Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Lower Ninth Ward

This is my paper so far, just before I get someone to peer edit it as well as I edit it myself.

The Lower Ninth Ward: Should It Be Rebuilt?

The Lower Ninth Ward is an area of New Orleans that is home to predominately lower class African Americans. It is located in the eastern downriver section of the city and was among the last neighborhoods to be developed. The area can be defined as “a remarkable human community woven together by a network rich in family history, social connections, and proximity to relatives and friends” (Gerta). The community has something that many Americans wish they were a part of; the residents realize the importance of a close-knit community where everyone worked together (Frank). There is a rather controversial issue concerning the Lower Ninth Ward, of whether neighborhood should be rebuilt for it’s residents or whether it should turned into the natural wetlands that existed before to protect the rest of the city.
The area of the Lower Ninth Ward was originally a cypress swamp that later became the home to African Americans and immigrants who were previously laborers in Ireland, Germany, and Italy. These immigrants moved here because it was a cheap place for them to settle fully knowing the area like being prone to flooding. The land’s poor drainage problem was the primary reason for its slow development, in addition to how it was separated away from the rest of the city. A series of canals were built around the ward in 1910 and were completed in 1923. These canals fixed the draining problem, but also caused the area to be completely isolated (Greater New Orleans Community Data Center).
The Lower Ninth Ward has a population of 14,008 and the majority of it’s population is African Americans (98.3%). The average household income is $27,499, which is less than half of the United States’ average of $56,644. About 36% of the population lives in poverty and over half of all children 0-5 years live in poverty. It is very cheap to live in the Ninth Ward in comparison to the city of New Orleans as a whole; $280 compared to $404. Only 30% of the population has an education of that of 9th -12th grade and of that only 30% have their high school diploma or GED, which could be another factor leading to poverty (Greater New Orleans Community Center). Many of the homes in the area are handed down through family members and are mortgage free. Cars are not really needed because often times friends and family members live in the same neighborhood (Brandes). The people that live in the Ninth Ward may be poverty stricken, but they are wealthy in ways that many people would not understand (Gerta). Also, many musicians came from the area including Fats Domino, who had a successful life, went on to marry, and later moved back to the Ninth Ward. This shows how much people love the area and are not stuck there, but rather choose to live there (Gerta).
Hurricane Katrina had a heavy impact on the Lower Ninth Ward. It was hit hard and since it was on average 7 feet below sea level, it flooded heavily. Many people could not escape their homes during the hurricane for mainly three reasons; because they could not afford it, because they did not want to leave the place that they had invested all their lives in, or because they simply had no means of transportation. The residents lost not only their homes and belongings, but some lost their lives as well. The Ninth Ward was reopened for day visits on December 1st where many people returned to find themselves with nothing. FEMA gave these homeowners whose homes had been destroyed a little over $10,000 and those whose homes had been damaged $5000, to use for the rebuilding of their homes(Frank).
The occurrence of Hurricane Katrina is what led me to become part of the community. This past January I signed up for a class to aid in Katrina Relief. I learned about the history, culture, and about Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the city. I wanted to be more than an outsider on this historical devestation that had occurred in our country and decided to take the bus ride down and help out in whatever way that I could, in my case it was by gutting houses of families that had signed up for disaster relief through UMCOR. Our group of 30 stayed in a local church in Gretna and spent out days meeting homeowners who lived in low lying areas whose houses have been totally devastated due to the hurricane. I heard past stories from those who had to escape as well as went to a City Council Meeting that discussed FEMA and other plans on how the city was going to rebuild. In working on these people’s houses and seeing the impact we were having on their lives we truly consider ourselves to part of their community and want to be up to date on whatever is happening in the area.
In keeping up to date with New Orleans there has been one controversy that does not seem to be getting solved; whether or not the Lower Ninth Ward should be rebuilt. The question arises of why San Fransisco came back after the earthquake and Chicago came back after the fire, but New Orleans can’t seem to come back after Katrina (Harden). It is a debate between those who want to preserve the culture and community in keeping the Lower Ninth alive, and those who see the neighborhood as destined to die out due to the fact that there is not enough protection for it.
Those who want to preserve the culture and history of New Orleans think that rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward is necessary. Many of the residents think that the city wants to bulldoze their homes as a racial tactic, as “ethnic cleansing”(Klein) which would force out much of the culture that has been instilled in the area. The residents believe this because in 1927 the levees were purposely destroyed as a way to save the wealthier neighborhoods (Azulay). They think that the government is purposely trying to shut them out of the reconstruction process because many families are disbursed around the country and have no way of coming back to be a part of the process (Chen). They are angered that the Mayor pleaded for the city to return home, however, giving them no place to stay when they did come back (Azulay). “I am from the ninth ward of new orleans, and most of my family are still residents of this city (albeit evacuated). New Orleans will always be home for us. I believe that to not rebuild new orleans would be a slap in the face to so many people, who are already suffering as a result of katrina. Ive spent every chirstmas of my life in new orleans and I already fele lost knowing that is most unlikely that I will be home for christmas this year…I remain optimistic and hopeful” Gwen Hoover says when asked her opinion (Your e-mails: Rebuild New Orleans?).
The issue of bulldozing homes without the homeowners consent violates a person’s right to the due process of law, the Constitituion states that the government cannot take away one’s “life, liberty, or property” (Chen). It has been taken to the court systems and two law suits have been won in favor of the homeowners. These laws state that houses that are in the right of way will have seven days notice to file an objection to their homes being bulldozed. Houses that are on the city sidewalks will have ten days notice and homes tagged as unstable will have thirty days notice (Cotton). Some say that the bulldozing is being used as an instrument for “land grab” and is too far in the favor of business owners. “I don’t trust people making the decisions because they’re not from down there – the Lower Ninth Ward” said the president of the Lower Ninth Ward Economic Development Association, Ruston Henry (Burdeau). The Ninth Ward is a true community and they will fight to keep their neighborhood alive. (Frank).
There are also many people that feel as though the Lower Ninth Ward shouldn’t be rebuilt. The director of Homeland Security, Terry Ebbert, said that most houses in the Lower Ninth Ward “will not be able to be restored” and other officials say that “it would be a mistake to rebuild the Ninth Ward”. Russel Henderson, who formed the Rebuilding Louisiana Coalition says “It would be negligent homicide to put peple in the Lower Ninth… If you put people back in there, they’re going to die”. A geography professor at LSU states that putting homes in the Lower Ninth back for sale would be to “put them back in harm’s way” (Connolly). The city says that the houses are simply unsalvageable and have to be torn down for safety reasons (Chen). Others say that the cost of levees capable of withstanding another category 5 strength hurricane would cost too much, over 32 billion dollars (Death of an American City). The Lower Ninth was devestated by Hurricane Betsy forty years ago which shows that putting money into rebuilding is pointless because another hurricane is likely to destory it again (Connolly). People that are not a part of the community tend to agree with the city and these professionals. Mary Adrian of Michigan says “No New Orleans should not be rebuilt. We the taxpayers should not have to continue to pay for rebuilding in areas prone to hurricanes just so people can enjoy life near water” (Your e-mails: Rebuild New Orleans?).
Another main point of why not to rebuild because they want to restore the natrual wetlands that used to be in it’s place. Susan Randolph thinks “Man needs to respect God’s plan—he made the land to be a buffer between the land and ocean. Let nature reclaim the swamp and relocate the residents to a safer area” (Your e-mails: Rebuild New Orleans?). Before the canal and levee systems were put around the Mississippi River, sediments were brought down to replenish the land. When the levees and damns were built it blocked the sediments from falling which led to an extremely high rate of subsidence. Because most of the city is below sea level, the sediments are needed to build the land back up and if the Lower Ninth is bulldozed, the land will have a chance to repair itself and start protecting the city again. Geologist Professor, Shea Penland says “If you want New Orleans back… you’re going to have to bring the land back that proects the city from the raves of hurricanes. If we don’t incorporate that then the city will be faced with extincion”. In sacrificing the neighborhood it would be saving the rest of the city. In order to protect New Orleans from a category 5 hurricane, this barrier system would have to strech from Mississippi to Texas which althoguh time consuming, it would guarantee the city’s survival (Lambourne).
. Even some locals of the New Orleans area do not want to stay there anymore. They “don’t have any use for New Orleans” “I don’t trust New Orleans anymore” (harden). Things could be done like compensation for property owners in order to achieve a median between all parties (Connolly). Joan Howard, a resident of The Lower Ninth Ward says “I know they are going to have to tear my house down…but I believe it’s only right that they build me another house—if I decide to go back. I know it’s like a war zone down there, mister. Everything is destroyed. But I got the flood insurance” (Harden). Lolita Glass, who also grew up in the Lower Ninth said “This is a natural disaster, it’s nobody’s fault” but “you’re not giving us anything. What we rightfull deserve as citizens of this country is the same protection we give to other countries” (Connoly).
The controversy of whether or not to rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward is an issue that many people hold dear to their hearts. There is plenty of evidence on both sides as to it’s fate and the deciding factor will depend on which side is persistend and presents the best evidence. Hurrican Katrina has shown how much the Government is needed and for that Government to make the right decisions based on the best interest of it’s people (Dreier). These people want to know what that decision will be so that New Orleans can finally grow back into the cultural landmark that it once was.

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