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Gratz documents rebuilding after Katrina in "We're Still Here Ya Bastards"

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Sometime in the 1920’s a procession of shotgun houses made their way from Burkburnett, Texas to Frederick, Oklahoma as part of a plan to provide low cost housing to the residents of that community.
And as chronicled in “We’re Still Here Ya Bastards” by Roberta Brandes Gratz, a similar convoy took place in New Orleans several years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But those houses were moved for the purposes of creating space for the LSU Medical School to build a new hospital, despite the fact that the Charity Hospital, that had previously been affiliated with LSU, had survived Katrina and could have been reopened.

Charity Hospital is described as “an art deco masterpiece” that had provided medical care to several generations of low income residents of New Orleans. The decision to build a new hospital destroyed a mid city residential community that included many homes.  The neighborhood featured the diverse architecture of New Orleans, including shotgun homes, Gratz documents. To appease the preservationists who protested the plan, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu agreed to move some of those structures. Their actual moving was done by people untrained in preservation and resulted in damage to them. The houses were moved to a field where they were left uncovered and Gratz does not relate what happened to them.

The New Orleans establishment’s indifference to its unique cultural heritage is a major theme of this work. We are told of how structures that include the boyhood home of Louis Armstrong and the places were jazz came into being have been demolished to make way for pharmacy chain buildings and parking lots. The author also faults the city’s willingness to offer incentives for box stores and hotels to open in New Orleans while ignoring small local businesses who also offered plans to rebuild. The book demonstrates how large well connected corporations in collusion with the federal agency FEMA profited from the efforts to clean up New Orleans after Katrina but did little that improved the city.

But there are many heroes who became active after the storm and worked with others to revitalize New Orleans. Grantz writes of how some of them were moved to action as a result of the establishments refusal to deal with the problems presented.

And many of those peoples' work is seen in the diverse New Orleans neighborhoods where entrepreneurs have opened small stores and restaurants and damaged homes have been rebuilt rather than destroyed. There are now more restaurants in New Orleans than before the hurricane, according to Gratz, and the majority of them are owned and operated by young people. The author writes of the street festivals and other events that now take place in those locales and how the attendees reflect the racial, ethnic, and generational diversity of those neighborhoods. Somewhat similar gatherings are now taking place in many communities in Oklahoma, including Oklahoma City, Edmond, Altus and other locales. And Gratz’s conclusion that local people are better than outsiders in rebuilding may be true in Oklahoma as well as New Orleans.

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About the Author

Bill O'Brien

Bill O'Brien is an attorney based in Oklahoma City.

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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