Home > Uncategorized > Reflection Essay – Experts

Reflection Essay – Experts

Experts have played a mixed role in environmental justice issues like that of the New Orleans recovery from Hurricane Katrina. However, the role of local knowledge and grassroots organizations has in my opinion played an even more significant role than that of the experts. Moreover,  experts can in some cases be part of the problem. For instance, during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, experts were unwilling to provide adequate help to returnees who were trying to work within the government system to rebuild. The unwillingness of the government experts left the responsibility up to local businesses and action groups to clean up the mess. Furthermore, it allowed for outsider experts (i.e. The Urban Land Institute) to come in and take over the redevelopment of New Orleans without the input of the many thousands of African Americans and Vietnamese citizens who were not able to return.

Katrina left New Orleans devastated in 2005 but the communities of the Lower Ninth and of East New Orleans were left at an even bigger disadvantage. Furthermore, the lack of aid provided by FEMA and the EPA to these communities just made rebuilding and recovering even harder to cope with. After Katrina hit and the city was re-opened for people to come back in and fix their neighborhoods, many did not return because they lacked necessary items like transportation, temporary housing, food, water and supplies for rebuilding. The political experts including the Mayor of New Orleans did not provide the returnees with these necessary items and yet they expected everyone to come back to their houses. In reality the affluent white population returned and invested in rebuilding their communities but the poorer African American community did not have the capability to get back. Ultimately it was the aid of activist groups and neighborhood grassroots organizations that helped to get the African American community and the Vietnamese community back to their houses.

For the Vietnamese community of Versailles in East New Orleans it was the determination and tight-knit quality of their community that helped them achieve recovery after Katrina. However, even if culture and community is enough to bring back the people, they still need help rebuilding. Solnit (2007) stated “It’s why a lot of people come back, or want to, and it’s a major resource for reclaiming the city—though it can’t replace money and institutional willpower”. This community faced many environmental injustices while trying to rebuild. One of the major ones was the placement of a debris waste facility 1.2 miles away from their village that could hold up to 1/3 of New Orleans’ Katrina debris (Leong et al, 2009).  The Vietnamese community tried to cooperate with the ‘experts’ at the waste facility and suggested that a liner be put in so that it would mitigate some of the harmful effects of a waste facility on their livelihood. However, due to politics (Mayoral and Federal) and the lack of participatory and recognition justice in this community, the landfill was allowed to open. Even when protesting caused the landfill to shut down for testing, the experts could not agree on a testing method and the landfill was once again allowed to be open.

The African American community (the majority of New Orleans) ultimately did not have the capability to organize and return like the Vietnamese community did. Without the help of governmental experts it took them a lot longer to rebuild their communities. Participation from outside organizations and activist groups helped the leaders in the Lower Ninth to organize and find solutions to problems like temporary housing, supplies, and labor. However, they were unable to play a significant role in the city’s plan for rebuilding New Orleans. The Urban Land Institute excluded communities like the low income African American community of the Lower Ninth and the Vietnamese community of Versailles. The Institute wanted to rebuild New Orleans smaller, more efficiently, and at the exclusion of low income communities who could not afford to return and participate in the decision making process. Ultimately the experts from the Institute and from the local government took advantage of the lack of representation for these communities.

Overall, I feel like the role of experts was lacking in the emergency planning and recovery of Hurricane Katrina. Expert knowledge can be useful and powerful, however if those in power do not use their expertise, everyone suffers from it. The Urban Land Institute and other engineering companies saw this as an opportunity for economic development and ultimately it forced unjust environmental burdens on the communities of East New Orleans and the Lower Ninth. If local organizations and communities did not join together and seek out the help of activist groups and volunteers, these communities would not have recovered as they did from this disaster.


Solnit, R. (2007, September). The Lower Ninth Battles Back. The Nation. Retrieved February 11, 2013.

Leong, K. J., Airriess, C. A., Li, W., Chen, A. C. C., & Keith, V. M. (2007). Resilient history and the rebuilding of a community: The Vietnamese American community in New Orleans East. The Journal of American History94(3), 770-779.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


A Radical Geography Community

The Channichthyidae

experiments in science

La Jicarita

An Online Magazine of Environmental Politics in New Mexico

The Trash Blog

Finding Away

%d bloggers like this: