Now that the water's going down, now that people are starting to return to New Orleans, attention has turned to rebuilding. To be sure, people like Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and FEMA director, were thinking about it as the water was still rising--trolling for business for his client, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root. The right wing has been thinking about it as a way to slip through pet programs that previously met resistance--exempting government contractors from the prevailing wage, setting up mammoth enterprise zones, expanding the use of school vouchers, and more.
But New Orleanians have been thinking about it differently. How can we rebuild the city mo' betta (to use the vernacular), replacing damaged neighborhoods of decrepit homes and public housing with innovative designs that nurture people and enhance the flavor of the city?
The best rumination on that I've seen is from David Freedman, general manager of New Orleans radio station WWOZ-FM, a community station set up by the renowned N.O. Jazz and Heritage Festival. He's been blogging since the hurricane hit (www.wwoz.org) and wrote last week that the city was emerging better than he'd expected from the flood waters. Here are some of his thoughts about the perils of what might come next:
"The battle lines will be drawn--those who care about restoring the charm of New Orleans as well as the physical infrastructure, and those who only see the bottom line. Who will get to decide? I understand that the national chapter of the American Institute of Architects met yesterday to address the issue. I have heard directly from the Urban Conservancy, and indirectly from the Historic National Trust. The mayor has just announced that he is appointing a commission of eight blacks and eight whites to determine the direction of the reconstruction effort in New Orleans. Who would he appoint? Would the suits make the city over in their own image? Or would free spirits still prevail? Someone wrote me that he had read a quote from a doctor in slate.com, who's been doing emergency work in the city and feeding his elderly neighbors who aren't evacuating. When asked if he shouldn't go to Houston at least to get a tetanus shot, he replied, 'I'd rather get lockjaw than live in Houston.'
"Ever since 1803, since the French sold Louisiana to the United States, New Orleans has found a way to not embrace American culture. The city has often been called the northern capital of the Caribbean. But in the past 20 or so years, there have already been serious incursions of national culture into the city's unique style..."
It will be up to us to determine whether New Orleans is saved or sold out.