Wednesday, April 26, 2006

We Need to Make This Our (Extended) Moment

Consider this article. Consider these key ideas from the article:

"It took San Francisco something like 20 years to fully recover" from the 1906 earthquake, said Mary C. Comerio . . .

"Maybe New Orleans will astound everyone, but I wouldn't be honest if I said the prospects were overwhelmingly good for New Orleans coming back anything like its old self," said Joel Kotkin . . .

New Orleans, by contrast, was approaching 300 years old when Katrina struck; it was a city that might be compared to a once glorious mansion occupied by a few generations of descendants who could not quite handle the cost of upkeep. "New Orleans was a city that was in its dotage when disaster struck," Mr. Kotkin said. "It was a city that had been in decline for decades."

. . . What Mr. Kotkin described as an "absence of upward energy" could prove critical as New Orleans slogs through a recovery that promises to take years. "I'm not sure we'll see the same level of investment in New Orleans," he said.

. . . And now, just as 1906 forever changed perceptions of San Francisco, so, too, will the indelible images of a city sitting under water play a factor as the city seeks new investments to make up for all those businesses that fled the city or simply shuttered their doors for good — and all those residents who are too old or too poor to return or simply see better opportunities elsewhere.

"I think this all adds up to terribly bad news for New Orleans," Ms. Comerio of Berkeley said. "I look into the future and see a city half its size."

Some of these assessments (if not the prediction) ring true, and I'm a diehard Orleanian committed to a resurrection here. A move toward a new future requires a clear-eyed look at what we have become.

The New Orleans we became was shaped in part by the kind of people Humid Haney is going after here. The money people in New Orleans often have discharged their civic responsibility (in their own minds) by having parades and balls and putting on nice parties for their daughters when they reach a certain age. That's all nice, and some of it has even done a lot of good for all of us (the parades), but that's not discharging one's civic responsibility.

Taking a risk on a surprising entrepreneur, keeping your investments local as much as possible, mentoring locals who want to learn how to make good--those are all part of being a citizen, a New Orleanian. And one should do all that for anybody who has character and is willing to work hard--not just the people in your social crowd or your kids or their friends from Newman and Country Day and Jesuit. The money people here are not known for reaching out with their investment money.

New Orleans is losing some people, no doubt. The thing you hear some people (white and black) say is that they are glad that less well-off people who are inclined to crime are gone or are not coming back. (The headlines the past few days suggest otherwise, perhaps.)

However, I think we're losing some other folks too. We're losing the caller I heard ranting on WWL radio a few months ago, a lawyer from Lakeview whose house got wiped out. He ended up in Tennesee, and his bitterness toward New Orleans was dripping out of my radio speakers. He just couldn't get over the fact that now that he had been out of New Orleans for the first time, he realized how bad the city was and how great Tennessee was.

I'm glad he's found a place he likes, and I'm sorry that he didn't get the chance to live elsewhere before. I don't understand the hate that he leaves here with. I think he's been harboring that for awhile, and I'm sure the city's been suffering as a result of his and others' ill will.

That guy and his hate are gone. (Maybe his hate will go away, and he'll become a happy person in Tennessee. I hope so.) While I'm sorry his house got wiped out, I've got to believe that we're better off in NOLA with people who really want to be here and people who really want to move here.

I think the flood forced some haters (poor, middle class, and rich) to move on. That's probably good for them and for us who are trying to stay.

Now, I hope the flood will cause some money people in New Orleans to take some risks. And I'm not talking about risking money on Ron Forman's campaign. I'm talking about growing local industry--biotech, computer people, creative types. You know, the kind of people Humid Haney is and is always on about.

This is the time when those of us who break the stereotype need to take charge. We need to lean on money people, here and elsewhere, to risk and invest here. We need to develop our abilities, create things, try new endeavors. We need to give money people some things worth investing in, and a political system that is accommodating of risk even as it provides a solid safety net for those who have temporary setbacks.

This is a ramble, ain't it?


humidhaney said...

Rambles and Rants. It is what makes the web go round.

thanks for the shout.

be sure to get yourself a shirt from me during fest. i will be selling them near Liuzza's

Seymour D. Fair said...

That Lakeview guy sounds like a Ruth's Chris Sellout enthusiast to me. Gotta have some humor in all of this, right?


Big__Shot said...

As for Tennessee guy's newfound happiness in Tennessee, until he's lived a full year away from New Orleans, he will have no idea to know what it means to miss New Orleans. Trite, but true.

mchebert said...

I lived away from NOLA for 11 years. I wish all NOLA residents had the opportunity to do so. Most of them would learn as I did that other places in America lack many of the distressing problems we have here (poor schools, high crime rate, government corruption), but most of America is so depressingly homogenized. I got sick of the strip malls, the Lite beer, the Lite muzik, the endless reincarnations of TGI Friday's. I want to live in a place you can sink your teeth into.

Before long my CD player was stuffed with the Meters, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Nevilles, Louis Armstrong, the Iguanas. My pantry was loaded with spices I bought on trips home. My walls sprouted Jazz Fest Posters.

It wasn't that I was just missing home. NOLA had made an indelible impression on me, and there was no culture in the New Town available to replace it. Who want vanilla when you grew up on triple chocolate fudge rocky road?

The Katrina refugees (yes, I use that word, and I was one) are learning that even as we speak.