Squandered Heritage Vintage

Atlantic Monthly

Does anyone here in New Orleans look beyond the leafy enclaves of Uptown? Did anyone think to meet with people who were on the ground looking at the failed promises of Hope VI? The answer is no, and the results will be ours to live with for many many years to come.

Has anyone wondered what would happen after the projects were torn down? Would all the woes and troubles that had been created by the neglect and mis-managment of HUD and HANO be magically removed, forgiven and made clean?

St Bernard Housing Project closed

St Bernard Jan 2007

The projects are gone the crime is not.

Projects down Washington and LaSalle May 2008

Ed Goetz a housing expert at the University of Minnesot, is creating a database of the follow up research at different sites across the country to make sense of these very limited positive outcomes. On the whole, he says people don’t consistently report any health, education, or employment benefits. They are certainly no closer to leaving poverty. They tend to feel better about their environments meaning they see less graffiti on the walls and fewer dealers on the streets. But just as strongly, they feel a sense of isolation in their new communities. His most surprising finding, he says, is that they miss the old community. For all of its faults, there was a tight network that existed. So what I’m trying to figure out is Was this a bad theory of poverty? We were intending to help people climb out of poverty, but that hasn’t happened at all.
Have we underestimated the role of support networks and overestimated the role of place?

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • Everything I’ve read about the projects has mentioned the strong sense of community people who lived in them felt in spite of everything going on around them.

    The only two explanations that come to mind are complete ignorance of the social realities of the housing projects (always a possibility) and complete amnesia about how well Urban Renewal went (how’d that Cabrini Green turn out for y’all?). The other is an intent to destroy these communities of people so they would not re-root in New Orleans. I did not hesistate to use the term ethnic cleansing back in the day on Wet Bank Guide and won’t back away from it now. There was certainly enough incidental chatter about the right sort of people coming back in late ’05, and then it stopped. Or did it just go queitly underground where the people with real power could move to make it happen? We’ll never be allowed to know…

  • Amen!

    It is the talked about gentrification of New Orleans. The apple may look good on the outside but when you take a bite out of it you find it is rotten to the core.

  • Jane Jacobs found this out many years ago when slum clearance was rearing its head in New York City. Yes, they were slums, but they were also communities where people looked after each other as best they could. You can spiff up a ‘hood all you want, but thinking that creating a community is as easy as throwing up a new building is a mistake that keeps getting made over and over again.

    When WILL we really learn?