New Orleans – An autopsy

Written by  //  September 1, 2007  //  Economy, Geopolitics, Natural Disasters  //  Comments Off on New Orleans – An autopsy

September 2007
Ben C. Toledano, Commentary Magazine

Reports of the death of New Orleans as a major American city have not been greatly exaggerated; they have only been greatly delayed. Although the funeral was not conducted until Katrina struck, the death took place several decades ago.
Since the disastrous storm, there has been much lamenting over the lost joys of the city’s cuisine, music, and architecture, and ringing proclamations of the need to “save” and “rebuild” New Orleans. For at least the prior 50 years, however, these undeniable charms and graces had masked problems of major proportions, unexposed until over half of the city’s residents were forced by the hurricane to leave town.
The fact is that the majority of New Orleans’s citizens were poor, black, uneducated, unemployed or underemployed, and living in near slum conditions. Today, the city is a very, very different place. Along with everything else Katrina did, it eliminated some of the sub-marginal public and private housing, reduced unemployment, lessened (somewhat) the sale of illegal drugs, lowered the number of illegitimate births among teenage girls, and drastically cut the number of victims of the public-school system. New Orleans will henceforth be closer to the mythmakers’ idealized notion of it: smaller, whiter, and more dedicated than ever to its main sources of commerce: tourism, the port, and conventions.
Yet no comfort can be taken from what a forced mass exodus has done. The city, or what remains of it, continues to suffer from what it is, from what it was, and from how it arrived at this catastrophic end. Since history is ignored only at one’s peril, it might be of interest to consider what caused the death of old New Orleans before Katrina struck: a story of destruction not from without but from within. More

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