Saturday, January 3, 2009

What remains of New Orleans

By Bill Kraus

Everybody knows that half the people have left along with most of the business headquarters.

The remaining economic engines are tourism and the port. If John McPhee’s prediction that the Mississippi, which doesn’t want to go to New Orleans anymore, gets its way and moves to Texas, New Orleans will become sort of a Disneyworld on steriods.

The French Quarter is the main tourist attraction. It was charming once. It now is Las Vegasy. Lots of neon and blatant porn. The streets are full of non-drinking tire kickers who do not crowd the joints that line Bourbon and the other famous streets of the district.

Katrina’s visit left empty spaces and boarded up buildings in its wake. There is restoration activity by a lot of energitic developers and contributors including Brad Pitt. Their efforts are impressive, but seem to be spitting into the wind. There will be three restored homes on a block next door to five that are still boarded up and carry the post-storm markings which indicate, among other things, the numbers of dead bodies found inside.

Most of the infamous 9th Ward is an open field with unpaved roads and very occasional buildings. This is where Pitt has put his dough. Half a dozen imaginative, very non New Orleans, structures sitting in the middle of nowhere.

All of this is very bad.

What is infinitely worse is that the people who are doing the restoration know it’s a lost cause. They will do what can be done, take their winnings, and go elsewhere when the fed’s money runs out and the city subsides into what it seems destined to become.

What they know is that New Orleans is paying the price of being a failed city. People would rather buy new shocks for their cars than fix the potholes, send their children to private schools than to the wretched public system, hire their own security to protect themselves against the brigands and from their own corrupt police force (it is worth noting that on a recent Friday night there were four car jackings in the French Quarter; public safety is both more important to the city’s future and less evident than ever). This is what they have always done. There is no sign they or the city will change.

It is hard to blame people who have never known a government that works for being anti-government, even when the government, any government, is their last, best, and only hope.

The only thing that seems to have survived Katrina intact is the anarchistic, anti-government culture which is the curse of failed nations around the world and of this failed city.

Lester Brown, the prescient author of Plan B 3.0, says that failing states are a threat to our earth’s civilization. New Orleans has all the symptoms of all those failed states in the third world.

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