Monday, September 12, 2005

So I've come across some items written by individuals who think that rebuilding New Orleans is a mistake. One of main reasons sited is of course, that it is bound to be destroyed again by another hurricane and to spend money on rebuilding a doomed city is a waste.

While some of those who make these remarks do have some valid points, I don't think they are seeing the whole picture.

Yes, NOLA was and still IS the city that should not be, but so are many other places in this country and around the world for that matter. If we're going to scrap New Orleans because it's just going to be destroyed by hurricanes again, we might as well scrap the ENTIRE gulf coast, including Florida. No one should be living there, because, let's face it, the devastation could hit ANY PART of that area. And what about the Carolinas?
And how about San Francisco and other areas on fault lines? There's no point in saving those areas either if a massive earthquake hits, right?
And what about tornadoes?
Saying New Orleans is not worth saving because eventually another hurricane will strike is like saying "I'm going to kill myself now because eventually I'm going to die anyway."

So we're supposed to leave a big empty husk of a city lying around?
We're supposed to GIVE UP? That most certainly is not a southern attitude, and definitely not a New Orleans attitude.

To single out NOLA because of it's unfortunate below sea stature is entirely unfair.
Let's not forget that there are still parts of the city where things are not damaged or damage is minimal. Let's not forget also, the importance of New Orleans as a port and entry point for commerce on one of the most major rivers in the country. Never mind that it was also an excellent point of defense in past history BECAUSE it was on the Mississippi. The amount of business that would be hampered if not lost because of letting the city perish would effect us ALL.

I think the thing that perturbs me most about the point of view that would let NOLA curl up and die is as I have commented on before - the throw away nature of our culture. Oh, it's broken. There's no point in even trying to fix it. It'll take too much time and effort that we could be spending complaining about other less significant things.

New Orleans is one of the oldest cities in this country. HOW LONG has it existed before a hurricane threatened it in this manner? And how many times has it been rebuilt after fires, floods, plagues, and god knows what else?

Maybe humans are stupid creatures in that they insist on building in areas where they shouldn't exist. But, if you think about how many places we shouldn't be existing, the living space gets a bit limited. It is man's nature to adapt TO NATURE. If the dutch can build a 10,000 year dyke that keeps their land from being flooded, there's no reason why New Orleans can't build better levees. Yes, it will cost money. What the fuck doesn't cost a buttload of money to help improve our country these days? As long as I'm paying a shit-ton of taxes, I'd at least like to know that some of the money is going to actually helping other people in this country.

I realize that some other comments that those against the rebuilding of NOLA have made is that it wasn't that great of a place anyhow. The school system was failing, the police were corrupt, the murder rate was high and so was poverty. I won't dispute the poverty rate. The other forementioned items were linked either directly or indirectly to the poverty rate.
Instead of looking at this as a situation that was hopeless and should be forgotten, is it instead possible that this disaster could be viewed as a WAKE UP CALL that there is a serious poverty issue that needs addressing and maybe someone should care enough to fucking deal with it finally? Poverty was not exclusive to NOLA, but it was very concentrated there.

Being someone in the middle class who is just barely above LOWER middle class, whose parents and inlaws are still in the lower middle class - lower class, I am WELL aware of the class gap and how it has been steadily widening over the years.

And would someone please find me a city where police or officials AREN'T corrupt? We ARE in Chicago, and let's just say that we've had our share of crap heads. As for public schools? AS Mike about Cleveland public schools and how they've been failing for years.

Yes, NOLA had concentrated problems, but they were not problems that were exclusive to their area and the bad history is a terrible reason to SCRAP it - the history is a reason to DO RIGHT by it.

Let me tell you a little story about a town that once was a bustling port - one that was strategically important back in the civil war era, which was also on the Miss. river, and one that WAS allowed to decay from a disaster which is a fairly natural one - TIME.

There is a town called Cairo, which sits at the junction of the Miss. and Ohio rivers, and is the southernmost town in Illinois. It is also one of the few towns protected by a levee. It was founded in the early 1800's because of its location. It was an important strategic location in the civil war. "General U.S. Grant, the Army of the Tennessee, the Siege of Vicksburg, the Naval Battle for the Mississippi---all were launched from Cairo's riverbanks." (- was a major steamboat port, and it also became an important railroad hub. Lumber Mills, furniture factories and even the Singer Sewing Company did a lot of export business from the area as well. As the turn of the century ensued, things began to slide backwards. A railroad bridge across the Miss. River took traffic away from Cairo, and water seepage became a nuisance (the city was built on low ground).

The bustling city was in slow decline, and if you look at timelines, it is apparent that the advent of the car, the first world war, and the depression were the knives in the back of the city. Time is almost always a city killer, but those who could have kept the town up were not exactly lending it a hand. It was let go. The businessmen let it go, the citizens let it go, those who could have invested in it gave up on it. Extreme racial tension - notable especially in the 60's, tore the already dying town apart. Corruption was also a murderer of Cairo.
Why? Because no one cared or tried enough to do anything about it.

Cairo stands out on billboards as you head down south through the Illinois border. The Brochures about it make it out to be a lovely, picturesque, historical place. To the tourist passing through, you believe these images until you go there. Sure, the buildings on the brochure are as beautiful as their photos, but the landscape around them is rife with decay.
Cairo is a ghost town waiting to happen. Structures that were obviously gorgeous less than a century ago are decrepit, the atmosphere is tense and depressing, if not menacing. It's obvious that poverty, lack of jobs, and poor education has a chokehold on the city. It's even more obvious that no one seems to care - the city was left to die because no one even wanted to try anymore - and this was a city that wasn't threatened by floods as those on the lower Miss.

The following is an excerpt from wikipedia:
"Cairo today faces a number of serious issues, including poverty, teenage pregnancy, education, a lack of jobs, and poor access to health services. The 2004 closing of the last major industry, a plant manufacturing foam stuffing for automobile seats, has intensified concerns about Cairo's future. If the population continues to decline at its current rate, the city will be abandoned by 2020."

We spent the last leg of our 2004 trip from New Orleans staying overnight in Cairo. We were shocked to see the town in daylight. I had never seen a placed so marked by despair.

This is what happens when people give up and scrap a place that has promise. Cairo's life exists only in the nostalgia of postcards and historical documents. No one is left alive who remembers what the place was, could have been, and should have been.

I had just left New Orleans, a place with both problems and beauty, a city of graveyards but a place so alive - and was saddened by the thought that Cairo was probably very much like it at one time long ago.

I will say it again, New Orleans is worth saving. In the end, you really can't compare it to Cairo for its importance in our economy, industry, transportation and in our hearts. As one should not leave behind the sick and elderly to die in the floodwaters, so we cannot leave a wounded city that needs our help. It deserves far better than what it has gotten, and so do the people who live there.


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