On August 29, 2005, I believe
we witnessed the death of old New Orleans.
Old New Orleans was a generally pleasant place to live if you ignored
the large run-down drug-infested neighborhoods, the ultra-high crime
rate, the political corruption, the lack of civic and personal
pride/responsibility, the drunken tourists common in the French Quarter,
and the infernal summer weather. New Orleans was a smaller city where
it was easy to get around and get things done with a minimum of hassle,
cost, and time. It was cheap to live in New Orleans, but just like
anything else, you get what you pay for ultimately.
When the levees broke, New Orleans was literally and figuratively put in
a blender with the energy of several nuclear explosions. The lack of
planning and political leadership put the lives and fortunes of hundreds
of thousands of residents at stake. Similarly the lack of immediate
decisive action after the levees failed resulted in over 1000 people
losing their lives. All of our "leaders" from the City Council to the
President of the United States failed old New Orleans, and over the next
couple of weeks while she steeped in a fetid chemical stew, we lost old
New Orleans possibly forever. Old New Orleans has likely succumbed.
Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed, and residents
displaced all over the country. Billions of dollars
The NEW New Orleans is truly saddening.
Each day the arteries to the city are clogged with thousands of white
pick-up trucks, trailer trucks, SUVs, and vans all coming in to provide
recovery services, many filled with people who do not know much about
the New Orleans, many who do not care about New Orleans, and many who
overtly disliked the old New Orleans. They are here to make a living,
but they would rather be somewhere else basically. They speed down
residential streets, they speed down the highways, and they speed home
in the evening in the opposite direction. The city now has a large
Latino community with which communication in English is impossible in
many cases; they probably now account for the slowly rising crime rate
that is being seen (along with returning evacuated criminals, of
Traffic lights are gradually returning, but driving in areas without
them is maddening due to the aggressive driving of the ubiquitous trucks
and the lack of uniformity of how different drivers approach and handle
a 4-way stop. Sometimes one can make left turns or other formerly
illegal manuvers with relative impunity, or you might be snagged by some
unidentifiable NOPD officer even when there is no one else is sight just
because he's a bit irritable.
And if you think the recent scandals at the NOPD have made things
better, think again. In my opinion the NOPD is deplorable both before
and after Katrina, but much worse afterwards despite the fact that there
are only 20-30% of the citizens back. Just before Christmas, a
building that I worked in before Katrina was looted of several
thousands dollars of computer equipment despite a dedicated security
patrol, the NOPD itself, and the building's close proximity (~1 mile) to
Central Lock Up on Broad Street. The jail on Broad Street looks like a
gulag, and the municipal court is being held in a small auditorium which
is a scene from a Fellini movie.
MidCity, Lakeview, and of course the Lower Ninth Ward are 99%
destroyed. Homes have waterlines from 2-10 feet high or higher. Many
have been displaced from their foundations. Demolition is spotty to nil
in the neighborhoods with less resources and more uniform in others.
Block after block of deserted homes with no activity at all can be found
all over town with the exception of the French Quarter, Marigny,
Bywater, and Uptown. Truly those are oases, but not without their own
issues. Many, many homes suffered roof damage with signficant water
damage; the blue tarps are numerous, and demolition debris is common
even Uptown and in the areas surrounding the French Quarter.
Healthcare services are scarce. It is highly recommended that you do
not get sick. You may not be able to find your doctor. Hospital
emergency departments are overloaded. Plan on waits of 8-16 hours at
private hospitals. Previously these waits were only seen at Charity
Hospital. Yesterday one of the hospital CEOs warned people with
healthcare problems to stay away from N.O. My dentist's office was
located in a flooded skyscraper downtown, and since the flood he has not
been able to get in and recover his expensive equipment for use at any
other location. For unclear reasons, his office was vandalized, and
much of his equipment was sledgehammered.
Grocery stores in New Orleans are very few in number and often are
limited in their stock. For example, trying to find a gallon of skim
milk proved frustrating for my friend the other day. Most people make
the trip to Metairie or the Westbank for groceries or reconstruction
supplies. Plan on getting a toll tag if you go to the Westbank very
often. It is truly amazing how long it takes the people in the pay
lanes to hand the toll booth person a $1 bill.
Drugstores have reduced their presence to 10-20% of their pre-K number,
and pharmacy hours are generally much more restricted. Small
independent stores are virtually nonexistent in the harder hit areas.
Even Walmart has not re-opened on the Westbank or in Uptown New
Orleans. Gasoline stations are even harder to find.
Mail service is universally terrible. If you can, have your mail
forwarded to someone in Baton Rouge where you can pick it up once a week
or so. I would estimate that most New Orleans residents are getting
about 10-20% of their pre-K mail. Periodicals are completely gone.
United Parcel Service, FedEx, and DHL are marginally better, but have
been known to lose things and to return to sender many things without
explanation. Everyone is calling vendors to make sure that they do not
fall behind on their bills. Mailorder companies such as Amazon.com
will not deliver to New Orleans.
Cable and telephone services are doing a fair job considering the damage
their infrastructure incurred, but are painfully slow in areas that were
FEMA trailers are popping up everywhere SLOWLY. We're all waiting for
the city's large housing project community to come back to a trailer
park near YOU along with the Latino construction workers and people like
you and me that just need a roof over their head. Some of my best
friends and neighbors now live in trailers. There's also a big
problem establishing trailer parks because no one wants these in their
neighborhood for fear of excess crime and declining property values.
Also many trailers are sitting on lots but cannot be used due to
unavailability of hook-ups for water, gas, electric, sewage, etc.
And it's politics as usual at the Nagin vs City Council prize fight
which happens daily. Nagin's heavily publicised Martin Luther King
Day speech was stunning in it's racism and Christian conservatism.
While pandering to his displaced African American voting base, he has
done a great job of distancing himself from voters who are here and will
hopefully be casting the votes for his job in April. He actually
made some good points about crime and his speech indicated that he did
not support the Iraq conflict which I personally agree with.
However, by referring to murderers as knuckleheads, I believe he is
letting hardcore criminals off much too lightly.
The cost of living is up like a sky rocket. Rents are similar to New
York City starting at around 800-1000 bucks and up IF YOU CAN FIND A
PLACE at all. Utilities appear to have increased by about 50-100%. One
mitigating factor is that assessed property values have plummetted by
50% or more in heavily damaged areas.
Last but not least, the city is butt-ugly. Grey or brown are the new
city colors which are accentuated to some extent by the winter season.
99% of the vegetation in the flooded areas was killed by the brackish
water. Debris is everywhere - toilets to dolls to sheet rock to
transformers. If you need anything, you really don't need to go to a
store. Just check a few demolition piles. Abandoned flooded cars are
another frequent VERY attractive part of the landscape. And peering out
over New Orleans from a skyscraper recently revealed a sea of blue tarps
(20% of all homes?). The medians and utility poles are studded with
small signs advertising contractors, massages, pain clinics, and much,
If you like expensive housing options, challenges and primitive
conditions, the new New Orleans is good fit for you. If you like
stability, beauty, an easy way of life, normalcy, variety, inexpensive
living, and connections with neighbors and old friends, try elsewhere.
I wish it
-revised 30 january 2006
-james a zachary (4146 vendome place)