Saturday, July 29, 2006, is exactly eleven months after Katrina. As various groups in the city plan their one-year commemoration of the Hurricane-that-changed-life-forever-in-New-Orleans, some are complaining that these events reek of celebrating, and why have a party to honor the storm that destroyed our city. In most cases, however, plans call for prayer meetings and worship services and for tributes to those who died.
This is wedding anniversary time in our family. Son Marty and wonderful daughter-in-law Misha in Charlotte celebrate number 17 today. Tuesday, August 1, son Neil and terrific daughter-in-law Julie in Metairie celebrate number 14. (Margaret and I are working on number 45 next April, and my parents go for number 73 next March. Just for perspective.)
Headline on Saturday’s front page: “Experts excoriate recovery leaders.” I looked up the word. “Excoriate: to denounce scathingly.” Leaders of the Urban Land Institute are coming down hard on the absence of real leadership from our mayor and city council. Scroll back to late last year on this website and you will read of the work of the ULI, a group of professional urban planners across America who were invited to study New Orleans and make recommendations for the rebuilding. As far as I can tell, not a single insight or suggestion from their report has been followed, and now the group is taking off the kid gloves.
“It’s virtually a city without a city administration and it’s worse than ever,” said John McIlwain of the ULI. “New Orleans needs Huey Long. You need a politician, a leader that is willing to make tough decisions and articulate to the people why these decisions are made, which means everyone is not going to be happy.”
ULI’s Tom Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh, said this city does not have a citywide plan and a single, powerful authority handling the rebuilding of homes and neighborhoods. “Given the extraordinary circumstances of what happened to your city, you cannot solve this incrementally.” Which is precisely how the city is coming back at this very moment–a street here, a house there, a store across the way. Piecemeal.
Murphy said, “You need to create an agency or an authority that has people who wake up every day and their job is simply to make development happen. You need to build on a scale that in the best of times most cities wouldn’t be able to do. You don’t need 200 houses a year. You need to do 10,000 houses a year.”
For perspective: First Baptist-New Orleans is nearing the 1,000th house gutted out. Disaster pastor Travis Scruggs who oversees church groups coming to assist has a list of every one helped and a long waiting list of those wanting houses cleaned out for rebuilding. Meanwhile, NAMB’s Operation NOAH Rebuild is shooting for 1,000 houses to be redone in the next two years. Since they will be mobilizing volunteers all across the country, I expect they’ll end up doing far more than that number.