American Anthropologist 2006
Breunlin, Rachel and Helen A. Regis. Putting the Ninth Ward on the Map: Race, Place, and Transformation in Desire, New Orleans. American Anthropologist December, 2006 Vol. 108(4):744-764.
This article focuses on the impact and problems of reconstruction efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans, particularly in the Desire housing complex in the Ninth Ward district. An emphasis is placed on the resulting institutionalized segregation and efforts for the permanent displacement of underclass residents. Breunlin and Regis illustrate the systematic government sanctioned dismantling of a culture through renewal projects such as reintroduction of wetlands and parks into the city, in place of rebuilding public housing. Their evaluation of the media’s misrepresentation of the community during the hurricane is also insightful.
The city has a history of using public works projects as a means of dividing low-income areas through the strategic building of canals, parks, and interstate segments. Also, the integration of mixed-income housing into low-income areas drives out the poorest families. The city government refuses to consider the opinions of non-property owning residents in regard to the current restructuring plans. This disregard will, ultimately, lead to the annihilation of a culture that has deep roots in the area. The new New Orleans will make way for more middle and upper-class housing and beautification areas. Those in the highest political positions have made it clear that rebuilding efforts will decentralize the areas of poverty.
Those who had to evacuate public housing complexes are not allowed back onto the property where they lived or either those complexes have been demolished. Although, many displaced men returned to New Orleans to take jobs with the reconstruction efforts, their families are unable to join them because the majority of the public schools are still closed. Second-line social clubs, which are community based music groups, provide a means of reuniting displaced residents through the continuation of annual parades. Former residents return from great distances to be with family and friends again. The city has recently doubled the parade fees, which threatens to end these reunions, under the guise of enforcing safety.
The media is also to blame for many negative attitudes toward the poor in the area. Reports of murders and rapes at the Superdome were incorrect as well as the underrepresentation of white citizens who had to be rescued and deaths in affluent white areas. It has rarely been mentioned that the police were also looting and one-third of the police department abandoned the city, stealing their own police cars, when the hurricane made landfall.
Breunlin and Regis clearly illustrate the pain of displacement for these residents as well as the disconcern of the government regarding their plight.
ANGELA SHARP Valdosta State University (Melissa Rinehart).