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I wish I could take comfort in the unity of our City Council today, as they closed ranks and voted for the redevelopment of our public housing projects. I wish I could believe that the planned redevelopment will truly lead to a more just and humane society, with greater opportunity for all.

But I can’t.

So I find myself wishing that I could embrace the mindset of the protesters: outraged, indignant, furious, sad. I wish I could share their conviction that this is a ruse to further disenfranchise the poor and powerless. At least I could be secure in my righteousness.

But again: I can’t quite share that view.

I’m confused and uncertain and nervous about the whole thing. I have more questions than answers.

It seems ironic that I’m going to be on National Public Radio tomorrow morning talking about this. The show is the Bryant Park Project. I tried to tell Alison, “I’m not sure I’m the best person to speak on this issue. I’m deeply conflicted about all this. I don’t know what to think.” Unfortunately, she ate that up.

Based on a recent blog post, I’m guessing they lean more toward the opposition. I suppose that means I’ll lean slightly toward the establishment… and I hate that.

Maybe if the conversation veers the other way I can keep my anarchist street cred intact.

Update: Well, the conversation did veer the other way, a little. You can listen here. Also I should mention that I got my names confused; I spoke on the phone not to Alison (the host) but to Angela — the same Angela who put a slideshow of my photos online with Village Voice back in the summer of last year.

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  1. rickngentilly rickngentilly

    thats pretty much it in a fucking nut shell.

    i hope the future of public housing turns out like it is being portrayed today.

    also public schools and the d.a.s office and the levees and………..

    you get the picture.

  2. I’m having the same probs on the issue, but I think the vote was right (with the promises made about development and phasing this in).

    You’ll do fine tomorrow Darlin’.

  3. Tricia from NPR Tricia from NPR

    You didn’t talk to Alison yesterday. You talked to a producer named Angela. Talk to you soon!

  4. celcus celcus

    Based on the realistic options presented, this was the best decision. I would have rather seen something more along the lines of the middle ground that the planning groups came up with in the UNOP process, but that was sadly not one of the choices.

    The redevelopment concept has worked in other cities. We are not guinea pigs, this time. But, I almost hate to have say this, it is going to be up to the citizens to make sure we get what was advertised.

    If half the energy that went into screaming at each other and knocking down staw men was directed into breathing down the Fed’s neck, this could turn out to be something wonderful. This, of course, takes leadership, both political (which is still lagging) and grassroots (which is growing stronger). I have hope this can be done right.

  5. Anthony Anthony

    I’m not conflicted at all.

    This is great.

    HANO mismanagement. The scale of the developments that spread blight and disinvestment over a 6 block area. The isolating effects of concentrating poverty. Areas of 70+% unemployment in a city where job opportunity is often based upon personal relationships. People got left behind during the storm because they didn’t have the resources to evacuate OR didn’t live next door to anyone who had the resources to evacuate. These projects trapped people figuratively and literally. HANO never took its charge to bring residents to self sufficiency.

    And if it helps any.. the only thing most of the protesters had was an attempt to bolster their anarchist street cred. Actual New Orleans project street cred was in very short supply. And what is it about anaarchists who demand government action? Seems antithetical.

    I know the recent arrivals have fallen in love with the funkiness of economic decline. The housing projects in New Orleans were one of the things that definitely needed fixing prior to the storm, along with education and leadership that believed in economic development. We needed to fix this if this city was going to survive another 300 years. Not just as a concentration camp for those getting a government check that slowly disintegrated before your eyes because no one could afford to fix anything but as a vibrant, viable city.

    Don’t be conflicted Bart. Redevelopment is the right thing all the way around.

  6. Sean Sean

    Wouldn’t it had been possible to restore the existing structures as mixed income facilities? The American Can building in Mid City is an example of how things could have been addressed differently and more creatively. I know that the American Can project did not have as many low income units as initially planned, but conceptually the idea of restoring an existing structure makes more sense in a lot of ways. What do you think?

    Even new development on Government buildings such as the USDA in Lakeview was done in phases. I saw new wings being worked on as the other parts of the building were inhabited by workers. At Brother Martin, in ’97 or ’98 they built a new section for sports, arts and music to deal with the crowded classes. The didn’t have to close the school or demolish it to get that work done did they?

    I strongly disagree with Anthony’s statement “the only thing most of the protesters had was an attempt to bolster their anarchist street cred.” That’s an uninformed statement to say the least. Keep it civil and try to learn more about their motivations and frustrations.

    It is not clear that the $762 million is being used to help the poor or elevate their standard of living. It seems that more of the units being built actually be affordable to the past tenants of public housing?

    The interests of the residents that have their homes and the developers are being addressed, not the displaced working poor. Strong oversight of this process should continue…

  7. Anthony Anthony

    She blew kisses at a woman who called her the devil. Stacy demonstrated that she wasn’t going to be intimidated by people who were there to disrupt the meetings.

  8. The out of town protesters, the housing advocates, have done so much to isolate the public housing residents from the rest of us New Orleanians who are facing many of the same challenges as public housing residents. Anyone trapped on the Road Home can sympathize with the public housing residents when they talk about mismanagement, indifference and shady contractors. There was an opportunity to bring people together around a message of competent, accountable government. There still is.

    But it leadership does not come from the tattooed and pierced Pacific Northwesterners who put themselves forward for arrest and confrontation.

  9. Great interview, Bart. All your points were well stated. I especially liked the part about the source of all the distrust people have in HUD and HANO. It ain’t over until we see what we end up with.

  10. doctorj doctorj

    I was on the fence for a longtime also, but I also agree the council decision was the right decision. I want to have a better New Orleans. I don’t aprreciate the tactics these outsiders have employed in their protests. They got the media they wanted though, but they hurt the city in the process. Of course to them, that wasn’t important.

  11. celcus celcus

    to answer Sean: “Wouldn’t it had been possible to restore the existing structures as mixed income facilities?”

    Yes, but… It is no slam dunk. The cost really would be more than building new, and it could conceivably take longer than new construction. The Can company was generally a wide open warehouse space, and easily converted, not like the projects at all.

    I worked on a renovation a decade or more ago of one of the developments…turning mostly abandoned one and two bedroom units into four bedroom units, creating handicap accessible units, etc. The layouts are dated and based on the standards and lifestyles of the 1930’s. The size of many rooms does not meet the building code, and has not met them for decades. The plumbing dates from about the same time period and the electrical is equally unusable. The interior wall are all masonry, with embedded concrete column which greatly limit what can be done. The lead based paint and asbestos issues are not exaggerated either.

    In short, renovation is as daunting a task as new construction. That does not mean it could not or should not be contemplated, only that there needs to be a good reason to justify expending the additional resources.

  12. Sean Sean

    celcus: Thanks for your insight. Which building did you work on? In terms of the expense of additional resources, that is another question.

    For example, what I read is that HANOs documents show that Lafitte could be:
    – repaired for $20 million
    – overhauled for $85 million
    – estimate for demolition and rebuilding many fewer units will cost $100m

    I have not seen the HANO documents first-hand so I can’t verify these claims.

  13. I just listened to the interview, nice job. I think you captured the situation well.

    Who was the guy? He said at on point I think the the Federal Government had taken over the Police Department and the Schools. While that might be a good idea, I don’t think it’s actually true.

  14. Anthony Anthony

    Actually it looks pretty much like New Orleans is getting some money to fix up the deplorable condition of its public housing and get people to a place where they can participate in the economy.

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