People in This Part of the World: An All Over the Place Rambling
Things are not back to normal for us "people in this part the world" (we're called Americans and we live within the United States, by the way). Sure certain portions of the New Orleans area have some degree of normalcy--but large portions of New Orleans are frozen in time and practically resemble what they looked like on the 30th of August 2005. As I stated in an earlier post the situation here cannot be summed up in the soundbite intervals communicated by broadcast media--the situation is so much more complex than that language permits. The other day I heard a report by Juan Williams on NPR who recently spent several days in New Orleans. His assessment of the conditions within New Orleans weren't incorrect, but they were limited and did not accurately represent the complete reality in my opinion. As an example, he stated he saw virtually no children his entire time in New Orleans. Where was he looking for them? In the Lower 9th Ward? In Lakeview? Downtown on Canal Street at 1pm on a schoolday afternoon? Of course there are no children around in devastated settings or even in the unscathed areas during school hours. They are at school.
Are all schools open? Of course not. But most schools that avoided catastrophic damage are open. The open schools have taken students from the damaged schools and in some cases damaged schools have temporarily merged as one into an intact facility. Yes, New Orleans has hemorrhaged population since the storm and therefore children. But to say the area is devoid of children is not true. Recent estimates place New Orleans Public Schools enrollment at 25% (of pre-KTMB 48,000 students), Jefferson Parish Public Schools at 85% (of pre-KTMB 42,000 students), and the Archdiocese of New Orleans Schools at 85% (of pre-KTMB 50,000 students). Additionally 15+ independent private schools are also open.
A large number of New Orleans area families desperately want to be home and are doing what they have to in order to be here--thus the surprisingly high number of students actually back. I have friends who are sharing apartments or houses cramming three families with mom and dad and kids into a place meant for one family because each family lost their home in the flooding. They want to be here and make it work so they are willing to live in extremely crammed and uncomfortable conditions for the time being. These sacrifices however have a limited shelf life. The longer the federal government strings New Orleans along refusing to honor the promises for recovery the more people are simply going to surrender and take that job in Houston or Dallas or wherever, just not here. And then they are gone--one more piece of the New Orleans' soul is chipped away.
The reality is New Orleans has always been misunderstood by the outside. This place is so different in so many ways compared to the rest of the United States. For instance, I cringe every year during Mardi Gras when the national media does the obligatory Mardi Gras story featuring montage footage of girls showing their breasts on Bourbon Street. That's it--that's THE image of Mardi Gras. Its a drunken orgy and nothing else. When I tell those "people from those other parts of the world" that Mardi Gras is in fact a very family-oriented event and what they see on television takes place in a very limited area they don't know what I am talking about--they can't identify because its not the image force fed to them. What the rest of the county can't grasp and understand is that New Orleans as a place plays a significant role in its citizens very being. They don't get it because there are very few places in this county, if any, that have that same effect on its citizens. To them a place is a place--its all interchangeable. A = B. New Orleans doesn't fit the mold that most places within the United States has become.
No one expects an undeserved handout from the federal government. We expect the federal government to take responsibility for the protection of an American city which it vowed to protect from flooding in 1927 and 1965. What happened to New Orleans in August 2005 was the direct result of a failed flood protection system, therefore the federal government has responsibility for its its rebuilding. End of story. New Orleans is indeed in a challenging geographic and climatic location but as the modern-day Netherlands and Thames River Delta in England illustrate, modern engineering and innovative flood control approaches can reasonably protect such places.
The federal government's responsibility doesn't stop at improved levees, relocated pump stations, or new floodgates--it also includes financially helping homeowners to help them to rebuild or help them to move on so others can rebuild in their place. This past week's poo-pooing by the White House of the proposed Baker Bill intending to do these things simply illustrates the complete false reality in which the Administration dwells and has been in since the onset of KTMB disaster during the "Brownie" Days. At least they are consistent--give them that. They actually believe six billion dollars will be adequate federal infusion--and then the glorious free market will take over . . .
An article it today's Washington Post entitled New Orleans Feels Cast Adrift is encouraging to see. But will its message penetrate this Administration's thick skull? God, I sure hope so.
Also, today's Times-Picayune editorial Don't Leave Us to Foreclosure is a worthwhile read.