First, Mr. Melpomene wrote brilliantly last week about the hysterical (and not at all funny) goings-on around the planning process(es) in town. You know, everyone in a tizzy about new urbanism and urban newism, meetings about meetings, my meeting is better than yours, etc. Here's a sample from Mr. Mel:
Out of town experts who feel that the current urban landscape insufficiently grinds the faces ofPointed and truthful stuff, that.
certain New Orleanians into certain 'uncomfortable truths' probably have an ivory tower with a flood free first floor, and certainly have never chosen to passionately devote most of their lives living in a compact, high crime, high poverty city surrounded by water. When was urban planning annointed the preferred weapon to combat bigotry?
Yes, the community has billions of dollars in basic infrastructure repairs that need to occur -- but the majority of that is the work of serious engineers and cost analysts, not a zoned out PTSD stricken middle class.
And then there was Chris Rose's article yesterday. (His act over the previous few weeks had been wearing on me. The thread he did on how tough it is to live here and how great the East Coast is wasn't totally off, but he hammered the point way too hard, with no way out.)
Rose's essay yesterday implied a way out (and also had enough self-parody to make Rose more bearable). Here are two snips:
If we only had the power to devise our own building codes, put the clamp on the gang-bangers and fix the schools, then we'd be all good. But some chores take more than a hedge clipper and some free time on a free Saturday morning. . . .
The citizen soldiers march through New Orleans and St. Bernard and Plaquemines with rakes, shovels and outwardly cheery demeanors, fighting the glorious battle, putting Humpty Dumpty back together again -- since all the king's horses and all the king's men seem preoccupied with something else these days and I wish I knew what that something else was.
Mr. Melpomene and Mr. Rose both point to a basic problem. The way out of a good bit of this mess is for government to do the basics, hitting the base of the hierarchy of needs: public safety and basic order. And no level of government is doing that. If it's unsafe to rebuild a slab house somewhere, MANDATE THAT IT NOT BE BUILT THERE. Don't grandfather things in, or set deadlines such that if one person on a block meets the deadline, she gets to leave her house on the slab, while a neighbor who missed the deadline has to raise or raze.
The President, the ACOE, Sugar Ray, Maw Maw Blanco and FEMA should be devising world-class levees, cutting the grass, running streetcars, policing and then prosecuting bad guys, fixing water lines, running electric lines, setting up high-tech infrastructure. The basics. Not sexy.
The levee failure has made me into a Hobbesian on government. Don't talk to me about grand visions of beauty and unity coming out of government. Me and my artist friends, and the Black and Gold Bike Patrol, and my church parish will take care of beauty and unity. You in government? All you need to do is prevent my life from being "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." And the way you do that is by fixing the streets, making existing public spaces look reasonably acceptable, and so on.
Sugar Ray and his peeps all want to show us how much Smarter Than We They Are. We don't want that (and we know it's not true anyway).
My place of employment has the same problem. Too many overpaid people are intent on showing everyone how brilliant they are as they "move forward." Unfortunately, they're neglecting to do the basics along the way and alienating the people the people who know how to do the basics.
This an epidemic in American society right now. The authors of the Iraqi Invasion and Civil War are much Smarter Than We Are too. Just ask them. (Ask the generals who have been made to feel dumb too.)
No more vision and voices from God and moving forward. Cut the damn grass, Sugar Ray. Show you can build better levees than the Dutch, ACOE.
By the way, I will be joining Mr. Rose and other parents this morning at our kids' school to do things that all the king's men should have done already.