This week, to celebrate the launch of Issue 28 of Next American City, which is dedicated entirely to coverage of New Orleans and Detroit, we are partnering with The Lens, an investigative news website about the city of New Orleans, launched The Lens in January of 2009 as the first nonprofit journalism venture in New Orleans. Here we present an excerpt from an article appearing on the Lens’ website; to read the full text, click here. To subscribe to Next American City and receive Issue 28, click here.
In New Orleans, Recovery Plans Becoming Clearer
By Ariella Cohen
Maddie Trepagnier can’t remember exactly when she gave up on City Hall.
Maybe it was when no one could explain why the city-owned Digby Park in her eastern New Orleans subdivision wasn’t getting fixed up, even though FEMA had obligated money for it. Or maybe, she said, it was when no one returned calls about a spewing water main flooding her block. Or when she saw rebuilding dollars pay for palm trees in less-affected parts of the city, while the road leading to her neighborhood was barely passable.
Her lack of faith makes sense given her surroundings. It’s difficult to tell five years have passed since Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters pushed down the levees and flooded 80 percent of the city, including Trepagnier’s neighborhood. Looking around, it may as well be just a year or two after the storm.
An abundance of vacant homes give her block a checkerboard look. Construction workers smoke cigarettes outside trailers parked on muddy lawns. And if you start talking about the city’s future, good luck at avoiding jargony post-disaster phrases such as “shrinking the footprint” and turning a neighborhood into a green dot.
“If often feels like we are being punished for coming back to our homes,” she said on a recent evening, following a civic-association meeting in her freshly repainted living room. Hours earlier, Mayor Mitch Landrieu had announced that the neighborhood’s park would finally be rebuilt with the $122,969 in FEMA money that residents had begged the previous administration to spend.
“It was a victory that should not have been this hard to win,” Trepagnier said.
The park was among the 100 projects (pdf) on city property that Landrieu recently released and committed his administration to completing. It was welcome news to a city eager for a detailed plan after years of former Mayor Ray Nagin’s vague, bellicose promises and anemic follow through.
But the list of Nagin-era projects that Landrieu did not immediately commit to starting, let alone finishing, is just as revealing for a city still on the mend. Along with a list of finished or nearly finished projects frequently touted by the city, and a state-generated status update of FEMA-financed projects worth more than $55,000, The Lens has put together one of the most complete accountings of the city’s efforts to revitalize its own properties and improve the lives of residents, employees and visitors.
The records illustrate the winding, red-tape-ridden road New Orleans has traveled over the past five years and see more clearly the priorities of the previous administration.
Ariella Cohen is Next City’s editor-in-chief.