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Stitching up New Orleans

Breaking the rhythm By Bill Taylor
Not enough has changed. It's amazing how devastated New Orleans remains. My concern is the effect on the music and culture of the city, traditions passed down organically via neighborhoods, families and homes. It happened naturally, that perpetuation of cultural information. Now that line of cultural transmission has been fractured.

Before the storm, Tipitina's Foundation was focused on uplifting the music culture of the city. After the storm, it's about saving that same culture.

We run after-school programs, workshops, co-ops. We work with kids and all the way up to elderly musicians. On Aug. 29, the two-year anniversary of the storm, we are giving half a million dollars of new musical instruments to New Orleans public schools. We're getting ready to release a Fats Domino tribute recording, featuring Paul McCartney, Joss Stone, Neil Young and Tom Petty. A percentage of the proceeds will go toward bringing back the Lower 9th Ward, where Fats Domino has lived his entire life.

This is the breeding ground. This is where jazz and blues began. As time passes, the lack of improvement continues, and we're in danger of losing one of the most important natural resources in America.

Bill Taylor is executive director of a 10-year-old musician's co-op and nonprofit offshoot of the legendary New Orleans nightclub Tipitina's.

Awaiting a commitment By Jim Amoss
Living in post-Katrina New Orleans is like watching someone you love rebound from a massive stroke. The recovery is halting, and strangers keep asking, "Is he back to normal?" One day he utters a complete sentence -- a paltry achievement for someone who once spoke eloquently. The strangers are shocked at his diminished state, but you who've been at his bedside rejoice, for you remember the days of incoherent stammering.

We who have not left since the storm ravaged our city find ourselves somewhere between the stammering and the eloquence of old. The city tourists know, mainly the French Quarter and Garden District, is once again its beloved self. But the flooded area, seven times the size of Manhattan, is still struggling back to life.

Our recovery is driven more by the creativity and resilience of homeowners and neighborhood associations, by the 1.1 million volunteers from across the nation than by government. Government on every level has been slow to respond, wasteful of the people's money, lacking in coherent vision and forever looking over its partisan shoulder for an opportunity to place blame or seek credit. Now one senses that our nations' politicians would prefer to move on to a tidier topic.

To move on, to surrender to "Katrina fatigue," would not only grieve us who live here; it would make a calamitous statement about the exhaustion of America's will to be great, to triumph over adversity. Don't think of New Orleans as a flooded city. Think of it as Berlin at the end of World War II, its infrastructure pulverized, its people homeless, its economy shattered. To rebuild from that man-made disaster required a Marshall Plan and years of governmental and civilian commitment. The manmade disaster in New Orleans, caused by the Corps of Engineers' shoddy design of our levees, requires no less.

What would a Marshall Plan for New Orleans entail? It would mean a commitment that only the federal government could make -- to restore the eroding coastline and vanishing wetlands of Louisiana, to build levees and floodgates to withstand a 1,000-year storm, rather than the 100-year event now envisioned. It would cost billions of dollars. It would fulfill the promise delivered by President Bush's reconstruction czar, Donald Powell, who vowed after Katrina to build the "best levee system known in the world." It would revive a city that stands at the fulcrum of one-third of the nation's oil and gas and 40% of its seafood; that gave birth to much of our nation's indigenous culture; and that belongs to us all.

Jim Amoss is editor of the Times-Picayune

Residents take matters into their hands By Charles Allen
I think it's important that America knows this is a region where folks are doing what they can to undertake their own recovery.

In 2006, communities came up with strategic plans; 2007 has come to be year of implementation. High crime, poor healthcare and lack of quality job opportunities cause us to reassess whether we stay here or move. But folks realize that until we get a certain population back to establish a sufficient tax base, these problems will persist.

The federal government needs to remember that recovery here is a long-term process. It would be nice if folks in other parts of the country impress on their congressional leaders and others to continue to help.

There will be disasters in other vulnerable areas of the country. We need to learn recovery lessons here and be there for one another.

Charles Allen is president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Assn. in the Lower 9th Ward.

Doomsday still looms By Douglas Brinkley
New Orleans reminds me of a character in a Bruce Springsteen song that constantly takes two steps forward and one big step back. Clearly the crime index is off the charts, and the old-way politics of corruption is crippling the rebuild. Consider this: Since the first anniversary last August, Rep. Bill Jefferson has been indicted by the FBI on 16 counts, Sen. David Vitter has been linked to a prostitution service, City Councilman Oliver Thomas resigned after admitting to accepting huge bribes, and Mayor Ray Nagin has called murder the Big Easy's "brand." Need I go on?

Still, slow improvement is self-evident in many New Orleans neighborhoods. But the disturbing question over whether to build a new Category 5 levee system -- estimated to cost about $50ƒ|billion -- is no longer on the front burner of our national discourse. Americans are burying their heads in the sand on this issue, and the media are accommodating them. The coastal erosion problem in Louisiana remains very real. Daily, the Gulf of Mexico is getting closer to the city's gates. Doomsday looms.

Yet there is a bright spot on this anniversary: Mississippi. Watching towns like Bay St. Louis and Gulfport rebuild has been inspiring. Fueled by the Biloxi casino boom and community spirit, the Gulf Coast is half-back. What a difference shrewd politicians make. Gov. Haley Barbour, keenly aware of President Bush's shortcomings, has managed to both circumvent and massage Washington for money. His Governor's Commission of Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal -- created two years ago -- is now paying off huge dividends for the state.

Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University, is the author of "The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast."

The Big Easy gets busy By Julia Reed
Pre-Katrina New Orleans was a schizophrenic place. Insular and complacent on one hand, and resting on the laurels and the habits of its storied past, it was also world famous for elevating living in the moment to an art form. "Laissez les bons temps rouler" wasn't just a tourism slogan, but a genuine attitude. Tomorrow -- when you live between a notoriously restless river and a 40-mile lake -- may well never come.

But there was a tomorrow after Katrina. And while the respect for history and joie de vivre that had set us apart from other places was not destroyed, the complacency that gnawed at New Orleans, as well as the utter disregard for the future, are all but gone. In their stead is a level of civic activism unseen in the 16 years I've been here. Garden club ladies thrust petitions in my face in the grocery store parking lot; residents of every class and race march together to protest the out-of-control crime rate. Early on, self-appointed leaders drove rebuilding efforts in their decimated neighborhoods without a bit of guidance from our mayor and before a single federal dollar materialized.

These days, there are as many activist groups as Mardi Gras krewes. One of them forced the Legislature to consolidate the 24 separate entities charged with the maintenance of our levees (now there are two, stocked with engineers rather than cronies) and to replace the city's 11 tax assessors with one. It's the kind of arcane sounding stuff that will never make national newspapers, but here it represents a sea change.

Pre-Katrina, the problems of the city, from the hopelessly dysfunctional school system to government corruption at every level, seemed intractable. "This is Louisiana, baby, what are you gonna do?" was the stock response, accompanied by an eye roll, if not a grin. Now it's, "Yeah, this is Louisiana, it's New Orleans, our home -- what are you gonna do?"

Julia Reed is a contributing editor to Vogue and Newsweek. Her latest book, "The House on First Street, My New Orleans Story," is due out in early 2008.

Needed: A 50-year flood planBy Robert Bea
After two years, there's a lack coherent vision on how to provide adequate flood protection. The Army Corps of Engineers is doing 5,000 different things, one of which is flood protection. The state is even more muddled. You don't have modern technology; the quality is not what you would call world class.

Money has been coming in dribs and drabs. Billions of dollars is big, but before you get adequate flood protection for New Orleans, you better start thinking about $50ƒ|billion to $100ƒ|billion, and 50 to 100 years to do it. The Netherlands had its Katrina in 1953, and they are still developing their system. They have expended about $50 ƒ|billion . You don't have to be a professor to get it.

But we can see some strides going forward. Local citizens who want protection are now involved in getting that protection. There's a recognition that flood protection is not just a New Orleans problem, it's a national problem, it's a problem in our own Sacramento Delta; it extends to Kansas, Chicago. We 've been watching it unfold across the U.S. last week.

Flood protection is just like a roof on someone's home. You need to depend on it to establish a modern society that can flourish and can be happy.

Robert Bea, an engineering professor at UC Berkeley, co-authored a 2006 study that found that New Orleans' levees, even after planned repairs, were unlikely to withstand another Katrina.

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