Fourth Anniversary of Katrina: We're Still Here
New Orleans is my city and I love it. I am not alone in this affection. Yet, I drag my feet to write about how it stumbles down the road to recovery. Shouldn't a writer in New Orleans, seeing her city's value, beauty, promise, its failures, blight, and grotesque inequalities revisit its saga often? Today is the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina changing how America sees America, how the world sees the incompetence and frailty of humans in one of the greatest nations on earth but also how we view the resilience, bravery and compassion of ordinary people facing devastation.
I don't write about my city enough because I sit overwhelmed beneath its staggering complexity. As you may read at Black Voice News Online as well as Electronic Village, New Orleans has progressed toward genuine revival since Katrina kicked down its faulty levees, but as you may read in my comment on one of those posts, there's woe and frustration to fathom daily.
In the following video, President Barack Obama promises to visit New Orleans and talks about what his administration has done so far for recovery. Remember that rebuilding New Orleans was one of his campaign promises, and like his other promises, he's facing heat about New Orleans as well.
While I grew up here, I was not here for the great flood of 2005, but I returned in 2007 and observe the people, sometimes looking at them as though I am not of them but alien. The survivors have a bond that I, despite my roots in the Crescent City, will never have. At other times I'm all New Orleans and every drop of gumbo in my blood boils. In my car I may launch into a mini-rant asking how can anyone not know that this city must be saved.
Today, I'm watching Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke again and shuddering a little, but I don't shudder and groan the way nearly the entire audience groaned in the movie theater when I went to see the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. When movie goers realized that the big storm in the movie's present day setting was Katrina, they let out a communal "ohhhhh" from a collective gut.
I am watching Spike Lee's movie and realizing that there's someone in that documentary who I know that I did not know when I first saw it years ago. Her name is Sarah Dean, a web designer who unlike me did not grow up in the city. Sarah came to New Orleans later in life and was here during Katrina.
She loves New Orleans but left the city last year to become an architect. A young mother with baby and husband, she told me what a privilege it was to be accepted into the program, that the school program was unique, combining new media with traditional courses. Whatever it offered, she could not get it here and that has nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina, but seeing her in the video reminded me of what we see daily living here, memories of the people who are gone, what we've lost and what we hope to recover. Perhaps one day she and her small family will return.
Seeing her face I begin to reflect on my return and ask myself, "Have I learned anything new?" I know I have, but like ebb and flow, rise and fall of life here that I have yet to chronicle, I can't put it into words yet. Please keep track of me. Perhaps by the fifth anniversary I'll be able to frame my lessons well. I suspect they will have something to do with how to greet the unexpected with grace, as did this young teacher who arrived for a job in New Orleans three months before Katrina only to find the school system couldn't pay him. And undoubtedly I'll have learned more about living in the moment or how to live for six months each year knowing you may have to abandon your home and accept the possibility it will be washed away.
Until then, here's a list of reports and articles from people who measure our speed toward recovery and try to educate the nation and world about why New Orleans should not be forgotten.
- The New Orleans Index Anniversary Edition: Four Years after Katrina at the Brookings Institution:
Though New Orleans has been somewhat shielded from the recession due to substantial rebuilding activity, four years after Katrina the region still faces major challenges due to blight, unaffordable housing, and vulnerable flood protection. New federal leadership must commit and sustain its partnership with state and local leaders by delivering on key milestones in innovation, infrastructure, human capital, and sustainable communities to help greater New Orleans move past “disaster recovery” and boldly build a more prosperous future.
- The State of New Orleans, also at Brookings
- Recommended Reading on New Orleans from Princeton Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell
- Bring the Pain, unsettling stats at NOLAFugees.com
- New Orleans Levees Still Need Work at CBS
- New Orleans'Green Make Over at Time magazine
New Orleanians on the Anniversary and Recovery
- NOLA Femmes
- Library Chronicles
- New Orleans Ladder
- Lip Rap's Lament
- Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans
- Gentilly Girl
- Blog at Gambit
- Rising Tide, a list of 300 NOLA blogs
- House on a Hill
- How I Celebrate Katrina's Fourth Anniversary at NOLARising blog reposted from Humid City
- Anniversary coverage at NOLA.com
- Take Me Back to New Orleans by a writer at the root who grew up in the city, but well, ... it's complicated.
On Twitter I've seen echoes of anger from people on the rest of the Gulf Coast who remind anyone mentioning New Orleans that other parts of the Gulf Coast had equal damage. I appreciate their pain; however, the emphasis on New Orleans is about more than quantifiable damage. With neither guilt nor guile, I direct those who don't understand why New Orleans is important to this country, why the city's recovery must remain a priority, and why we won't stop talking about its recovery to this book Why New Orleans Matters by Tom Piazza.
"New Orleans is...a small model of all the best of America. You have a truly multicultural city, in which all social and ethnic and economic levels of society have somehow managed to fashion a distinct and beautiful culture out of the tensions among their differences...In a larger sense that is the story of the United States culture also, but in New Orleans the expressions of that culture have included jazz, rhythm and blues, a distinctive cuisine and so much more. And an attitude towards life that includes a spiritual resilience which has spoken to people around the world-for a couple of hundred years." (Piazza in n interview with the Washington Post, 2006)
He emphasizes the value of its history, culture and people, but for anyone who doesn't think history, cultural contribution, and people are important, then there's always this other thing: money.
Like that program the young mother, Sarah, with her family made sacrifices to enter, New Orleans is unique and worth the effort. Its success ties the nation to a more viable future.
As I mediate on its unique nature, I wonder at the people who thought the answer to its devastation was not fix the levees properly but move the city to another location. I remain forever grateful to those who don't live in New Orleans but understand its significance to this nation and agree abandoning NOLA or moving it from the land that made it what it is today is not the way to go.
So, it's the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and we're still here in my city remembering good reasons to fight for this enchanted land.
Nordette Adams is a BlogHer Contributing Editor. Keep up with her writing adventures at Her411.com.