Spotlight on New Orleans

Posted on Saturday 19 August 2006

In a little over a week, the media will again be full of stories about Katrina. There’ll be tales of triumph — of people who found hope and a future in new locations; but there’ll be many more stories of loss — of folks who have not yet found jobs or can’t afford the new rental rates, who tried and failed to return home… or have simply given up.

In a few days, the global spotlight will glare — blindingly and unforgivingly — on the piles of garbage and debris, and on sections of town still uninhabited. The world will again enjoy wall-to-wall coverage of how the recovery progresses all over the Gulf Coast… and in New Orleans.

Are we ready for that? How, I wonder, are we going to feel about ourselves?

The ramp-up has already started:

In many ways, New Orleans is a huge crime scene, with bodies and victims and fingerprints _ many, many sets of fingerprints. But who did it? Who is responsible for this mess, for a barely functioning city with large swathes still uninhabited _ or uninhabitable _ a year after Hurricane Katrina?

Those are impossible questions, because the answer is that we’re all responsible for the pathetic state of affairs in today’s New Orleans.

What’s harder to explain is why, because in spite of how it looks — that we’ve turned our backs, or broken the social contract, or that America’s racist to its core — Polimom doesn’t think this country ever intended, ever imagined, that the city wouldn’t get back on its feet.

Americans sent staggering sums of money; they traveled to the Gulf Coast to help, and opened their hearts (and homes) to hundreds of thousands of distraught, damaged people.

In many areas, they’ve paid a heavy price for this civic spirit, but in spite of that, I think this country‘s going to be very unhappy in a week when we see the results of those open-hearted, generous gestures. The destruction was so much greater than anyone could possibly understand.

Yes, America gave. The whole world gave, and cared, with the best of intentions. So what went wrong?

Life went wrong… or rather, life happened.

Even Polimom, who is listed on many sites as a “New Orleans blogger“, has let weeks at a time pass without tagging a post “New Orleans”. The more time passes without an entry from me about the state of affairs there, the harder it is to face the keyboard. Guilt has slithered its way into my thoughts now, and each passing day leaves the city more remote… and Polimom more culpable.

I, too, have let them down, and I’ll be thinking about that next week when the bright lights shine again on the national tragedy of the Gulf Coast — but I’m guessing that nothing will change.

Because here is not there, is it?

Like almost everyone else in the United States, I’m not facing problems with massive piles of garbage and debris. I haven’t lost my home. My business isn’t failing because of a broken economy and my daughter’s education is a known, quantifiable entity. Because my home has gas and electricity, phones and cable — because I can walk about at night without fear, my mind will move on. My attention will wander into daily events: school, work, family, home… wars and politics, illness and death.

We’re all just too busy — so busy that we allowed the lights to shine elsewhere for the last year. Well, now they’re coming back, but the world won’t see that it’s not because we, as a nation, don’t care. Polimom thinks we do… or at least, we did.

Ready? Lights! Camera!…

11 Comments for 'Spotlight on New Orleans'

    August 19, 2006 | 9:55 pm

    Ty Poli..Glad you are back from vacation ..Hope it was Good..thanks for the nice Read..As a crusty Quarter Carpenter, Shop in upper 9′th.. I’m starting to crumble.. My rents way up to much, My town is gone,.. The local politicians speak poo..Forgive me if not leaving here and working through it all at our normal prices, that this August 29′th, I’m gonna break down and cry my heart out.. Please keep NOLA in mind and keep posting.. God Speed..

    August 20, 2006 | 1:00 pm

    The Anniversary Of Hurricane Katrina Is Coming Up…

    And looking at where things are now, how (or will) Americans feel?…

    August 20, 2006 | 1:01 pm

    Excellent post! Keep ‘em coming for the City and all its people, living and dead.

    August 20, 2006 | 3:32 pm

    Polimom, you are in our hearts because you do care about New Orleans. Keep doing what you do. It’s important.


    August 21, 2006 | 12:06 am

    I hope full coverage is given to what happened to all areas after Katrina hit. By full, I mean that I want the media to compare how towns in Mississippi and Alabama have done as well if not in comparison to New Orleans. We can all guess that NOLA has lots of work to do and is not where anyone wants it to be (how many big cities ever are) but how many nights will Anderson Cooper be live from some other town besides NOLA? I just hope that when the Katrina anniversary is covered, the media realizes that it was a large storm that hit a very large area, and only by showing how vast that area is can people remember why there is so much to do. When it is conveyed as somehow only being NOLA that still needs work, it oversimplifies the work left to be done.

    August 21, 2006 | 9:59 am

    Attagirl, Polimom. I like what you sez. Hope you’ll be able to join us this weekend.

    August 21, 2006 | 12:14 pm

    The city of New Orleans, along with the smaller towns and cities also affected by Katrina, deserves a lasting spotlight that will not fade until the damage has been fully repaired. Hopefully as a collective, people like us can cause national attention – and maybe even international – to linger strongly after the inevitable spike as the one-year mark approaches and passes.

    August 21, 2006 | 12:35 pm

    So, Poli, what do we do about rebuilding a city that has been hammered as much as NOLA was in Katrina? Last year, it was all about assigning the blame for the failures – of the levees, of the evacuation, of the response at all levels of government. And, while that may have helped one or the other political party, it didn’t address exactly how we need to respond to such a disaster.

    And, this isn’t just about New Orleans. Except for that last-minute course shift, Rita would have done much the same to the Houston-Galveston area (and it did do a lot to the Beaumont/Pr Arthur/Orange area, as well as western LA.) San Francisco is just one major earthquake away from being in the same boat: LA/San Diego, Seattle, other cities on the Pacific Coast could be similarly wiped out with a tsunami. Getting away from the coast doesn’t guarantee safety, either: many largish cities are vulnerable to a massive tornado, or a heatwave, or a super blizzard/cold spell. And, the Mother of All Disasters, Yellowstone super-volcano, could eliminate around 50% of the country any day.

    Except for the latter (or maybe an asteroid which wipes us all out), I would think the government (meaning all of us) really need to decide in advance how we as a society are going to respond. How much aid will come from the federal gov’t (that means all of us) vs. how much will be provided by the area hit. How do we prioritize the repairs/rebuilding? How do we handle resettling the refugees? How do we ensure that those who can’t get out on their own are not simply left behind or forgotten?

    Just like the question “are we really going to shoot down a commercial jetliner full of innocent civilians, if the hijackers look like they are going to fly the thing into a building/dam/bridge/other structure or landmark?”, these questions are best answered before the fact, when we can think with our heads and not simply react. It also allows us to have a plan in place for rescue/recovery (something that was missing post-Katrina).


    August 21, 2006 | 2:33 pm

    Those are good questions, Ed. All of them.

    And I would ask these, too: What is the social contract that Americans have with the country? Where is the limit of liability, and is there a difference between a place that had federally-designed levees that were flawed from inception (and failed), and places that took it right in the teeth (like Biloxi)?

    The lines of responsibility aren’t clear. At all.

    Leaving the immediate aftermath alone (mostly cuz the storm response is every bit as convoluted and complex as the rest) — how does a city recover, when it was very poor to begin with? Do we abandon poor cities because they don’t have the resources for something of this magnitude?

    Surely not.

    August 24, 2006 | 8:19 am

    I thought of you last night while reading the latest issue of New Yorker, or rather the latest one that has reached me here in Texas… There’s a long piece in there about what has/has not happened in New Orleans in the last year, and some possible reasons for the problems. It also happens to be available online. Enjoy!

    August 25, 2006 | 8:38 am

    [...] All of which is beside the point: the spotlight is indeed turning toward New Orleans as the one year mark approaches, but it’s exposing more than debris: A year ago, water was the enemy. Today, it has been replaced by a more insidious foe: uncertainty. [...]

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