Saturday, July 29, 2006
Eleven Months Since Katrina
Today marks 11 months since Katrina. Things are happening to rebuild New Orleans, but damn it has been slow, confusing, and frustrating. In late June some relief workers who had been working on the December 2004 Asian Tsunami relief effort toured New Orleans and were shocked that so little had been done. They concluded that in Third World countries such as Indonesia, the people weren't hindered by government agencies and the insurance industry. Unlike my situation, they didn't need to wait on court cases against Allstate or government relief funds to clear federal, state, and city hurdles. Once the water left they started rebuilding. Not so here. On a larger scale, I've been very active in the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization as we try to have input from those of us who live here on just what our rebuilt neighborhood will look like. I've focused my energies on ensuring that we have great public schools, free wifi, and a state of the art neighborhood library. Others are working on bike paths, public transportation, economic development, zoning, governance, and several other important issues. It's been nice to see so many of my neighbors fighting for a better New Orleans. We only get one chance at this. However, some experts are sounding alarms. John McIlwain, the senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute, says that New Orleans lacks leadership from Mayor Ray Nagin and the City Council. He said we have to have a leader willing to make some tough and unpopular decisions. According to McIlwain, "You still have a chance to pull it together, but you won't have that chance for much longer. Over the next few months, the money is going to go out faster than the planning. There is no organization." Elections in April and May certainly slowed the process. In my opinion, I have been happy with the work of the new city council. I think their heart is in the right place, though they need to learn the ropes in a hurry. But Nagin has been missing in action. So in many ways it is crunch time. We'll have tons of media attention for the one year anniversary of Katrina. A bunch more when the Saints reinaugurate the Superdome September 25th. But then I fear we'll fade away from national attention, and we'd better have a clear plan at that point.