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NOLArize! Week to Focus on New Orleans Culture

By
October 27, 2008

There are a few students at Swarthmore with a profound love for New Orleans. This week, they would like nothing more than to share that love with the rest of the college community.

“We have a love and a passion for New Orleans. It’s such a unique city. We want to share what made us fall in love with New Orleans the first time we went there,” Mara Phelan ’10 said.

Phelan sits on the NOLArize! Steering Committee, along with four other students. The committee has coordinated a variety of events and activities this week to expose the college community in the tastes, sounds, aromas and the overall vibe of New Orleans that Phelan so adores.

“This is going to be fun,” she said.

Phelan said the committee coordinated a NOLArize week last year dedicated to raising awareness and discussing the issues – the disaster and destruction caused, the tragedy and suffering endured, and the grander overtones of inequality and racism permeating the aftermath.

“Last year was heavy. The events were draining because they focused on the issues,” Phelan said.

This year, Phelan said the Steering Committee wants to take a more gradual approach towards the political, social and economic issues.

“First we want to build a connection between students and the city. Then, once people have that connection, and care about the city, we think they will be more inclined to do something about [the situation],” she said.

Sunday night, NOLArize! hosted a ‘Jeopardy!’ study break, disseminating information about the history of New Orleans via trivia games and offering snacks. NOLArize! week includes lectures on the history of Jazz in the Big Easy by Swarthmore faculty, dessert tasting, and a documentary showing. The week will culminate with a feast at the Black Cultural Center Friday night featuring some of the characteristic dishes of New Orleans Louisiana-Creole cuisine that blends French, Mediterranean, Caribbean, African, and American influences.

Phelan was adamant about encouraging the participation of non-African-American students as well.

“We don’t want this to be just a black issue. We want representation. Seeing the faces of the victims, there are a lot of different demographics affected. We want to see all students participate,” she said.

The five-member Steering Committee is composed of one senior, as well as three students going abroad next year. Accordingly, Phelan said the committee is looking to attract freshmen and sophomores they could mentor this year, and consequently, bestow them with leadership positions that will open up next year.

NOLArize! was founded by 2008 Swarthmore graduate, Marissa Davis, who was able to translate her passions and concerns for New Orleans, devastated in the wake of 2005 Hurricane Katrina, into social action with assistance from the Lang Center for Social Responsibility. Davis initiated NOLArize! during her sophomore year, which maintains a two-fold mission dedicated to raising awareness about conditions in New Orleans, and helping the city of New Orleans and the community of people affected.

“NOLArize! is now a national project. This week, we want to remind people of our presence on campus, the continuing problems plaguing New Orleans, establish ourselves as a networking service, and raise awareness from different angles,” Phelan said.

9 Responses to NOLArize! Week to Focus on New Orleans Culture

  1. whateva

    October 27, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Though the history of New Orleans is interesting, its culture important, its contributions to American society undeniable, and the racism that followed Katrina present, we MUST question, given the great pecuniary needs elsewhere in this country, whether the city (and indirectly, culture) is worth saving. This sounds like a preposterous question, especially at Swat where sociological considerations seem to reign above all others. But why does a city largely below sea level deserve Americans' hard earned tax dollars when potential for another disaster remains, the cost of rebuilding is so high, and the national deficit exceeds $10 trillion?

    While rebuilding the city might seem like a straightforward policy, there are many facets to the rebuilding process that aren't always considered.

    1) Not only must we rebuild the city, but we must rebuild the levies so they can withstand future storms.

    2) After rebuilding is done, the city needs to give businesses reasons to come back. One idea is to make it a tax free zone, but that's a pretty big handout.

    3)Evacuees need aid to help finance education, health care, and unemployment.

    4) Clean up costs.

    5) Helping families rebuild their homes. 40% of the families affected didn't have flood insurance. But giving families handouts to rebuild their homes is highly controversial because such a handout simply encourages families to make similar mistakes.

    Though I can't find any current estimates of costs, the state originally claimed $492 million in damages, which seems like chump change to the 700B Wall Street bailout. But when we consider the economic costs of rebuilding the city to its previous state, we see that costs might be higher than we would like.

    Furthermore, Nicole Gelinas of City Journal reminds us of the poor state of New Orleans even BEFORE Katrina and the difficulty in successfully rebuilding infrastructure in general:

    "The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah’s. But the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed?

    A city blessed with robust, professional police and fire forces, with capable government leaders, an informed citizenry, and a relatively resilient economy can overcome catastrophe, but it doesn’t emerge stronger: look at New York after 9/11. The richest big city in the country in more ways than one mustered every ounce of energy to clean up after 9/11 and to rebuild its economy and its downtown—but even so, competing special interests overcame citizens’ and officials’ best intentions. Ground Zero remains a hole, and New York, for all its resources, finds itself diminished, physically and economically, four years on."

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_08_31_05ng.html

    Though New Orleans was a significant city for many reasons, rebuilding the city isn't worth tax payers money in a time of a snowballing deficit and other increasingly penny-pinched programs like health care, education, and infrastructure maintenance elsewhere in the country.

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  2. ab biloxi condita

    October 27, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    whateva, you do realize that New Orleans still exists, right? It's not like some mining ghost town in west Texas; there's still more than 70% of the pre-Katrina population living there. As of 2007 it was about the size of Buffalo or St. Paul, and if growth rates have been pretty stable over the last two years it's now about the size of Pittsburgh.

    And while New Orleans might be a "sad city" (I've never been, before or after) it is certainly a crucial city to the Louisianan and American economies. The Port of New Orleans-Port of South Louisiana (Port of South Louisiana is located in a New Orleans suburb) complex combine to form the largest port in the world in terms of bulk tonnage and fourth-largest by volume handled per year, far outstripping the ports of greater New York, Los Angeles or Houston. It makes pretty much every transshipment of goods to and from the Midwest, including the Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri rivers – grain, meat, cocoa, petroleum, rubber, chemical products, steel all enter and exit the largest single geographic area of the country via the Louisiana ports. Given the great pecuniary needs in this country, from the ports <i>alone</i> I can't see how somebody could question the need to rebuild New Orleans.

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  3. ab biloxi condita

    October 27, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Also, that article isn't exactly up-to-date, since it was written two days after the hurricane hit New Orleans, when the wild exaggerations like the "omg looterz r in our city kilin our polise" stories were still running.

    And I'm not sure I'd trust a magazine who has Victor Davis Hansen as a major contributor to be giving a very clear picture on something like this anyways. Maybe you want to keep looking for a nice article to link us to?

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  4. NOLA

    October 27, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    "Though New Orleans was a significant city for many reasons, rebuilding the city isn't worth tax payers money in a time of a snowballing deficit and other increasingly penny-pinched programs like health care, education, and infrastructure maintenance elsewhere in the country."

    You can throw facts and numbers out there as much as you want, but until you actually meet the people of New Orleans, sit with them, and hear their stories, you have no right whatsoever to question how valuable it is to rebuild the city. The point is, New Orleans is unlike anyplace in the country. While Americans constantly question their culture, New Orleans stands as a beacon of something truly ours and representative of the diversity of America as a whole. That alone is enough to put energy into revitalizing New Orleans.

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  5. whateva

    October 27, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    I'll present my responses in a Q & A format.

    Q: Much of the citizens of New Orleans have returned.

    A: I don't negate that. My point is that the city, especially flood prone areas of the city, doesn't deserve the funding to rebuild itself to its 'former glory.' I'm not sure where you found the 70% statistic, but the Louisiana Recovery Authority reported in Februrary 2006 that 55% of the displaced Louisiana residents still live out of state. Given that Katrina hit New Orleans a year and a half before that date, it's clear these people don't want to come back.

    In fact Mayer Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission estimated that 247,000 of New Orleans' original 462,000 population would have returned by September of this year. That's FAR below the 70% you reported.

    Q: New Orleans isn't a sad city [Responding to posts #2 & #3.]

    A: Let's see what a New Orleans resident had to say about it. Xavier University of Louisiana professor Michael White lamented, "The city had a lot of economic and social problems before — economics, race, poverty, crime, drugs."

    Peter Scharf, executive director of the Center for Society, Law and Justice at the University of New Orleans even says that Hurricane Katrina "was one of the greatest crime-control tools ever deployed against a high-crime city." And the city DID suffer from very high crime rates. In 2004 there were 59 murders per 100,000 population, which can be put in perspective when we look at crime in New York, which only saw 7 in 100,000 population, reports the NYT (data from the FBI). It's eerily unclear whether Mr. Scharf quips when he says "This is one of the most interesting experiments in crime we've ever seen. Without effective courts, corrections or rehabilitation, we have reduced the crime rate by 100 percent." While patently damaging, Hurricane Katrina demolished crime in one of the most crime ridden areas of America.

    Q: New Orleans culture is unique and a testament to America's great diversity. Bottom line: sociological concerns > economic concerns.

    While I appreciate that people's experiences and emotions can hardly ever be reconciled with economics, the bottom line is that economics underlies all ad hominem concerns. We can compare New Orleans' welfare to that of a person. If a really awesome person comes down with a rare health condition that can only be cured with an unaffordable surgery (and the hospital has no research related nor pro bono incentives at hand) the person will, regrettably, not be able to get the necessary surgery. This is overtly sad, but, as I think this example well demonstrates, economics doesn't deal with feelings of these nature.

    We can talk about feelings as much as we want, but when it comes down to real action on a large scale, money will decide the fate of New Orleans. The fact of the matter is that rebuilding New Orleans is expensive, costing the US at least $24.6 billion, according to an initial FEMA estimate. Keep in mind that 9/11 cleanup cost $8.1 billion dollars in a city with 8.2 million people compared to a city that now is home to 220,000. These numbers ARE vital to any discussion, economic or sociological, on New Orleans.

    The market will play a large and nearly immutable role. If insurance companies refuse to insure New Orleans' residents and firms against damage from a future hurricane, few residents/firms will want to move back without adequate leverage against another potential disaster. Unless the US uses tax dollars to insure people/firms returning, the market will not serve New Orleans well.

    Though many New Orleans' residents can easily recite compelling monologues about why New Orleans deserves America's tax dollars, there ARE New Orleans' residents who don't propone full-fledged rebuilding efforts. Anne LaBranche, a middle class African American from New Orleans East said in regards to leaving her neighborhood, “It's not what I want, but I could live with it. I don't want to go through this again." And it's not just New Orleans' residents who don't want to go through the crisis again. With energy prices soaring, the global financial system unstable, our students falling behind, and with a foreign policy outlook that doesn't seem to brighten, Americans simply don't have the energy to force New Orleans up to the top of our policy agenda.

    Q: "You have no right whatsoever to question how valuable it is to rebuild the city." Really? I suppose I have no right either to question other controversial issues then either. If this week is about dialogue, then my opinions or perhaps misconceptions in your view deserve addressing. I've presented by opinion with cogency; the campus deserves more than "New Orleans is awesome so let's rebuild!"

    Sources:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/10/national/nationalspecial/10crime.html

    Katel, P. (2006, February 3). "Rebuilding New Orleans." CQ Researcher Online. http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2006020300.

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  6. Todd

    October 28, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Whateva-

    Out of an unwillingness to go researching any more data that doesn't pertain to my thesis, I'll try to be brief.

    A. NOLArize! doesn't have access to the United States' Treasury reserves, so there is no sense in promoting a position that lacks any substantive basis WHATsoEVA

    At best, I'd estimate NOLArize has about 5 figures worth of funds (but like I said, no extra researching, so could be even less). The real figures are derived from non-monetary accounts of will power, dedication and concern demonstrated by Phelan and others participating in NOLArize and NOLArize-like projects.

    That's what NOLArize is about, that's what the students at Swarthmore are about, that's what you're ideas/suggestions/concerns will have the most impact, the most possibility for materializing.

    Just go to the BCC and have some beignets on Friday.

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  7. Zein

    October 29, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Whateva-

    As a current member of NOLArize!, I appreciate the thoughts. These are the discussions that need to be happening. Here is my perspective…

    I think you were mistaken in assuming anyone in NOLArize! believes the rebuilding of New Orleans to be a straightforward policy. We understand that if it were straightforward if probably would have been done within the last three years. Also, to reduce the meaning of 'rebuilding' into a question of spending tax payers money or not is tragically incomplete and does not reflect the essence of the goals of NOLArize! or anyone involved in the effort.

    People live in New Orleans today. Many still suffer from derivatives of post-traumatic stress and many more continue a daily fight for basic needs- a job, a home, or food. They feel abandoned by their government, but more importantly they feel abandoned by their countrymen. You and I have the power to change the latter.

    Rebuilding isn't all or nothing- it's person by person. Does Mr. Smitty deserve help rebuilding his house on Caffin street so he can die in the same house his parents built out of bargeboard in the twenties? Do the children living in the Bywater neighborhood today deserve computers so they can do homework? We have the ability to help them. There are people living in New Orleans NOW who need our attention whether you believe in the longevity of the city or not.

    Rebuilding includes the building of relationships. New Orleans residents still need to share their stories face to face to people. It helps them heal and allows them to move on either in New Orleans or somewhere else. The soul of New Orleans is about people (not Bourbon or Harrah's!) People sharing music, people telling stories, sharing histories and being a community. It's a spirit that's unfortunately becoming a rarity. We can help rebuild this sense of community in New Orleans and at home.

    What about rebuilding a demand for equality? Katrina helped bring to the surface racial and socio-economic injustices in New Orleans. For example thousands of low-income public housing units were demolished after the storm without reason with promises of replacements. They haven't been rebuilt (The Superdome was surely 'rebuilt') But now, many people are displaced or homeless, not due to Katrina, but due to the government. We believe these issues should be discussed, not as historical anecdotes, but as dynamic history that we have a part in influencing.

    So, the rebuilding of New Orleans is a giant puzzle which embraces a multitude of issues, goals, and ideals. People all over the U.S. have united in a collective effort to address these problems piece by piece through non-profits, NGOs, the sharing of information, and the power of volunteering. Good things are being done by individuals and groups to ease New Orleans' residents' suffering and help them establish post-Katrina lives. It's true that levee walls, economic structures, and crime levels are important pieces that should be discussed, but they constitute only a portion of the current affair that is New Orleans. (There is so much more here to address than economics.) NOLArize! isn't asking for your tax money- we want inform people about the spectrum of issues that is New Orleans and link those interested to ways they can get personally involved.

    New Orleans is awesome so let's rebuild!

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  8. whateva

    October 29, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Zein, thanks for your response. While I like to think the world exists in a dispassionate ebb and flow of capital, that simply isn't the case. And though I would love to use my little economics model to tell Mr. Smitty to move somewhere else, fundamentally I cannot do that. Not because it's merely wrong, but because of its uncaring belittling of his life and his story. It seems all too easy to pigeonhole all New Orleans' residents, former and current, as one impersonal, faceless group.

    Thank you.

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  9. ab biloxi condita

    October 30, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    Hi, whateva. My data comes from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (http://www.gnocdc.org/)'s August 2008 Summary of Findings (http://www.gnocdc.org/NOLAIndex/NewOrleansIndexAug08.pdf). The quick and dirty for folks who don't want the trouble of dealing with downloading a .pdf file (and lord knows I'm one):

    "Greater New Orleans enters the fourth year of recovery from a position of strength, with the vast majority of her pre-storm numbers of people and jobs. By the summer of 2008, the city of New Orleans had recovered 72 percent of its pre-Katrina households and nearly 90 percent of its sales tax revenues. Similarly, the region as a whole is now home to 87 percent of pre-storm populations, 86 percent of jobs, and 76 percent of all previous public and private school students."

    As for your second Q/A, despite answering the thing that my objections were specifically not to, I'll bite: shouldn't the worry be on keeping New Orleans' crime rate – and assorted other problems – low? New Orleans is a city under a lot of strain right now, since it's been dramatically altered by the effects of Katrina. Of course it won't be the same city as before, and I am not sure that anyone is advocating an attempt to reboot it to August 1, 2005. But New Orleans suffered a disaster pretty much unparalleled in scope on the urban landscape in modern American history, and, as Zein pointed out, rebuilding isn't all or nothing, nor is it as backwards-looking as you have maybe implied.

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