Thursday, December 13, 2007

Only in New Orleans

Right now Lauren and I are both fairly busy. I have signed up for the GRE's at the beginning of January, and studying for that has replaced blogging as my way to waste time. That said, a lot of interesting things are going on in the city that I wanted to share with my family and friends back home.

During a drive through the city the other day Lauren and I noticed that there was a multitude of tents camped out on a city park. Unsure what to make of it, we passed it off as one of the many idiosyncracies of the city. Well, it turns out that this "tent city" is a home of sorts for hundreds of homeless people. Due to the destruction of many affordable housing units during the storm and a dramatic increase in rent prices after, homelessness has skyrocketed. This modern day Hooverville is located right across the street from the mayor in city hall, in a poetic "f*&k you". This story was covered by the NY Times Here.

To add another wrinkle to the homeless situation, the city council is in the process of approving the demolition of four major low-income projects. These are units that are subsidized by the the state and/or city to provide homes for the poor. This juxtaposition of destroying homes alongside rampant homelessness has sparked an intense public protest movement that has included threats to destroy private condos if the subsidized homes are destroyed. CNN has this story, too. Here.

In addition to the tension over the projects, a local scandal over waste management has erupted. Is nothing sacred? The city council hired five companies to fulfill contracts covering designated areas of the city. Well, two of these companies are going to be reviewed for not doing their job properly. Sounds simple enough. But the heads of these two companies are black, so there has been charges of racism and some of the leadership that was present at Jena has threatened action. Racial politics is everywhere here.

The situations are not black and white(pun intended). I do not believe there is blatant racism or predjudice being exercised by the city council. While it is true the projects are being destroyed, they are being replaced with progressive urban planning. The new multi-income units are designed to better integrate different communities in the city.

With the trash situation, it appears that the owners have not been performing their jobs and should be replaced. They argue that the ammount of trash produced is dramatically more than a standard contract because of the reconstruction of so many homes. I was convinced they had a valid excuse, until I read that they are being paid three times more than the average contract. You aren't being paid more to do the same job.

Anyway, all these topics are the talk of the town. It is the first time for me that local politics has seemed so raw and emotional. Just another side of living here. Only in New Orleans.