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Commentary: Rebuilding New Orleans

By Rosalyn Story, 90.1 Commentator

Commentary: Rebuilding New Orleans

Dallas, TX –

There is chatter in the business world and the word is out, there is money to be made in the building of a new New Orleans. The Dallas Morning News reported that last year 10.1 million people visited New Orleans, and those visitors spent 4.9 billion dollars. Imagine the drawing power of a shiny, new, rebuilt and revived Crescent City. This possibility has the wealthiest American corporations salivating and chomping at the bit, and understanding that "if you rebuild it, they will come."

But who really should rebuild New Orleans and for whom should they build it? When the hurricane hit, the rich fled and working class folks were left behind to fend for themselves with little food, no transportation and squalid shelter. In a new New Orleans, where would these citizens fit in?

When I was younger, my parents and older relatives told me about the Works Progress Administration, Roosevelt's depression era program that supplied relief in the form of jobs for millions of poor Americans while at the same time rebuilding the country's infrastructure and shoring up the culture of its communities.

In its eight year history, the WPA spent 11 billion dollars to employ 8.5 million Americans on 1.4 million projects, to build and repair highways, roads streets bridges, parks and public buildings, and to fund projects for artists, writers, actors and historians.

In fact, my grandfather, an unemployed carpenter on relief, took work on more than one WPA project, including the building of a retaining wall around Big Eleven Lake in our home town of Kansas City Kansas. People like my grandfather were able to feed their families and restore their pride by doing honest hard work on projects that to this day continue to stand and serve their communities.

The possibility that New Orleans only in the hands of big companies with huge government contracts will become some kind of glossy, theme park version of its former self, with its middle and lower income residents left out of the plan, is very real. It is easy to fathom a New Orleans stained with the fingerprints of corporate greed, a New Orleans where luxury lofts and condominiums for the wealthy replace older historic neighborhoods of hard working African Americans and lower income residents, where the marks of history, tradition, and culture are replaced by a commercial veneer, whitewashing the city's soul.

But even as I speak, this plan is being set into action.

There is another more equitable way to go. Let's bring back some version of the WPA, a government sponsored initiative that allows the displaced and disenfranchised people of new Orleans a chance to rebuild their own neighborhoods. Let's bring back the dispersed population of this great city whom our government let down so disgracefully, and make amends. Let's give them hammers and lumber, paychecks and pride, and let them invest in their own future and the future of the city by rebuilding their own houses, churches, and schools. And while we're at it, let's also provide zero or low interest loans to small businesses with a history in the city to restore these neighborhoods to their former glory, and affordable, well-designed and safe housing for those who live in the shadows of the wealthy Garden District.

For those who say that government programs don't work, I point to the WPA of 1935. That wall around big Eleven Lake in my home town that my grandfather helped to build? Well, its still there.

When Katrina flexed her muscle in New Orleans, government agencies failed miserably and the poorer citizens, lower income whites and African Americans, were left behind. When New Orleans is drained, dried, and ready to be polished, when the displaced begin to return to their homeland from their farflung shelters around the country to find their future and rebuild their lives, let's not leave them behind again.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.

More news links and relief effort resources from KERA