A Book Affair to Remember

Credit: Credit: KatrinaArchives.org
Post Date: March 18, 2022

   Katrina at The Tulane Book Festival

 

The 2022 Tulane Book Festival was held on March 10-12 and in addition to a great lineup of authors (Grisham, Blow, Gladwell, Sister Prejean, Lewis, Gordon-Reed, and many more) a panel of Hurricane Katrina experts participated in an important discussion of the legacy of rebuilding and recovery. The panel consisted of Roberta Brandes Gratz (We’re Still Here Ya Bastards), Andy Horowitz (Katrina, A History: 1915-2015), Lt. General Russel Honoré (Leadership in the New Normal), Sandy Rosenthal (Words Whispered in Water), and Mark VanLandingham (Weathering Katrina: Culture and Recovery Among Vietnamese Americans). The moderator of the discussion was Pam Fessler, the 28-year veteran of National Public Radio who covered the rebuilding efforts. Ms. Gratz made prepared remarks at the beginning of the presentation which can be found below.

The title of the discussion was “From Katrina to Climate Change, How New Orleans Can Remain Resilient” and the primary agreement coming from the panel was that FEMA, despite its retooling, has failed the people of Louisiana. Although the panelists approached the problem from different perspectives (reporters, academics, or residents) each panelist cited numerous ways FEMA ignored the local population and rewarded the well connected. The group also discussed the shortcomings of a “top down” approach  where the federal government manages rebuilding and recovery, or the “bottom up” method where rebuilding is the ultimate responsibility of residents and citizens’ groups.

The panel cited many instances where outside contractors received lucrative rebuilding contracts, only to subcontract the work to another party. This process would then be repeated several times and ultimately local contractors would receive a small percentage of the funds distributed by FEMA. (See We’re Still Here Ya Bastards for a detailed discussion of this practice.) The question of whether the private sector can ultimately effect rebuilding was debated, and Dr. Horowitz of Tulane believed that both capitalism and the private sector ultimately failed the citizens of Louisiana since so much of the recovery funds lined the pockets of the politically connected.

 

Although the presenters did not have the time to discuss their works, each participant has provided an important contribution to the study of Katrina. Below is a summary of these works taken from their publishers pages:

Roberta Brandes Gratz   –   We’re Still Hear Ya Bastards

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards presents an extraordinary panoramic look at New Orleans’s revival in the years following the hurricane. Award-winning journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz shares the stories of people who returned to their homes and have taken the rebuilding of their city into their own hands. She shows how the city — from the Lower Ninth Ward to the storied French Quarter to Bayou Bienvenue — is recovering despite flawed governmental policies that promote disaster capitalism rather than the public good. While tracing positive trends, Gratz also investigates the most fiercely debated issues and challenges facing the city: a violent and corrupt prison system, the tragic closing of Charity Hospital, the future of public education, and the rise of gentrification.

Andy Horowitz   –   Katrina: A History, 1915–2015

Andy Horowitz investigates the response to the flood, when policymakers reapportioned the challenges the water posed, making it easier for white New Orleanians to return home than it was for African Americans. And he explores how the profits and liabilities created by Louisiana’s oil industry have been distributed unevenly among the state’s citizens for a century, prompting both dreams of abundance―and a catastrophic land loss crisis that continues today.

Lt. General Russel Honoré   –    Leadership in the New Normal

[The book] describes modern leadership principles and techniques and illustrates them with stories from the author’s vast life experiences, mostly as a military leader. The book is geared to both leaders and those who aspire to be leaders in today’s world in the fields of business, government, religion, military, academia…

Sandy Rosenthal   –   Words Whispered in Water

When the protective steel flood-walls broke, the Army Corps of Engineers—with cooperation from big media—turned the blame on natural types of disasters. In the chaotic aftermath, Rosenthal uncovers the U.S. corruption, and big media at root. Follow this New Orleans hero as she exposes the federal agency’s egregious design errors and eventually changes the narrative surrounding the New Orleans flood.

Mark VanLandingham   –    Weathering Katrina: Culture and Recovery among Vietnamese Americans  

In Weathering Katrina, public health scholar Mark VanLandingham analyzes their [the Vietnamese-American community’s] path to recovery, and examines the extent to which culture helped them cope during this crisis.

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Prepared Remarks by Roberta Brandes Gratz made at the Tulane Book Festival on March 11, 2022. Printed with the permission of the author. All views are those of the author.

Good news/bad news.

An uptown power broker after Katrina went on the air to declare, the city will be smaller, richer and whiter. Well, that has happened. Over 100,000 people have not returned, mostly black. A small influx of new people is mostly white..

This city functions no better than it did before Katrina. If anything, it might be worse.

Broken streets, appalling garbage collection, lack of street signs, rising house costs, both for rent and for sale, unenforced short term rentals rules. The problems are out of control.

What makes it even worse is that the city still receives a pitiful fraction of the hotel sales tax. The lion’s share goes to the state and public authorities controlled by the same cabal of insiders.

Schools are a mess, student achievements embarrassing. And for this the school board decimated the Black middle class of this city when it fired all the teachers after Katrina. 7,000 of them. So many of those teachers and other white collar black professionals found new jobs in cities thrilled to have them.

As for climate resilience, after Katrina there were very creative ideas developed that the city could do to “live with water.” Implementation has been like a drop in the bucket.

Then there was the destruction of a well functioning diverse mid-city neighborhood and the closing of the historic Charity Hospital. What for? So LSU could build a smaller hospital, some beds of which are not even used, on an enormous plot of land that leaves room for LSU to develop in the future as it sees fit.

But there is good news. The community-based energy that, as I show in my book, did the hard work of rebuilding this city after Katrina, survives.

The best example of this continued success is the diversified resistance and citizen-based pushback of the BioDistrict proposal that can only be seen as The Art of the Steal. The local opposition has beaten back a number of the Bio-district proposals and has shown that the Bio-district is still nothing more than an old fashioned New Orleans project to divert limited public funds and avoid city regulations. But now, because of smart community organizing, the Biodistrict’s promoters’ expectations have been considerably diminished: the desired expropriation power is eliminated. The boundaries are changed to spare residential areas. City Council approval is required for future plans. All city ordinances and regulations must be followed and more.

That fight is ongoing but was almost lost as the City Council was on the verge of supporting it before citizens rose up.

Then there’s the massive public outcry that stopped the mayor from moving city hall to the Municipal Auditorium so City Hall could be demolished. The goal —  a hotel to benefit the Benson family.

Oh yes, the attempt to make the French Quarter pedestrian only was beaten back.

The balance sheet on good news/bad news is still lopsided in favor of the power elite but at least the pushback power New Orleanians exhibited after Katrina hasn’t disappeared.