Friday, May 12, 2006

Daily* Reminder

Same old mind-set threatens new New Orleans

Who has Mayor Ray Nagin been listening to? Who is helping him shape his vision of what a rebuilt New Orleans should be?

If I could answer those questions, I could make a fairly accurate prediction about what vision will emerge.

We do know this: Nagin is a very conservative man. Which is not to say that his instincts are more closely in synch with the Democratic or Republican party. Rather, it is to say that in his three-plus years in office, little about the way he has conducted city business has been surprising.

In his major bond issue, he asked to fund the same sorts of projects his predecessors had funded. He chants the same "economic development" mantra that every other mainstream politician in America chants.

Almost without exception he has favored demolition over rehabilitation, developers over communities and management over labor. His conservatism also has been reflected in the men and women he has appointed to the various offices and boards under his control.

'Warts and all'

One example is damningly illustrative of the point.

When it came time to appoint someone to chair the Regional Transit Authority, the agency in charge of transporting our poorest citizens to school, work and home, Nagin chose, James Reiss, a man so rich and out of synch with the city that he imported a security force from Israel to protect his neighborhood during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Thanks to an unflattering article in the Sept. 8 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Reiss has become a symbol of everything that's been wrong with the Nagin administration's approach to dealing with poor New Orleanians.

Yet in that same article, Reiss said he was on his way to Dallas to meet with the mayor and others to plot the future of our city.
The danger of Nagin's conservatism was brought home to me during a recent interview with Bob Yaro, who runs the New York-based Regional Plan Association.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Yaro worked on the rebuilding effort. He also taught a course at the University of Pennsylvania on how cities rebuild after catastrophes.

"One of the things we learned was that in almost every case, cities tend to rebuild what they had before, warts and all," Yaro said. "If things weren't working beforehand, they still rebuild them the way they were before."

Citizens are key

In his information session at the state Capitol last week, Nagin promised to discuss the design of a new New Orleans in a series of meetings in the various cities where our people have gathered in the aftermath of Katrina. But unless the voices and ideas of our dispersed citizens guide the rebuilding, these discussions will be little more than a hollow gesture.

If Nagin clings to his conservatism, and rounds up the usual suspects to shape his vision, we can be assured of this: Our rebuilt city will be nothing more than a pale, flawed reflection of many of the problems that have put us in this current mess.

Lolis Eric Elie September 30, 2005


Thank you for posting that... Lolis can be silly but he seems to get the big things right more often than not.
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