Planning for Diaspora: New Orleans Before and After the Hurricanes

Barbara Eckstein
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Given the recent devastation in New Orleans due to hurricanes and broken levees, US planners are realizing that they must think about New Orleans (place and people) as existing in different locations and not together in one location, as is the common planning presumption. Although Nick Spitzer-- folklorist, cultural conservationist, Gulf Coast music expert, and radio host of American Routes--claims, persuasively, that to save a New Orleans that "we recognize" is to save its people and its cultures, this paper argues that those people and those cultures are inextricably tied to other issues of material, environmental, economic, and social sustainability. It further argues that to understand the role of cultures in the production of the city now that much of its population has been set flowin', we must look to other relevant diasporas. The case in point for this argument is the role of so-called HOPE-VI or New Urbanist public housing renewal in dislocating the residents of the St. Thomas Public Housing Development. They became an intra-city diaspora despite their formation of a savvy residents' council and their participation in the renovation plans. This paper concludes that to save a New Orleans that "we recognize" --and one more sustainable than the one that drowned--requires understanding the interaction of cultural production with other social forces and fighting for the role of local knowledge, skills, and lore in the rebuilding process.

Keywords: Diaspora, New Orleans, HOPE-VI, St. Thomas Public Housing Development, American Routes
Stream: Cultural Sustainability, Social Sustainability
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Planning for Diaspora

Barbara Eckstein

Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Iowa

For the last decade I have been studying the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. My specific interest is the connection between what is sustained in local and outsiders' memories about the city and the sustainability of the city as environmental scientists, economists, and workers for social justice would understand that term. The result has been a book called Sustaining New Orleans: Literature, Local Memory, and the Fate of a City. While it is tempting to think of culture--story, music, food...--as having a healing effect, I argue that story and other elements of culture participate for good and ill in the fate of a place. I show this to be the case in New Orleans considering the interaction of popular literature set in the city, folklore, and particular material problems and responses to them. Ironically, poignantly, this book was completed just six months before the hurricanes that devastated the city and is being published (Routledge) just two months after the hurricanes. The book's argument for the importance of local metis--local knowledge, local memory, local skills--is all the more necessary, I believe.

Ref: S06P0340