Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More History Denial on Katrina Recovery, By Lance Hill

In the days before the fifth anniversary of Katrina, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published their first full story on the Bring New Orleans Back Commission (BNOBC) "greenspace" plan. Predictably, it revises the history of the plan that they editorially endorsed and that Brown University researcher John Logan said would eliminate 80% of the black population.

One popular misconception reiterated in the article is that the only areas slated for demolition were those under the "green dots" on the planning map. In truth, the BNOBC plan, first proposed by the Urban Land Institute in November 2005, was designed to demolish all homes that flooded--and using that flood criteria, the result would have been the demolition of virtually all Black neighborhoods. Race was a key factor in given that the white Lakefront area was explicitly exempted from demolition (see attached map). The homes under the green dots were simply reserved for conversion to parks and retention ponds--"greenspace." In the end, under the BNOBC plan, most of New Orleans residential neighborhoods would have reverted to woodlands and swamps.

Granted, the BNOBC plan did contain a 120 day "planning period" in which neighborhoods had to prove they could recover or face demolition, but given that the residents of these neighborhoods were scattered to 5,500 cities in 48 states and most had no jobs, no means of returning, and it was illegal for residents to stay overnight even in their gutted homes in New Orleans East, the BNOBC planners knew that no neighborhood could re-convene and meet the criteria or deadline.

The best evidence of that the "neighborhood planning process" was a charade is found in the plan budget on page 57 of the BNOBC report below (http://bit.ly/BNOBCGreenspacePlan) which allocates $12.7 billion for "heavily flooded/damaged home acquisition" and "demolition and site remediation." The budget was sufficient to ensure that virtually all homes in the flooded residential areas would be demolished. In addition, although over 40% of blacks rented pre-Katrina, not one penny was budgeted to rebuild rentals.

More than simply a "green dot" problem, the fear that blacks had was of a vastly greater removal policy. As the Brown University report found: "The city of New Orleans could lose up to 80 percent of its black population if people displaced by Hurricane Katrina are not able to return to damaged neighborhoods, according to an analysis by a Brown University sociologist. Professor John R. Logan, in findings released Thursday, determined that if the city's returning population was limited to neighborhoods undamaged by Katrina, half of the white population would not return and 80 percent of the black population would not return."

Finally, the current level of blight is not, as the Times-Picayune suggests, the result of the failure to demolish homes and relocate residents. Since the plan was never to rebuild the city in its entirety, the city never requested funding to rebuild the damaged roads, water lines, and sewerage system for the entire city. Entergy, the local electric company, asked for and received $400 million in a federal bailout funds to rebuild the electrical grid for the entire city. New Orleans would have adequate infrastructure today if the elite planners had not been preoccupied with keeping most of the population out of the city. Most of the current blighted homes are a result of the failure of the planners to request any funds to restore rentals and then subsequently the state's policy of allocating home-owner rebuilding funds in a racially discriminatory way, according to a recent federal court ruling.

All of these injustices can be remedied and all neighborhoods restored if the political leadership, locally and nationally has the will to make people whole again.

Above Map: Revised Times-Picayune Map published August 23, 2010 (leaves out "flood-damaged" neighborhoods targeted for demolition. See map originally published).

No comments: