I would like to begin this post by telling you before you read it how I felt after I wrote it. I felt like I was trying to compose an epic poem, and I am not a poet. That by introducing the element of cultural genocide I was going to invite the scorn of those who believe it is only about public housing, not about the people who live there. I say it is about both. And I say our reaction to it as a City has fueled the fires of them and us. The very same people who would scoff at the comment made by Dr. Blakley as to “Shiites and Sunnis”relations seem to be embracing a logic which could lead to even more discord.
Last weeks lack of debate about Public Housing was especially painful as I believe that many otherwise intelligent people missed the chance to have a discussion about the History of Ghetto clearance and instead focused on Sharon Jasper and her Television set. The discussion of Sharon Jasper was a great foil and perfect lost opportunity. A handful of bloggers who attended the hearings wrote interesting and informative posts on the participation of individuals in this “process” We then witnessed a 3 day assault by the Times Picayune on the need to demolish these units. Including a live blogging event, many otherwise rational people seemed to become consumed with the idea of GETTING RID OF THOSE BUILDINGS.
A ghetto is a section of a city occupied by a minority group who live there especially because of social, economic, or legal pressure. The word was originally used to refer to the Venetian Ghetto in Venice, Italy, where Jews were required to live. The corresponding German term was Judengasse. In Moroccan Arabic, ghettos were called mellah. The term came into widespread use during World War II to refer to Nazi ghettos
With all the talk of demolitions of the Urban Ghettos we have here in New Orleans one thing I found lacking is any substantive discussion on the History of Ghettos and ghetto clearance.
In 1887 the middle-class Czechs dominating Prague’s City Hall announced that they had a plan for the large-scale destruction and reconstruction of the city’s former Jewish ghetto. The plan, involving the razing of nearly all of the roughly 260 buildings inside the ghetto, was carried out in the name of sanitation. To fund this ambitious project, city officials borrowed a vast sum of money. They also expelled the area’s impoverished residents from their homes without making any effort to secure new affordable housing for them. .
Of course getting rid of the buildings means also getting rid of the people. But wait, we are not getting rid of the people we are deconcentrating poverty. and while we seem to be waging a class war here on the issue of density no one seems to be pointing out this confused logic. When a developer wants to build a high rise on the sliver we are told that we need to embrace density. While at the same time we are asked to rally around what may be a failed logic. to deconcentrate poverty.
So which is it, do we need more wealthy people living closer together and more poor people living farther apart? Do we take the people with the least resources and force them out into parts of the City at a time when Schools, public transportation and the health care system is fractured and limping along?
The interesting part of living in New Orleans is the ability to approach people who are recognized authorities in varying fields. With that in mind I contacted Dr. Mindy Fullilove. Here is a Doctor who has dedicated her career to the examination of the physical illnesses created by displacement. she was more than willing to talk and was and is interested in the physical and mental health of our citizens.
It may be too late for these buildings, but it should not be too late to have the discussions.
Part 2 Where Veronica White takes over the demolitions of housing.