In the last few days, I’ve come across a pair of strange articles about New Orleans.

The first contends that a collection of public-housing buildings should not be knocked down, since they’re pretty nice buildings and just need “full-scale renovations”.

Oh, and the low-income residents shouldn’t be brought back in. Instead, the apartments should be sold to middle-class people, because, um, there are enough poor people in New Orleans already. Seriously:

The feds’ impulse to replace such perfectly good housing takes root in the flawed notion that the buildings are the problem with blighted public housing, not the dependent underclass people who live in it. Most residents of New Orleans’s housing projects paid less than $100 in monthly rent. Even if they weren’t on welfare, in other words, they were essentially dependent on government. Also, the complexes teemed with long-term tenants’ sons and grandsons, who terrorized the projects through violent crime. The failure of the city’s elected leaders to police and incarcerate these criminals long ago turned the projects into killing grounds with their own system of murderous street justice.

And nearly 18 months after Katrina, New Orleans certainly isn’t lacking for an underclass. In fact, the city’s murder rate is once again out of control, mainly due to unparented, impulsive young men shooting other unparented, impulsive young men.

What New Orleans is lacking is enough middle-class and working-class residents, who began leaving the city long before Katrina. Without such citizens, the Big Easy won’t have the committed voters and tax dollars it needs to become a functional, healthy city — something it hasn’t been for decades.

But, amazingly, that’s not the strangest and most insulting assessment I’ve read about the city this week. No, that honor goes to Andres Duany, who says, well, I’ve gotta just let him speak for himself:

I remember specifically when on a street in the Marigny I came upon a colorful little house framed by banana trees. I thought, “This is Cuba.” (I am Cuban.) I realized at that instant that New Orleans is not really an American city, but rather a Caribbean one. I understood that, when seen through the lens of the Caribbean, New Orleans is not among the most haphazard, poorest, or misgoverned American cities, but rather the most organized, wealthiest, cleanest, and competently governed of the Caribbean cities. This insight was fundamental because from that moment I understood New Orleans and truly began to sympathize. But the government? Like everyone, I found the city government to be a bit random; then I thought that if New Orleans were to be governed as efficiently as, say, Minneapolis, it would be a different place — and not one that I could care for. Let me work with the government the way it is. It is the human flaws that make New Orleans the most human of American cities. (New Orleans came to feel so much like Cuba that I was driven to buy a house in the Marigny as a surrogate for my inaccessible Santiago de Cuba.)

Keep reading, because his prescription for the city’s future success relies on this, um, lowering of standards.

2 Replies to “No-No-NO,LA”

  1. Gil, why do you think the latter is insulting? This wouldn’t work for a lot of reasons, but I don’t see the idea as insulting. I don’t even see how he’s asking standards to be lowered; he’s asking the specific standards be set aside, but only on a trial basis and only because he believes in a non regulatory impulse that would keep the standards high.

    Jules Feiffer has said roughly the same thing about New York City that this guy is saying about New Orleans, and setting aside standards for a desirable cultural effect has been around at least since the late 1980s. The town where I went to college let long-time home owners have tax breaks to stop black flight in the face of a massive wave of houses being turned into student rentals, for instance.

  2. Oh, I didn’t mean “standards” as in “zoning”, so much as in, “If they just get to live like poor people in the Caribbean, we can consider the city rebuilt.”

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