New Orleans needs a game plan
Note: Mary Sue and Steve Katz are part-time Vail residents whose home in New Orleans was severely damaged and flooded by Hurricane Katrina. They have been traveling back and forth between Vail and New Orleans since the storm.NEW ORLEANS – Jogging through the streets of New Orleans I stopped. I never stop in the middle of a workout — at least, almost never, but this time I stopped and stared. In the middle of the street, in fact in my path, was a transformer – a big one, maybe 6 feet by 6 feet by 4 feet.
It had most assuredly been blown off a power pole or perhaps the pole had been knocked over by the flood. Then it occurred to me that it had been sitting there for more than three months, and there are probably no plans to pick it up.Throughout the city are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of power poles, transformers, shutters, windows, TV sets, pieces of furniture, etc., that are months away from being removed from the street. This is not to say that efforts have not begun. The main streets are cleared and bustling with traffic, but the neighborhood streets – complete with downed transformers – are, like most of the people, without plans. New Orleans is once again developing as it originally did. The high strip adjacent to the river crescent is where all activity is in the city. For those of you somewhat familiar with the geography of the city, resurrection begins at the beginning of the French quarter, heads upriver to Audubon Park and Tulane University and about another mile to Carrollton Avenue. This represents about 3 percent of the city and the population, post-Katrina, is about 60,000 or 12 percent. The outlook for rebuilding is discouraging – everything seems to be behind schedule already. On a personal note, this was the most depressing of my five post-Katrina trips. I was there long enough to spend work, exercise and visit friends, and for the first time I had no home to go to.
I stayed in hotels and with friends and relatives, but it’s not the same. “You can’t go home again,” wrote the famous author Thomas Wolfe and he wrote it more than 60 years before Katrina.As a New Orleans native it is frightening yet interesting to see the city redevelop. Transitions that should take generations are happening – compliments of Katrina – in months. The most obvious is the racial mix. It is a mix that has gone full circle.New Orleans was settled by the French in 1720 and shortly after, the Spanish took over. The Creole culture evolved in the 18th century. Creole is a derivative of a French word that means “of the colony.” That intermingling produced combinations of Spanish and French to which was added Anglicized French Canadians, better known as the Cajuns. Effectively, during the 19th century New Orleans became a Creole matrix of French, English, Spanish and Africans. After World War II, the black population of New Orleans disproportionately grew as descendants of slaves moved off of the farm and into the cities.
In the 1970s the Creole concept again appeared as New Orleans took in the highest percentage of Vietnamese in the US. Most of them settled just outside the city limits. While they did not significantly affect the demographics inside the city limits, they became a cultural factor in the area. By the time Katrina hit, New Orleans was 75 percent black and 87 percent of people under 25 were black. But the racial breakdown will change – it already has. Finally, New Orleans has moved through the ‘analysis stage.’ Everyone has analyzed their losses, taken inventory and tried to take a peek at the future. However, that ‘peek’ is like a child peeking through fingers covering his eyes and split just enough for a glimpse. The big issue is where do we go from here. Where is the direction, the leadership, the game plan? No one seems equipped to step forward, and so far no one has.