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Waiting to return to New Orleans

By December 22, 2005katrina

A friend who left New Orleans before Katrina and has not yet returned sent me an email and asked how things are.  She seemed to want guidance on whether to return.  Here was my response:

I’m doing well, and it’s good to hear from you. I don’t know what to say about New Orleans, other than what I’ve been saying on my blog. It’s promising and exciting, and frustrating and depressing. There are a lot of opportunities and a lot of dead-ends. There’s a lot of new construction, and a lot of debris piles and discarded appliances. … Hopefully, you’ll come back. But I don’t know if you should. It’s a hard question. Obviously, not everyone has the same answer.

I want everyone to come back, everyone, that is, that wants to work to make this city better.  We all want you back and we hope you can find your way.  If you can’t find a place to live then keep looking, but don’t wait for the politicians.  A lot of you won’t come back and that’s a shame, but we understand.  You found a better opportunity, or you are pissed off at how things were, or how you think things are going to be.  That’s fine. 

If we weren’t so busy here fixing things up and getting excited over stupid things like when a traffic light gets repaired we’d probably make time to mourn your loss.  But for those of us who live here, New Orleans is now about triage, about conserving resources, focusing on little gains, and hoping they signal a path that will take us (sometime in the, as yet, unseeable future) towards bigger gains.  If you want to tell people how much you want to return to the city then feel free.  If you want to wait for someone to offer you a job then, by all means, take your time and weigh your options.

Maybe it’s because I speak spanish, but I hear a lot of new voices in New Orleans that came here for no other reason than because they heard rumors that jobs were plentiful (rumors which are mostly true if you work in a low pay job).  These voices talk eagerly, passing around information about where to live and how to find work.  The voices sound cheerful and optimistic, and they don’t seem to be waiting for any government annoucements to be issued before they start to act. 

I realize that these are not the voices of former residents, but still, for some reason, those voices are music to my ears.

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  • Daisy says:

    As a NOLA native whose parents lost everything from my childhood home in Gentilly, I am so glad to hear your optimism. I too am optimistic but I’m scared that is because I am stuck in my PhD program in Tampa and haven’t yet surveyed the damage. I’ll be home for Mardi Gras but doubt I’ll go touring then. Anyway, thank you for your continuous blogging and putting your thoughts out there. My dissertation will be on the Internet’s role in responding to Katrina [i’m in rhetoric and composition] so with that background one I am officially doctor daisy, my plan is to return to Xavier or Loyola and help in anyway I can.

    See you at the Gras!

  • D. Cleary says:

    I just returned yesterday from a two day trip to New Orleans. I estimate that 75% of all houses that were flooded have to be gutted. the other 25% have to be gutted at least up to the high water mark. I just don’t see how it can be done. The devestation is overwhelming. Even if the feds front the money, current discussion are at 60% of equity prior to Katrina. Tell he how people can possibly return to rebuild at 60%–assuming they even have any equity–without jobs when they get there. Homes, businesses, schools, churches for MILES–they all must be rebuilt. Where do you start? If the majority of service organizations are closed where is everyone going to work? Most of the flooded areas still don’t even have electricity after four months. Those areas that do, electric service is spoty. I stayed at a hostel at 124 South Lopez St. It was the only house on all of Lopez (about 10 blocks long) with any sign of having electricty, and then they didn’t have enough power to run the entire house.

    The mayor and governor say there are only 47,000 displaced families. They are either lying or dumber than a sh– load of bricks. Why is the devestation being under reported? The entire west side of the downtown area from the river to the lake was flooded as was significant portions south east of town. I didn’t drive north east of New Orleans. I drove on I10 for about 15 minutes at 60 miles per hour from Canal St to Lake Ponchartrain, and vertually every neighborhood on both sides of the expressway where flooded and are still vacant four months after Katrina hit. Don’t even begin to tell me that is only 47,000 families. I would be interested in knowing how many apartment units are within that area as well. Some body needs to investigate and find out why this is being under reported.

  • Amy Wohl says:

    Hi, Ernie. Glad to see you’re back.

    I love New Orleans. I’ve been there more than 20 times and never had a bad visit. But I’m not a resident and probably won’t ever be — just a sometime guest and an admirer of all the history and music and food and spirit.

    I think there’s a little bit of truth in what almost everyone said, but the real truth is that people have to make their own decisions, without looking to the government to get them started. The government may provide help (and certainly it should), but people have to be responsible for themselves.

    For that reason, I suspect the New New Orleans may be different, somehow, than the old one. It might be smaller or larger. It might have a different mix of citizens. I’m hoping that we can look at where we came from and what the opportunity is and help New Orleans be more than a tourist place (much as I loved that part of it), but rather an important southern city, with fine educational institutions, educated citizens at every level of society, and plitical leaders who work because they feel a need to serve, not a need to line their pockets.

    Probably too much to wish for — but I believe in wishing for the moon. How else would you get it?

    The next brunch at Commander’s palace is on us, Ernie — and I’m hoping it will be soon.

  • Aaron says:

    The US economy saw a serious downturn after Katrina hit the gulf coast which we only in the last month recovered from to some extent; the country is still not completely recovered. You see a 16 block area of town and tourists when you think of New Orleans, because you are a tourist. The city of New Orleans is larger and much more productive than that very limited view. How large is it, how badly was the U.S. hurt by the damage? Look up New Orleans on Wikipedia or any of the other 3,000+ news agencies who have been covering the hurricane for months for that information. If you don’t know anything about it, it’s because you haven’t looked.

  • ZF says:

    There ought to be room here for someone to point out the obvious alternative view.

    New Orleans had become a sink for people to sit around unproductively, living off and fighting over tourism revenues/taxes (just like San Francisco in that respect). The extent to which this is true is demonstrated by, among other things, the way in which the nation’s total output showed hardly a blip when New Orleans shut down.

    We’re better off without it, and many of the people who formerly lived there will find that they are too.

  • Aaron says:

    I agree with your general sentiment of come back and help rebuild. It needs to be stated in the clearest possible terms. I also agree with your sentiment that it’s just not possible for many people. My problem is not with what you said, which is the truth of the situation, but what the truth should be. There should be so many opportunities for employment that we have to recruit from out of state. The senate approved the $29 billion bill for Gulf Coast Restoration – the last thing we should be have to be worrying about right now is the best our state’s citizens leaving Louisiana behind because of a lack of opportunities. This state needs some clear leadership and it needs it yesterday to make the restoration a truth for New Orleans (and it’s surrounding parishes, to quote Benny Grunch). I sure hope i can come back soon to help out, too.

  • Dave Winer says:

    Ernie, I noticed you linked to the article about the Neville Brother who was fed up with New Orleans. (It’s gone away, their archives are only accessible for seven days.)

    I was telling someone about this the other day, and realized that stuff like that should have been coming out before Katrina. It’s *good* that people speak their mind, there’s a tendency to believe that you have to sweep the bad news under the carpet. I do it myself. Yesterday Dan Gillmor announced that he was starting a new venture, but said nothing about the old one. Snarky me, inside I was wondering what happened, but it wouldn’t be politically correct to ask publicly. Well, it should be. Guys like Gillmor who rail against vaporware should be very conspicuous in being clear when they commit it themselves. I doubt if we’ll be hearing Dan rant about that in the future, that would be too much chutzpah.

    Anyway, I ramble.

    The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that New Orleans, the people of New Orleans, even those who are not right now in New Orleans, need to communicate. We need to hear the voice of the city, good and bad, let’s get at the truth, let’s build a better city, and it will attract the people it needs, and it will rise much greater than it was before.

    I really believe that. The key is to get grounded and stay grounded. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

    Where’s the voice of Tulane? The president had a blog in the darkest moments of Katrina. That needs to come back. Make the Tulane home page a blog. Ernie, let’s get on a clearer platform. Start speaking for the bloggers of New Orleans. You’re not the only one. If you’re brave there’s a lot you can do for the city.

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