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Slow Progress in East New Orleans

In this piece from <em>Places</em>, Deborah Gans offers a firsthand look at planning for recovery in the city's neglected East side.
June 28, 2011, 6am PDT | Nate Berg
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There have been successes in the Plum Orchard neighborhoods, according to Gans, but still much room for improvement.

"We began our involvement in post-Katrina New Orleans as participants in a U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant to aid citizens while also developing strategies to prepare the city for future disasters. Our local partners, Acorn (Association for the Community Organizations for Reform Now) and Acorn Housing, had strong constituencies in both New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward. After Katrina, New Orleans East had received less attention than the historic and central Lower Ninth, despite its equally dire circumstances and significant location. New Orleans East is an extensive zone located in low-lying, marshy land along Lake Pontchartrain. Not only is it large; it also exemplifies the vast, increasingly vulnerable coastal suburban settlements of America, and it underscores the true demographics of such suburbs, which, contrary to popular assumption, house not just middle class but also lower-income populations - albeit on flood-prone or otherwise marginal property. We framed our efforts as nothing less than a re-envisioning of the coastal suburb in the age of global warming, in ways beneficial to lower-income populations.

The political dimension of the design of New Orleans is nowhere more evident than in the suburban settlements of New Orleans East, in the perceived conflict between sustainable communities and sustainable landscapes. This latest battle of New Orleans pits those who consider the entire city as a single flood plain, threatened by longstanding social dysfunction (as well as by global warming), against those who would shrink the city to high ground to save it from flooding. A now-infamous plan of the early recovery effort placed dots across a city map to indicate potential areas of prophylactic depopulation and selective demolition in anticipation of future flooding; our site was included. The general assumption was that the residents of these areas, who had scattered during the crisis, would remain diasporic or move to other neighborhoods. Yet our site is no lower in elevation than other damaged suburban developments, including the whiter Jefferson Parish, west of the city, so that to empty it of its residents took on undertones of ethnic cleansing. While the "dots" have now been officially discredited, the policy persists de facto in the lack of investment in these districts and as word on the street. "

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Published on Monday, June 27, 2011 in Places
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