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)