On America, progress, empty lots and empty promises

Over 2 years ago George Bush stood in Jackson Square andpromised the “federal government will undertake a close partnership with the
states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans, and other
Gulf Coast cities, so they can rebuild in a sensible, well-planned way.” The past 2 years have shown it to be anything but.

Ray in New Orleans has been posting on the progress or apparent lack thereof on the homes he helped to gut in NOLA. One of those is the home which theFirst Draft Krewe helped to gut…


Ray reports this on that property as of now…“The flooded car has been towed from the driveway, and the valuables we
salvaged (including the old blue wheelchair) have been moved inside,
but other than that, this is a house being consumed by flora and fauna.”
(Photo here)

Ray has worked on “around 17” homes and reports a similar lack of progress on almost all of those which he returned to view recently.

Marshall Plan or lack thereof

The facts of Katrina have been recounted many times over–90,000 square miles of damage and destruction, 300,000 homes damaged or destroyed, 80% of New Orleans flooded, over 1700 dead–a breadth and depth of sorrow and suffering that when viewed first hand leaves most to recall the scenes of bombed out WWII Germany and think only a Marshall Plan could begin to bring healing and rebirth. Of course it did not, has not and likely will not occur. In its stead the federal government wrote a check and neatly tied it in red tape. In its stead has been an unfolding of piecemeal actions lacking any semblence of comprehensive planning, leadership or result. In its stead what has been offered is bootstraps, a concept alternately applauded (for MS) and sneered (for NOLA) yet grossly relied upon with tragic consequences for all. And I mean all of America.

Perhaps it is harsh but when members of the UK show Top Gear traveled through the Gulf Coast and when seeing the shocking devastation in New Orleansthey asked:“How can the rest of America sleep at night knowing that this is here?”


It is a good question and one that presumes Americans do know. Given the lack of press coverage, lack of opinion polls, lack of
information, spin and yes misinformation that comes with less and less
frequency from the government on the recovery of the Gulf Coast–it is nearly impossible to tell what Americans know. Yet the question remains and in fact it strikes at the heart of America because in the land built by, of and for the people, the presumption is that Americansshould know. Of course weshould also know of war, extraordinary rendition, habeus corpus, wiretapping, torture…everything done and not done in our name. America asks much of us in that way. And more. For not only should we know but we shouldcare and we should act.  It’s quite a responsibility to say the least. One which we each try to strive to meet in our own way. Mine has become to write of New Orleans and I harbor no illusions on that front. Most days I don’t know that it does a bit of good but I could no more stop than I could stop being an American. For it is in New Orleans that I have truly realized the meaning of America.

If you want to know more, read on for A Tale of Two Blocks…

A Tale of Two Blocks–Part 2

On my first trip to New Orleans I was overwhelmed by the scope of the disaster. How does one convey it in writing to those reading? While visiting Lakeview, a white middle/upper middle class neighborhood of the city that was devastated by the 17th St Canal breach, I was drawn to this house…

…perhaps because it had obviously once been a beautiful home and now stood wide open, no doors, the walls covered in mold, it’s chandelier exposed for anyone to see or take. I stood at the street, going no further, snapped a few pics and wondered how could this be in America? I thought the same of the many destoyed homes I saw in Gentilly, NOLA East, St. Bernard Parish, the 9th ward and on that day, in that moment, Lakeview. As I looked at the other homes lining the street of that block, the silence was deafening. There were very few people in Lakeview 6 months after the storm and flood.

I decided to follow what happened on that block and the one over from it to try to offer a slice of the progress to be made, or not, in New Orleans. It was one way to tackle conveying what was enormous.

On my next visit in August of 2006 I wrote in a post, on these 2 blocks, that in Lakeview..

There are a few homes where hired work crews are busy. Then there are
the ice cream trucks that travel up and down the blocks with their
music announcing their arrival for the hot and tired workers needing a
break. However while standing on the empty block of Vicksburg Street
between Mouton and Walker it was terribly incongruous to hear the happy
ice cream truck music off in the distance.

Incongruous because on that block very little had changed and it was still eerily silent. As for the house that had first caused me to linger at that place…it now had doors. There also were 2 city employees who I saw and spoke with and were tasked with carrying out the latest big push from the city at that time to move the recovery along–staple yellow notices to the
front door jams of homes in order to notify the owners that they had
between 10-20 days to contact the city to let them know what they are
going to do with their property specifically to gut their home or

In March of 2007 little had changed from the previous visit. A few homes on the block had been demolished and now there were more empty lots. And on my latest visit in August of 2007 I saw a few more homes had been demolished.More empty lots. And I wondered if in August of 2005, would Americans have thought the measure for progress in the rebuilding of New Orleans 2 years out would be –empty lots. Yet that is nearly the only thing I could report in terms of progress for this block. Well nearly… but first regarding those empty homes and lots.

It wasreported this week that even though the state is buying out vacant homes and empty lots through the Road Home program, “it could be at least four months before parishes ever receive ownership of the vacant properties.” Given how things have typically gone in this recovery I suspect it will take longer. Orleans Parish is expected to acquire “as many as 7,000 vacant homes.” Once returned to the communities, the lots will either become opportunities for development or perhaps green space.

Back to the 2 blocks, specifically the second where on each visit there had been more activity than the other block. On the last visit that seems to have peaked. A few homes now had For Sale signs. One still abandoned home which previously stood out because someone had spray painted upon it–Mow Your Lawn–now had a mowed lawn. It was otherwise still abandoned.

And now returning to the first block and the progress I had hinted at earlier, well other than the empty lots. As I drove down the street and approached that house which had first drawn me to this place one and a half years earlier, I slammed on the brakes and was stunned. I believe I uttered out loud…”I’ll. Be. Damned.” For this is what I saw…


From what I could tell this appeared to be the only home occupied on that block. And yes it was perhaps the nicest home on the block and I guess I thought if any home were to come back it would be this one. And yes before you say–obviously they had means–believe me there are still very many other nice homes sitting boarded up and empty. In Lakeview this home is the exception not the rule. Keep in mind as stated in a recent AP article on the re-population of New orleans…”Even in Lakeview, widely hailed as a symbol of personal initiative and progress in the city’s rebuilding, only 38 percent were back.

But I had almost
given up hope on that home which ought to tell you something about
hope and very much something about New Orleans. They are doing it.
Doing it Bit by Bit and In the face of tremendous odds and neglect.

Yet so much remains to be done. As you can see if places like Lakeview on one end of the spectrum still struggles then think of the Lower 9th ward at the other end. Only8% have returned there. And in the middle–Gentilly and NOLA East are at43% with St Bernard Parish barelyhitting a third of it’s pre-Katrina/federal flood population level. And explaining the complexities of why this is so involves many factors beyond the scope of this one post. Our Katrina/Federal Floodarchive offers some of that. Better yet go to the NOLA blogger blogroll in our sidebar. The story ofthere is being told each day by the NOLA bloggers. And it is ofthere. Ask anyone in New Orleans and they will tell you that’s how it feels. And it is this that has brought me back to America. What it is and what it is suppose be. Reconciling the two in these past 2+ years has been difficult. But I have never thought more on it or unwittingly have never worked so hard for it as during this time. For we are either one people and one country or we are lost. We could have done better. We still should because our America should not be empty lots and empty promises…

Lakeview March 2006:


And how it looked August 2007:


School, Lower 9th ward April 2007:


August 2007:


Rear of school August 2007:


Trailer clinic still located in the WalMart parking lot:


Lower 9th ward August 2007:






“Home This Was Home”


6 thoughts on “On America, progress, empty lots and empty promises

  1. But those people don’t want to move back and rebuild their homes, and anyway, they have it so much better wherever they are now, what with all the government handouts and freebies that are flowing their way. Well, according to all the media spin that I’ve been hearing.

  2. I thought it was just poor neighbourhoods(ie Black) that they were allowing to die…guess it’s better that it’s equal opportunity.

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