Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Urban Renewal by Katrina

Bob Herbert gets it partly right in The Not Wanted Signs [thanks, syd], but he ignores the multi-faceted reality and focuses instead on the low-hanging fruit: the feel-good heartstring-tugging downtrodden-little-people tear-jerker.

[Or maybe I'm just suffering from hurricane fatigue and I'm the one who can't see the urban jungle for the hurricane-felled trees.]

The Truth: Every city, large and small, piled high like Manhattan or barely a wide spot in the road, wants the poor to go somewhere else. And don't come back.

The rest of the truth, or some of it anyway: Nobody has enough money to rebuild New Orleans, and even if they did, it's going to take longer than a day. Longer than a year, even.

Maybe Bill Gates does, but he's not offering. FEMA could have had more money, not enough to rebuild, but maybe enough to help out a little more, but with the gutting of FEMA's coffers and management during the Creationism of the Department of Homeland Insecurity that's gone. And with all that money bleeding into and out of the War on Iraq the Terrible, no other government department has anything left to spend on unimportant stuff like people.

Dress Rehearsal: Florida, 2004, the summer that one state got zowied by four hurricanes. We get hit by hurricanes a lot, so we're better prepared than most, but still ...

Some Random Lessons, had y'all been paying attention

  • It took four months to get a new roof on my building, and eight months before the damaged units were habitable. This only happened because many, many non-English-speaking people, pesumably illegal aliens but no one was asking, came here and worked 14-hour days, 7 days a week. Those few hours they weren't working, they slept 5 or 10 or 15 in [often uninhabitable] houses or apartments or condos.

  • I live in what is probably a lower-middle-class neighborhood. The houses are elderly, but without the historical value that comes with great age. Many were not-exactly-cheaply built, but they were the affordable housing of their day. Now they're filled with retirees on fixed incomes, who have lived in them all their adult lives. And far too many of them still have blue roofs and plywood windows.

  • A lot of the houses that got destroyed in my city were ramshackle old houses in very poor neighborhoods, lived in by people who were just barely getting by, who had absolutely no money for upkeep. Most of these have been razed now, and the new "starter" homes being built cost 3-4 times the median household income for this area. None of the former inhabitants of these neighborhoods can afford to come back to them.

  • Some of the older, stable, middle-class neighborhoods that were wiped out are on the water [that figures]. These newly-cleared waterfront lots got snapped up by speculators and developers who are putting up big expensive condos and trophy houses.

  • Some of my better-off friends had their houses back in livable condition in about a year, but only because they paid for contractors and entire crews to come down here from places like Michigan fer-petes-sakes, paid their wages and housing.

  • The building materials just aren't there. We can't grow the trees fast enough to make all those 2x4s. We can't mine the gypsum fast enough to make all that drywall. Just about six months or so after the hurricane whizzed through here, I broke the toilet paper holder in my bathroom. I couldn't even replace that. There weren't any to be had.

  • It's been nearly two and a half years, but there are people here who have enough money to continue paying their mortgage and to rent or buy their trailers from FEMA, but they're still living in those trailers. These aren't mobile homes either, they're camper trailers. Some of these folks are still fighting with their insurance companies [who isn't?]. Some of them can't afford to rebuild to the new codes [and the law requires them to]. Some, I have no idea.

  • A math problem for you: multiply all this by the fact that New Orleans is [was?] 6 or 7 times more populous than where I live.

  • Have you forgotten Mississippi?

  • And Alabama?


daveto said...

coo-el. i like it.

I had a great solution for New Orleans .. move Guantánamo there.

But seriously, American cities for the most part are a wreck. Maybe you caught this, I though he (Kozol) really laid the problem bare.

It just seems a problem without a solution, but if I had to put my finger on one thing now, I'd say the two-party system. Really. They're one and the same. You need to shake things up. (Ain't I helpful?)

Closer to home, sorry to here about all that crap. I do my little part though, have left more than a few tourism dollars in Florida over the years!

Keifus said...

Yeah, Herbert's annoying the way he trots around showpieces like that.

Regarding disaster preparedness, I wrote a post about it after visiting Eglin in 2005 (hurricane damage was still quite evident in the surrounding towns--I stayed in Pensacola and a had a longish drive, oops). I couldn't help but make the comparisons between the (expected) snow disasters up here to teh (why are they not expected?!) hurricane disasters down there. Here's the post (and a checkmark, musta been in Kevin's time).

One thing I do question, however, is it really a barrier to get 2x4s down there even years later? I mean it's farther from Canada than we are, but still, I think that's nuts.

Anyway, good post. Good and also interesting observations onthe rebuild. Thanks.

K (pplcywpc: people can't we please....something)

hipparchia said...

heck, syd, i've done just about everything that i can about the political system, short of going quail hunting with a few select folks.

i used to think that urban renewal was a good thing [i still do] until i discovered that most urban renewal projects are really just excuses to move the poor people out. out of sight, out of mind, preferably to some place far away [canada comes to mind].

no, i hadn't seen that. thanks for the link.

we thank you most wholeheartedly for the tourist dollars, but if you're still yearning to be helpful....

hipparchia said...

yes, i saw that [yep, kevin's tenure]. nice post.

i've lived through maybe a dozen or so hurricanes and a couple of ice storms, and have friends who've lived through a couple of hurricanes and maybe a dozen or more ice storms.

we've compared notes and concluded that both regions are about equally prepared for emergency food and water, repairing utilities, and general digging out from under.

the difference comes in when you look at destruction of buildings. ice storms just don't take out as many buildings as hurricanes do in one fell swoop. nor is there any good way to prepare for that. you can evacuate people from low-lying areas and mobile homes, but you can't take the buildings out of harm's way, only the people who live in them.

the link to that article [about your paltry $15 million] wants me to register or subscribe or something, so i'm just working off of vague memory now, but i think the $15,000,000 was for improving just that one area of the levees. if i remember rightly, the price tag for hardening the entire levee system to withstand a category 4 storm ran into the billions of dollars.

fixing just that one weak spot would only guaranteed that some other weak spot gave way instead.

it's not all bushco's fault [ugh, i hate to say it]. louisiana politics have been crookeder than a dog's hind leg since before they joined the union, so even without bush's "help" the levees weren't getting the attention they needed.

i was amazed, actually, at how regional so much of our commerce is, even with the interstate highways and the railways and so forth. for nearly a year after ivan, building supplies of all kinds flew off the shelves within mere hours of arriving. stuff mostly got shipped in from no further away than oh, georgia or mississippi.

Keifus said...

Yeah, I'm not enthusiastic about central planning, but this seems to be one of those cases where centralized insurance would be expected to make a big difference. Shouldn't hurricane repair (or snow removal) be a--if not national--than a regional program?

Reasonable point about the buildings.

Wrt materials, I was hung up on the idea that lumber isn't grown locally in most parts of the country. Maybe it's a problem of warehouse/distribution management. (Maybe this is why people go ga-ga over the evil empire's brilliant warehousing.)

K (omncsl: oh my, nice seals! Caesar's frog was great.)

hipparchia said...

i think that some kind of universal disaster insurance, like universal health care, is probably the best way to go.

tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, mud slides, ice storms; the risks are everywhere. people in kansas aren't going to want to pay for my hurricanes, but i don't want to pay for their tornadoes, either.

if we go with some kind of nationalized disaster-recovery-fund program, i think it should NOT apply to second homes, only to primary residences. there will need to be some kind of safety net for people like me, whose primary residences are somebody else's rental properties, but i'm not sure how best to do that. i'm also unsure how i'd like it to be applied to businesses.

fklcetqzm fleece the quetzlcoatals

hipparchia said...

yes, i do think it's in the warehousing/distribution management end.