Even Houstonians, who live less than an hour away from Galveston, can easily forget about the small island city. Part of this is due to the city’s geographical detachment from the Texas mainland; there’s just a skinny stretch of highway connecting the two. But there’s a psychological detachment as well: Galveston residents are proud of their city’s reputation as a low-key haven from the big, muggy city to the north.
Unfortunately, all of this contributed to Galveston’s being largely forgotten at the worst possible time, just following its near-annihilation by Hurricane Ike in September. In an insightful, sad and important article about the ongoing recovery, Houston Press writer John Nova Lomax says that the hurricane marked “the end of a storied American city as we know it.” You can see the article here. Be sure to check out the photos and video.
As Lomax reports, developments, city offices and schools remain partly closed; police officers are facing layoffs, and debris is still piled all over town. And Galveston doesn’t have much to work with when it comes to funding its renewal, Lomax notes:
The neglect even has a bottom line: Wilma, Rita and Katrina together inspired people to give to all hurricane-related charities to the tune of almost $6.5 billion. The four biggest charities have only been able to come up with $19 million for Ike victims. If you are doing the math at home, that comes up to less than one-third of 1 percent.
Making things worse, Lomax writes, is the University of Texas Medical Branch’s decision to cut 3,000 local jobs, undercutting both the city’s economy and the quality of its healthcare.
NAC took a moment to chat with Lomax, who spent time in Galveston interviewing city residents as they tried to rebuild.
NAC: What is the current mood in Galveston? What was your reaction when you first arrived to report this story?
John Nova Lomax: The mood was pretty glum. People still seemed stunned. More than one person I talked to said they got the shakes when they looked at pictures of the storm’s devastation. It’s not just the storm — people are really down about the economic outlook with the job cuts at the University of Texas Medical Board.
NAC: It’s easy to explain why Galveston can be easily forgotten by the greater American public, but why do you think Houstonians, who live only an hour away, can so easily put the city out of mind?
Lomax: I think a lot of it has to do with it being winter here. Many Houstonians don’t think about Galveston until the weather is warm enough to go to the beach. Awareness might rocket in the spring.
NAC: If you had to make a prediction about where Galveston will be in five years, what would you say?
Lomax: It’ll be much more of a tourist trap. What I loved about Galveston was not so much the Strand (especially after it was done up by [developer Tilman] Fertitta) or West Beach, but the old neighborhoods. I don’t know who will live in those pretty old houses, drink in those corner bars, shop at the mom and pop groceries now.
They might get casino gambling, which I think would be horrible. Galveston is far likelier to become a redneck Atlantic City than something like Vegas.
A brighter future would be in store if there was commuter rail connecting Galveston and Houston. Galveston would instantly become one of the two or three most popular far suburbs of Houston.
Do people out there agree with Lomax? We’d love to hear your thoughts on Galveston’s predicament.
For a look at another city that was ignored following a hurricane, check out Brentin Mock’s 2008 piece about the plight of Mobile, Alabama here.