One of my distracted–I’m right in the middle of a huge, consuming project–paranoid ramblings right after Katrina (I think the day after, but I’ve really been in a bubble), was that the aftermath of the hurricane, the estimated months of cleanup and years of rebuilding, would result in a diaspora of poorer New Orleans residents (a city whose population was 2/3 black and we don’t have to guess in which direction of the income scale they’re skewed). Now I see this editorial, from Black Commentator, which seems to very much agree with me.
My basic premise was, no one wants to put their life on hold for months or years. The poor especially can’t afford to wait around for a job or place to live to rematerialize. Renters and those without insurance will have no reason to return. Even middle-class property owners of the former city of New Orleans will find returning difficult when they learn that no one will sell them and their employers flood insurance for the next go around. Heck, we had a few cases of mold in Texas and couldn’t buy homeowners insurance for two years.
And the simple truth is, many people have already left. People are still leaving. Getting people out is, rightly, the focus of the “relief” effort at present. If they can’t go back for months or years, they’ll very quickly begin to build new lives in new places. They’ll get jobs, sign leases, put their kids in school. Even if they had the means to return, which many will not, what would be the draw? I don’t believe the average person is that sentimental, and practical limitations will dictate staying put (just as it did for the thousands who stayed in the path of the hurricane against all advice).
But I’m not saying New Orleans is finished. I’m saying a lot of people have left and won’t be returning. What this will probably mean is the availability of a lot of cheap real estate. I think developers, corporations and speculators will come in and snap it up. Once you have those kinds of deep pockets involved, they’ll apply serious pressure to get the levy and pumping situation straightened out for the long haul. So New Orleans will ultimately be a safer, newer city. But my questions echo Mr. Ford’s–what kind of city will New New Orleans be, and who will live there?