The Dirty South Continuum
Shalom y’all. That previous post pushed me right onto this blog–thanks!
Obviously, the most eerie NOLA echo in this season is the specter of corpses boarded up in abandoned houses.
But first, some elisions and misprisions. There are still over 200,000 post-Katrina Gulf Coast evacuees living in Baton Rouge, Houston, and more than 40 states. They are somewhat more likely to be poor and to be black than the city at large, but the vast majority are not “displaced 9th ward residents.” The Lower Ninth Ward, which is the part of the Ninth Ward east of the Industrial Canal, suffered some of the most dramatic damage of the entire storm because of its proximity to the canal breach. (The Upper Ninth got just your average 2 to 4 feet of water). The tour buses go there because there you can see houses parked on top of cars and all that sort of heartbreaking shit. The tour buses also go to Lakeview, though, which is an upper-middle class white neighborhood that is similarly fucked in parts.
The reason i’m interested in preserving this distinction is not just the narcississm of fierce locality but a question of policy. The vast majority of the city’s poor black exiles do not remain in exile because their homes were destroyed. They remain in exile because there is no federal relief money allocated to bring them home or give them rental assistance if they were renters. And in the case of some 4,000 former public housing residents, they remain in exile because HUD wants to “tear those towers down,” closing and announcing its intention to demolish most of New Orleans’ existing public housing stock, in particular two historic and undamaged developments that happen to be in a stone’s throw of the French Quarter. Pockets of poverty, mixed income, blah blah blah.
All of which wanders right into one of the most painful debates elucidated every episode of the Wire: what do you do when urban neighborhoods turn toxic to children and other living things?