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What are the Barriers to Reconstruction that the People of New Orleans Face?

April 9, 2013 3 comments

When the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in the newly constructed stadium, the streets were filled with people celebrating the triumph. The victory gave the residents of New Orleans something to cheer for, perhaps a sign that New Orleans had risen from the ashes of Katrina. However, these celebrations were superficial. The day after the Super Bowl, the destruction was still there. People were still picking up the pieces of their lives, regardless of who had won a football game. 

The film, “When the Levees Broke,” interviews a wide variety of people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the challenges that they still face. From the mayor of the city to residents that have been ousted from their homes, the film provided a wide array of perspectives to the crisis. The most important question that I found was: What are the barriers to reconstruction that the people of New Orleans face?

Katrina destroyed over 275,000 homes in Louisiana, leaving countless refugees. These people had to scatter across the United States, forced to form new lives outside of their communities. People who wanted to return did not find the communities that once gave them support. Lack of insurance meant that many people had to rebuild from scratch. Businesses had all closed down because there were no people, but the people could not come back because all of the businesses and services were gone. The people who wanted to come back and rebuild their homes had nowhere to stay while they tried to rebuild their lives, making the reconstruction effort much harder than it should have been. People would have to drive from Houston to New Orleans to work for a few hours salvaging what was left of their homes, and they would have to turn around and make the long, arduous trip back to Houston because they had no place to stay. The lack of government help was a huge barrier to reconstruction for many citizens. The government did not provide tools that people needed to rebuild. Temporary living space in New Orleans should have been provided, and businesses should have been given financial incentive to return. Instead, people had no place to stay while they were rebuilding and business had no reliable customer base to keep them afloat.  

 In the absence of substantial government assistance, celebrities like Brad Pitt provided funding for housing projects. In the film, Brad Pitt walked around a neighborhood of “green” houses in the 9th ward that his organization helped rebuild. The houses were storm resistant and had solar panels, and were sold to the previous homeowners for around $150,000. At first, even he was not sure that his project would create long-term improvements for the area. From what was seen, the project was a big success. Over 150 sustainable homes were given to previous residents of the 9th ward. The residents only had to pay a fraction of what the houses really cost. Unfortunately, stories like this are not very common, and the vast majority of residents have no philanthropists or superstars to turn to. Projects like this are very costly and can have trouble gathering the necessary attention unless they are backed by someone as famous and wealthy as Brad Pitt. In no small thanks to his wealth and fame, he was able to get world-famous architects on board to design the houses. He was also able to spend top dollar on solar panels along with flood and hurricane-resistant foundations. In other words, this was project was successful because of Brad Pitt’s fame and vast amount of expendable income. If another group tried to recreate this project in another part of New Orleans, it is doubtful that it would acquire similar attention or funding in order to be successful.  

New Orleans is, historically, very vulnerable to hurricane events. It is located below the sea level in a wetland area, which makes it prone to flooding. The government should have known this, and put necessary plans in place in case of emergency. Despite the obvious vulnerability of the city, the disaster still caught the government and other institutions off guard.  Relief stations that were set up were overwhelmed and inadequate for the huge numbers of people coming in, and the lack of structure in New Orleans provided a breeding ground for crime. Government preparedness or lack thereof, presented a huge obstacle to reconstruction in New Orleans.

Despite these obstacles, some areas of New Orleans were recovering faster than others.  These parts of New Orleans, the commercial areas that attract tourists, were doing just fine. These areas pulled in tourists and money while just blocks away, entire neighborhoods were ghost towns.  Despite the influx of money from downtown areas, the money didn’t trickle down to the majority of residents who were still homeless. The money was coming into New Orleans, but not to the people who needed it most.

There were many obstacles that hindered redevelopment in New Orleans, including lack of nearby living space for residents, lack of incentive for businesses to return, inadequate and poorly used government aid, government unpreparedness, and unequal allocation of resources, to  name a few. In light of this, the government needs to completely rethink their disaster management strategies. As natural disasters only increase in magnitude and frequency, the current government inadequacies will only become more prevalent. 

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