It’s New Orleans remembrance time; that time where, for the last ten years at the end of August, public attention returns for a bit to the city that abandoned its poorest. Poor people clinging to rooftops in the richest nation on earth. The pictures shocked the world and broke our hearts. Mostly black, in a majority black city, democracy failed as spectacularly as the public safety system. Not only the levees but also the social contract was breached. A decade later, the city’s back. The levees are rebuilt, tourism is thriving and the population is growing. But the social contract lies in shreds.
Let’s remember. Hurricane Katrina didn’t destroy New Orleans. The storm’s eye passed to the east. It was the levee breaks that followed that wiped out entire neighborhoods. Public safety systems that had never served all residents well, failed the most vulnerable. A million were displaced, hundreds of thousands lost land and loved-ones.
Ten years on, the Census reports that the region’s regained almost 94 percent of its pre-storm population. New Orleans is almost 80 percent as big as it was. More statistical successes are tallied in graduation rates from new private schools, people housed in new private homes, and patients cured in private hospitals. A sprawling new University Medical Center was scheduled to open this month.
But instead of fixing its public accountability problems, the city’s farmed those problems out to private contractors. Got a problem with that school, that house, that hospital? You can protest, but watch out for the cops.
The poor black residents who were losing homes and loved ones ten years ago are still losing them, now to gentrification. If you are rich, and like your property prices to rise, it’s good news that house prices are up fifty-eight percent since 2000. An employer? Wages are as low as they get and worker bargaining power has sunk lower than that. A whiter, wealthier city? You’ve got it. Entire neighborhoods have flipped from black to white.
But democracy, the principle that societies are held together by a diverse fabric, and being a member of one requires looking after one another? While some communities are still clinging on to their right to have a say in their city, that principle has long ago been left to drown. Money talks, and it has flooded everything -- and not just in the Big Easy.
What’s different about the flood of gentrification is there seems to be no shock in it. New Orleans’s recovery numbers look a lot like the rest of the nation’s. Recovery? Whose recovery? City? Whose city? Who’s clinging to your rooftops?
You can watch my interview with former New Orleans City Council Member Oliver Thomas this week on The Laura Flanders Show on KCET/LINKtv and teleSUR and find our half-hour documentary, Recovery or Removal at GRITtv.org. To tell me what you think, write to: Laura@GRITtv.org.