After all this time, the East still haunts me...probably because it is similar to the circumstances in which I grew up. It is one of the most stereotypically suburban parts of New Orleans - if anybody wants evidence of how much this city styled itself after larger cities such as Houston and Atlanta, it need only take a look at the skyscrapers in the CBD (most of which are currently empty and rotting. Update, 6-4: from Anonymous: Not sure I agree about most of the CBD buildings being empty - too much of a generalization for me to accept. I do agree that too many buildings are partially full or neglected. Point taken. I guess I just internalized some of the buildings I regularly see between Loyola and Rampart, which are in terrible shape, as being representative of all the CBD buildings. Excuse me.) and at lakefront neighborhoods such as that of the East. These places were representative of the ultimate in civic hubris, of the faith in physical expansion leading to greater economic development. Patrician inequality giving way to a more plebeian sharing of the local wealth. If it is built, all of that will come and heal New Orleans' ills.
It hasn't, really.
And I'm not just saying that because of articles such as this one, which was reprinted on the ever-so-ungodly (and difficult to navigate) nola.com site under a shamelessly incendiary and divisive headline. Race is the one thing about the reluctance to rebuild out in the East that gets people's blood boiling and baits them into saying things that goad those who are forever for the East into staying on their high horses and tilting for the stronger levees and the closing of the MR-GO, a la a certain man of La Mancha...but those things alone aren't going to bring back the neighborhoods.
What we are seeing here is what has been happening to many other cities for quite some time at a slower pace - a massive flood in the case of the East simply put some major hurts on everybody all at the same time. The anchor Dillard's of the now-gone Lake Forest Plaza Mall had left the place long before 8-29-05. The Jazzland theme park that was supposed to give everybody who wasn't a resident a new reason to come out East was already failing..though it had never really held its own financially in the first place. What we are seeing now is the abandonment of an idea that held sway over us for quite a long time - that the suburbs would somehow set us all free if we each had our own plot of land - in concert with a huge, sloppy, juicy kiss good-bye to any further economic development of this city that doesn't come through tourism.
I'm not saying racism has nothing to do with it...it has a bit more to do with class. There is no healthier indication of a middle class holding its own that that of thriving suburbs, much to the chagrin of many. In their way, lakefront suburbs here were meant to be an indication that New Orleans had finally joined the twentieth century, as now people could get themselves off the avenues and out of the antebellum houses, where the upper and lower classes reigned, and onto land that had been drained dry and was protected by the best engineering of the day. It was unthinkable to be living in what had once been a great swamp in 1901, but here were many families doing just that in the Nuclear Age. Even greater numbers of families kept doing so all the way through the oil boom. But even though families of all races were doing it, they were mixing even less in those neighborhoods than they did in the older confines of the city. Outdated and outlawed Jim Crow laws gave way to mainly white people using the moving van to delineate how separate they really were...by moving to Lakeview, to Metairie, and even, once that other engineering marvel, the Pontchartrain Causeway, was built, to the north shore of the lake.
What it comes down to now is who can most afford to rebuild and who can't. And if we're talking about racist conspiracies, the deck is stacked more against blacks who want to rebuild than against whites...which is the sick legacy of longtime failures in education, government, and economic development here, as the more prosperous folks took their money with 'em when they used the moving vans and those left behind failed to implement lasting changes in their wake - in fact, a good number of them misused their positions to take what wasn't theirs in the first place.
Those failures are still not being addressed, after all this time.
But hey, if everybody wants to shine one teensy facet of the honking big diamond that is recovery here and look at the crystal structure in that way, go right ahead.
As a heavily myopic person from age five on, though, I can tell you that uncorrected nearsightedness sucks and leads to serious headaches.