebuilt.

What is clear is that New Orleans, which was two-thirds black and one-third poor before the storm, will shrink dramatically. Consulting groups have guessed that the city, once it is rebuilt, will lose about half its pre-Katrina population of 470,000. Right now, less than a quarter of that number live in the city, most in areas that sustained little damage from the hurricane.

As for the rest of the city, the first attempt at a recovery plan was released last month. It said that since the population was certain to shrivel, so should the city's footprint. The plan said safer, higher-elevation and less damaged neighborhoods deserve first crack at limited resources, while terribly damaged neighborhoods are sent to the end of the queue. It roped together the Lower Ninth Ward, which was 98 percent black, and parts of Lakeview, which was 94 percent white, into a kind of no man's land, where reconstruction should be delayed pending "significant study."

"Neighborhoods should be redeveloped as whole units and not piecemealed back together lot by lot," according to the plan. It warned against the "jack-o'-lantern syndrome," with homeowners rebuilding on abandoned blocks.

The plan -- which city leaders requested and which was put together by the Urban Land Institute, a research group in Washington -- kicked up an enormous fuss.

Black leaders, in particular, said it would disproportionately zero out their neighborhoods. The City Council unanimously rejected the plan. Mayor C. Ray Nagin, facing reelection next year along with the council, also backed away from it.

A revision of the plan, expected to be made public next month, cushions the sharp elbows of the Urban Land Institute, said Reed Kroloff, dean of Tulane University's architecture school and a member of the panel working on the revised blueprint.

If approved by the mayor's Bring New Orleans Back Commission, it would give residents a year to prove which neighborhoods are viable. They would do so by voting with their feet, moving back home and spending money to rebuild. After a year, the city or a yet-to-be-created redevelopment authority would decide if a neighborhood is on the road to recovery or should be bought out.

Here's the whole article.

And it bears repeating that if the levees (a federal project) had held, we wouldn't be reading pieces like this.

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