Of course I am thinking of 5 years ago and what has happened since. I want to try to refrain from grandiose statements and mission accomplished bullshit, so bear with me as I fumble through.
What happened to me is not the story; I am okay and lost only material possessions. I gained better friends and a more firm belief that, as my friend Mary Rowe says, that New Orleans is a prophetic city. If timelines hold true, we will be okay for 100 years (at least as far as hurricanes) and hopefully by then the contractors who will be building flood protection will be better than those today.
What is less clear to me is what the legacy of this engineering disaster will be and who will define it. Because right now, its others, not locals and I am not enjoying the terms. And those that are defining it are only concerned about the built environment, and only the one inside the city limits as far as I can see. Well, actually only in certain part of the city too, but that is another matter for another post coming soon.
Cities are the natural scale for most people in my estimation and strong regions are necessary for strong cities to thrive. Which is unfortunate here because our regional thinking is atrociously weak. With a parish that is the city limits (so therefore our mayor becomes our parish president) we cannot expect someone to manage both the city needs and the parish needs. And, the parish needs are about the interlinks between other parishes and the relationship to the state and to our natural world. Thinking about the parish changes the way you think about the state. Ask folks in Mandeville who live with the consequences of leaders who build without thought to the neighbors, so have created an ugly hodgepodge of strip malls and traffic jams. From a nice little town that had a scale it could live with to a monster that will start feeling the effects of city life very soon, without the benefits of it.
So, without anyone to represent us at the parish level (besides our busy city mayor and folks at Regional Planning) we lose out on smart thinking that could grow the region successfully and contribute to the city of New Orleans. Everything from wetlands erosion to highway planning to food production depends on our plan for our area.
How many people know where the outline of our watershed is? What do we see as our region? Are you aware of the issues outside of the boundaries of the city?
Today, my friend Peter posted pictures from 5 years ago of his and his family's lost home in Arabi. I realized how few houses or stories I know of people in St. Bernard or Mississippi of the disaster. And, I know less about the recovery there. And since April 20 of this year, I have been hearing a great deal of handwringing from people in the city about oil, but only about the food they want or the water they drink inside the city which has more resources to protect itself than those farther south. And since the "cap" I hear so much less from my urban friends, yet the oil is still out there with rural people bearing the brunt of the situation and trying to make it better for all of us.
The BP disaster to me is the perfect example of the lack of planning in the region. What happens down on the bayou does matter to us, yet few of us talk to those that live there (the eyes on the street if you will for the environment) or even know exactly what it looks like.
So, if there is one lesson I want to start learning 5 years into this, its to raise our eyes to our neighbors and get a conversation started. Its for more of us to get on a train and travel to Jackson and talk to people there one nice weekend. Or to go see where your grandparents or your cousins still live outside of the city and spend more than an hour and a meal experiencing what they have to experience.
After all, you can't build a city back without neighbors.