Friday, January 06, 2006

You can't go home again

Are Katrina-wrecked homes in New Orleans' impoverished Lower Ninth Ward a threat to health and safety ... or a living museum?

Up to 2,400 houses "deemed in imminent danger of collapse" (and not all in the Lower Ninth Ward) are expected to be demolished within the next few weeks under a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Yesterday, activists chased away city bulldozers that were about to raze some all-but-fallen houses that were damaged by the hurricane, some calling it "obscene" and some calling it a "conspiracy."

Even the City Council president, Oliver Thomas, who grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward, called it "callous." "The last time I checked this was still America," he told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "Nobody's going to touch my family's property unless you're going to bulldoze me. And you better be a bad dude if you're going to try to bulldoze me."

Katrina laid bare many unsavory realities in New Orleans. Among them: No city, state or federal government has all the answers, and none can be counted on to always do the right thing in a crisis. But also: People will do some pretty stupid things in a crisis.

In principle, the destruction of houses that threaten health, safety and community progress is a good idea, although it's understandable why those homeowners don't wish to see the corpses of their former homes bulldozed. But has the City of New Orleans done everything it can to work with homeowners in the Lower Ninth Ward and other neighborhoods to lessen the emotional impact of such demolition?

Given the late and ineffective "action" -- and ultimately fatal dithering -- of government officials before, during and after Katrina, I wouldn't count on it. The government (city, state or federal) hasn't earned enough trust to be able to stride boldy into wounded neighborhoods and start knocking down houses.

But the people of New Orleans must also understand that the hollowed-out, moldy corpses that were once homes cannot be preserved indefinitely. It's not safe, healthy, nor good for the revivification of a great city. All of us along the Gulf Coast who lost something in the hurricanes of 2005 must understand that, though it pains the heart, some things simply must go to make way for something better.

PICTURED ABOVE: A New Orleans church flooded after Katrina. The horizontal yellow line is a water-line stain left by floodwaters. (Photo by Ron Franscell)


TexasFred said...

Standing in front of a bulldozer that's about to demolish something is NOT a really good idea...

Ask Rachel Corrie..

Love, Rita said...

I have seen recent news items indicating that the Federal government may become New Orleans' biggest property holder by buying out all of the flooded properties. These same news items then implied that the government would turn around and sell this property for redevelopment. Is this so? If it is, it is just WRONG! I guess if the former residents want to unload their flooded out property, the government (or anyone) should be able to buy it, but I don't think it should ever be redeveloped and inhabited by people again...

And I think the tours of the devastated areas are necessary. We cannot fully grasp the horror that was New Orleans after Katrina without actually seeing the aftermath. News cameras with their "flash, flash, flash" of different scenes related to the destruction and their 15 second sound bites don't do justice to the magnitude of the catastrophe.

Anne said...

Reading over all the information available on this issue, it seems the largest problem was continued secrecy on whose houses were going, and why.

It's pretty standard across America that when a house is to be demolished, paperwork on each house has to detail why it needs to be razed. This didn't happen.

Also, given that family members are still discovering their loved ones' bodies in homes as recently as a week or so ago, the rush to raze the homes but not bury the dead looks extremely suspicious.

Even from across the nation, from someone with no family or friends there.

lja1228 said...

How about this one..."We're taking your home"! My mom lives in a little place on stilts above a bayou in the little town of Lockport. She survived Katrina virtually unscathed.

Last week she was notifed that she needed to move the house or abandon it by June 1. There is no compensation being offered and if she chooses to "simply leave" she will be charged for the demolition.

I understand the need to begin improving flood barriers. What I don't understand a senior citizen, living on social security, can be litterally thrown in the street and her house America!

I'm sure she is not alone in this plight, but at this point we haven't been able to find others to rally support.

The devastation there is just so great that people are overwhelmed and they have stopped listening.

I wish we knew where to turn for help.