Thursday, August 06, 2015

Who is still here and who are the bastards?

This is a pretty good looking review of what I expect is a questionable book. I went to see Gratz talk a few months ago and I got a similar negative impression of her indifferent, condescending toward the locals currently being displaced in favor of arriviste "re-imaginers" with over-inflated opinions of their importance.
Her subject is the resurgence of the city, through “old-fashioned volunteerism” and the determination of everyday people to prevail over dysfunction, corruption and contempt. An acolyte of Jane Jacobs, Gratz trails urban saviors, full of faith in the ­power and process of citizens organizing themselves against industry and government powers.
Nope. None of that thesis has any basis in reality. New Orleans was always going to be rebuilt. The burst of activity boosters like to call a "resurgence" was the inevitable result of the 71 billion dollars worth of federal aid poured into the city after the flood.  The challenge faced by local leaders and activists was to make sure the benefits of "resurgence" accrued equitably. That the city we rebuilt would work for the people who lived in the city that was destroyed.  If there's been one unifying theme to this Yellow Blog over the past decade it is that our leaders and activists have failed miserably to meet that challenge.

Gratz's work has a different focus.
But the book is less a portrait of the city through the eyes of its citizenry than a guided tour of its nonprofit industrial complex. Much of her cast is in possession of 501c3 status, and too often, her treatment of their stories is about as illuminating as the “About Us” page on an organizational website. Because Gratz’s New Orleans is a series of causes, a true geography of the city scarcely emerges. Those who do not self-select into citizen advocacy groups are recipients of services.
In other words, this is a book from the point of tunnelview of the "volunteer entrepreneurs" and other various grifters  who have managed to find niches for their nonprofits. But the bigger picture of  the "recovery" is about building nice things for rich people and tourists while moving everyone else out of the way.

The title of this book is "We're Still Here Ya Bastards" but one has to wonder who Gratz thinks is "still here" and who are the real "bastards"?

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