Notes from Atlantis

Random Thoughts from the Crescent City

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Notes from Atlantis 28

Dear Folks,

Jesus, we’re in trouble.

The Urban Land Institute has officially said we’d be better off with Huey Long.

The U.L.I., which was brought in as part of a panel of fifty experts recruited by Mayor Nagin eight months ago (a panel that’s since been told to go play in traffic) has announced that if New Orleans doesn’t get its act together soon, it could end up squandering billions and looking like the worst parts of North Philadelphia or Detroit or Baltimore.

They say we need someone in charge. They say we need a plan. They say we need more than the ad hoc efforts of individual homeowners, who are rebuilding here, there and everywhere without any overall design. We need, in short, a Mayor. And we ain’t got one.

And it’s hard to dispute their point.

As we close in on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this is a city that isn’t bothering to whistle in the dark anymore. Instead, it’s sitting tight, poised for flight, watching the Gulf with sick fascination and living with a huge, if largely ignored, level of stress. Life goes on, of course. We’ve been incredibly busy, making our hurricane plans (food and supplies at home, in the Quarter if we decide to go there, and ready to be stashed in the car). We’ve called Hurricane Guy ( who’ll come and install our plywood and dismantle the car-port when and if we need him. And we’re pricing home generators, and have had new locks installed, and I’m putting all my important manuscripts in plastic boxes and stashing them under the bed (some impulses are just plain irrational, so there you go).

And we’ve been working hard on other things. We’re getting ready to re-launch the website for Make New Orleans Home ( the organization we’ve been unofficially hired to rebrand (unofficial since they haven’t paid us any money yet, but we’re hoping). Bill’s getting the studio together, since the roof’s finally been repaired, and I’m working on a new book (about the 1927 flood...hope that piques your curiosity). And we’re helping the Mystic Krewe of Shangri-La organize a fundraiser to be held at our house in October (the theme is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil...gee, appropriate?) And there are expenses to be logged and capital gains to be computed and wills to be redrawn (no, we’re not anticipating’s just practicality), and of course there are always great meals to be eaten and great music to be heard and great friends to spend wonderful times with.

This is still the most extraordinary city in the world, and we love it idiotically. But God ALMIGHTY, I’m getting fed up with the current administration!

When the Mayoral run-off was going on last May, you’ll remember, my attitude was wait and see. I was willing to give Mayor Nagin the benefit of the doubt. Well, two months later, that benefit is rapidly dwindling, in the face of what I perceive as a lamentable (if understandable) impulse on Hizzoner’s part to grand-stand on a wider stage. He’s been embraced by the current African-American political machine (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton et al) and while I think he’s got it all over them (Martin Luther King Jr. would vomit at what whores Jesse and Al have become), he (Nagin) seems to have lost interest in...oh, being Mayor of New Orleans. Time goes by. Occasional trial balloons go up (We’ll rebuild City Hall! We’ll build a new Jazz Park, even though we’ve already go one! We’ll make the whole city wireless!) and die with a fart of hot air. Meanwhile City Council President Oliver Thomas, another machine-man on a par with the Jefferson family, has said, and I quote, “We just hope at some point, all the stars will line up” and a rebuilding plan will magically materialize.

The Urban Land Institute has compared our current status to that of Dresden in 1946, and the City Council says it’s putting its faith in the stars.

I’m not sure having a “czar” in charge of redevelopment would solve all our problems (at what point did the term “ czar” come back in favor? Maybe William Safire could tell me) but it surely couldn’t HURT. Right now anyone trying to redevelop property in this city has to go through six different organizations, including the city’s finance authority and its economic development office. Does anyone believe these entities are staffed by cousins and brother’s-in-law of Messrs. Jefferson, Thomas et al? Does the Pope wear little white shoes? C’mon. While Mayor Nagin has said he wants the city to grow from the ground up, deciding its own fate rather than having a plan imposed from above, this sounds to me like a nice excuse for sloth.

I drove out to the lower section of the Lower Ninth Ward two weeks ago, and up by the worst-hit areas of Lakeview and New Orleans East, and those places are still looking as bad as you can possibly imagine. The grass is growing up high now, so it doesn’t look so gray, but the wooden houses have started to sink into themselves and the brick structures are getting choked with weeds. They’re starting to look PERMANENT. Every block or two there are signs of work, piles of gutted trash and sheetrock, but these individual efforts are scattered and unplanned. If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up with areas with just a sprinkling of residents, people who have no real infrastructure, no services, but are living as squatters in their own ruined neighborhoods. And the fact that that’s completely UNNECESSARY strikes me as nothing less than criminal.

Money is going to start rolling in soon, and money, as always, will find its own level. Graft isn’t even a question, and them that’s got will have and them that’s not will lose, and in a world where humanity seems increasingly hell-bent on destroying itself, maybe one SHOULD just shrug and say so what? Sit back, fix yourself a daiquiri, and enjoy the show. You know I can’t do that, you know I’ll keep sputtering (maybe not as badly as Chris Matthews) but it’s so terrible to see an opportunity like this wasted, it absolutely breaks my heart.

This is such a magical city, how did it end up in the hands of those who take such shabby care of it?




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