Marlyville / Fontainebleau / Broadmoor Preservation
post-Katrina and beyond...











14 jan 2006

Recovery Perspective

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 gone...gone...gone.

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 course).

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 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 hardest hit.

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, much more.

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 wasn't so.

-revised 30 january 2006

-james a zachary (4146 vendome place)

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