14
May
07

Fieldwork

Trying to keep this short this morning as my globalization and inequality paper is weighing heavily on me.  The M.A.S. and I confessed last night neither of us are prepared for our anniversary this weekend, given it’s arrival on the tail end of the school year.  Enjoyed a lovely spring weekend in CT with my mom and stepdad for Mom’s Day.  Did a little shopping with my mom, which is always highly beneficial for my closet.

As briefly mentioned here, I was in New Orleans last week for three days, my first trip since Jan/Feb.  One night at dinner, I sat at the bar beside a woman from Rhode Island who asked me at what stage of planning was New Orleans.  I’m still trying to understand the question, but as I told her, the city is being rebuilt very unevenly.  I can’t stress enough how post-Katrina New Orleans offers an ideal-type scenario of all the potential development inequalities that threaten so many impoverished places, disaster or otherwise.  At least half the city remains displaced; the median income of the city has risen since the storm, indicating that those who have returned are more likely to be well off.  (The post-storm relative percentage of homeowners to renters, and whites to blacks, also indicate that a majority of lower-income, black renters have been unable to return to the city.)  Construction abounds for those with means; this does not include the city, who lacks the funding and the external trust of potential resource channels to bring in the necessary monies to rebuild the city.  The Office of Recovery Management (ORM), formed in the last six to nine months to lend some legitimacy and order to the rebuilding process, operates a 501(c)3, so that the philanthropic money that is flowing in to support redevelopment does not go to the long-corrupt city government.  Meanwhile, charitable $$ is not enough to rebuild an entire municipality; funds raised to date support ORM salaries for employees who then coordinate with the city agencies actually responsible for carrying out redevelopment tasks.  Yet, these agencies still lack the requisite funds – mostly governmental (state and fed); these monies are generally tied up in some byzantine post-disaster red tape arrangement made more dire by the unique pathos of both LA and Bush Administration politics.  Yikes.

So demolition and development unfolds in the wealthier areas of the city, as might be expected, and legions of outsiders continue to descend on the city to steer redevelopment on behalf of locals without the voice or resources in the current post-storm environment.  I met one former New Yorker there who enjoyed her new life in New Orleans even as she felt the transition was a challenge.  I refrained from recommending she hang out at the Whole Foods on Magazine St. in order to catch up with all the other NYC transplants.  Seriously, it’s some 21st century, Northeastern liberal’s version of a banana republic down there (and I implicate myself, obviously), though I like to believe we don’t mean to take over the city with corruption in our hearts, but rather from a different paternalism of social justice as our guide.  (Of course, for some many – locals and non-locals alike – it’s just a power grab.  Don’t let them tell you otherwise.)

It felt good to be out in the “real world” again, meaning here to be working on an applied problem, and not orbiting in the world of ideas and notions of inequity as I have been doing all semester.  Apparently, Louisiana has yet to outlaw cockfights (this is not in my planning portfolio as a problem to be tackled, but instead from a radio ad I can’t get out of my head), and I may work with some organizers this summer who are addressing – among other things – the 10% graduation rate of one of the city’s few remaining public schools (the privatization and subsequent further devastation of pieces of the already disastrous school system is something to which I’d need to devote an entire post).  Meanwhile, I’ve never stayed in the French Quarter before – and did so this time according to a “safety in numbers” approach to the city – and I’m astounded by how busy this teeny, tiny portion of the city is in terms of tourism.  And how tacky and male that tourism is.  With little exception, it’s like packs of white dudes roaming a bounded terrain of streets.  A different feeling of insecurity swept over me as I crossed Bourbon Street each night to my hotel.

I was dismayed on my trip to City Hall friday morning to see the city has fast-forwarded in the last five months to embrace metal detectors at the entrances of the building.  When I was there in December 2006, the lobby had the traffic and spirit of a bus station, with it not being clear whether people were waiting to board the elevators to carry them to their official business, or just hanging out beside the elevator banks as they might on their front porches.  Of course, in my trip through the metal detector, I had to hand over my bag to the security guard.  She didn’t look through it though, so if anyone has any goods they’d prefer to sneak into the buildings, may I suggest removing them from your person and hiding them in your bag.  Good work.

I’ll be back down again at the end of the month, for a conference and perhaps some further meetings.  I didn’t feel the same emotional pull this time around in NOLA; the love-hate relationship that has gripped so many of us who have worked down there over the last 18 months.  If my work continues there, I’m pleased, mainly to have work in such a complex (and yes, high-profile) environment.  But, I’m also okay with moving on, at this point, and forming new relationships in other cities, including the one I live in now.  We’ll see, but I feel a lot less conflicted about New Orleans this time around.  Hopefully this sentiment will last.  The emotional transitions were exhausting.

And I sat next to a woman in first class on the flight home.  I don’t think this has ever happened before, as I typically seem to be one of the few women in first class not there on the arm of a man.  The Boston Globe offers a tangential, partial explanation of why that’s the case.

 

 

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