This latest mainstream media piece on New Orleans seems to contain a bit more ground truth (except, as Oyster points out, there ain’t no Beaujolais St. here) and is yet somehow more non-committal than its predecessors. The feeling I got when reading the article is that it throws up many pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that is current New Orleans, but doesn’t go the step further to reach some obvious conclusions.
Example 1: The authors don’t arrive at the fact that in order for artists to live and thrive here, and not just the ones interviewed that have regular gigs and recording contracts, affordable housing is key. The kind provided here and there by Tulane architecture students or Global Green is laudable, but in the absence of a philosophy and systematic legal implementation of affordable rents and mortgages, a “vibrant culture” taking root here again is going to be very difficult to impossible.
Example 2: The recovery here is 100% citizen-led. The artists mentioned in the article aren’t back here and supporting New Orleans because city infrastructure is in any way better. They are here because this is home and their staying here is funded through their own credit cards. All New New Orleans ever did for Dinerral Shavers is acquit his murderer twice. Kirsha Kaechele shouldn’t be surprised when, one day, she returns back to her street to find one of her houses randomly demolished.
The authors are well within their rights to be wishy-washy about the very fluid situation of this city, but should have expressed it as: “It’s not good because of the infrastructure chaos and it’s not bad because there are citizens who want to be here and are doing all the work of recovery. How long can this model sustain itself?”
Well, how long?
Lack of affordable housing, rent and mortgage increases, insurance rate hikes, citizen-led recovery, the high murder rate, misplaced police priorities, misplaced educational priorities and so much more to overcome. Yet, many came or came back inspite of a city and government that make simple everyday living so hard.
Newsweek’s quaint assessment that “New Orleans is dead, long live New Orleans” is both wrong and right. It’s the same as it ever was. There will forever be the ones who are drawn to the age-old charm and context of New Orleans and those who run away from her equally legendary crime and chaos. But, given today’s economic challenges, who will those people be, where and how will they live and how will the culture, look and feel of New Orleans fare in their presence and absence?