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Recolonizing the Lower Ninth Ward

Nathaniel Rich reports on a different kind of urban regeneration that has taken place in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward where the "cartoonish pace of vegetation growth" conceals an ecology of wild animals, tires, and occasionally humans.
March 26, 2012, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Rich does an admirable job of describing the largely abandoned area of New Orleans, which is now "one of the richest ecological case studies in the world" and the process by which the Lower Ninth Ward "has undergone a reverse colonization - nature reclaiming civilization."

"To visualize how the Lower Ninth looked in September - before the city's most recent campaign to reclaim the neighborhood - you have to understand that it no longer resembled an urban, or even suburban environment. Where once there stood orderly rows of single-family homes with driveways and front yards, there was jungle. The vegetation had all sprouted since Katrina."

Rich catalogs the area's new residents - armadillos, coyotes, unwanted dogs and cats, trash, occasional houses, and even corpses - and reviews the city's attempts to clear the lots.

Rich also describes how this "reverse colonization" was allowed to occur in the first place, returning to the debates soon after Katrina about shrinking the footprint of the city. Then-Mayor Ray Nagin's "laissez-faire" approach to planning the fate of the neighborhood has led to the current predicament by which it has no police or fire station, supermarket or hospital.

Although the city's general plan for the area is for human, rather than exotic flora and fauna, re-habitation, the steps to that goal remain unclear. According to Rich, "When I asked [current Mayor] Landrieu what might be done next with the lots, he had no specific answers but emphasized the need for private development. 'We don't know what the end looks like,' he said. 'We think we know what the process looks like. We want to get those lots back in the hands of private-property owners so that they can take responsibility for them. Anything we can do to make them attractive to private investors, we want to do.'"

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 in The New York Times
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