Thinking About New Orleans

I’ve never been to New Orleans, LA. I’ve had a lot of friends who love it, but the truth is: it’s never much appealed to me. Ten years ago, though, New Orleans was on everyone’s mind.

I honestly don’t remember much of the news coverage of Katrina. I was new to Cincinnati, in the midst of acclimating to a brand new life, and didn’t have a television or internet access at home. My first memories of Hurricane Katrina were the pictures from newspapers I read while tending bar at work and the stories of a customer at the bar, a refugee from New Orleans.

This weekend is the tenth anniversary of the hurricane and there’s still a lot I don’t really understand about what happened and why the destruction was so severe. And then, of course, why the fallout was so bad. I’m not going to pretend to know where to point the blame or to posit what could have been done differently. The news stories I saw and heard this week prove that there are still a lot of unanswered questions on all sides.

Disasters happen. Is this really a surprise? Yet, more often than not, we are simply not prepared for them–individually or corporately.

A few quick thoughts:

1. How seriously would you have taken the warnings?
Personally, I don’t take most warnings very seriously at all. Not even from “reliable sources.” Yet, when I read this warning, issued ten years ago by the National Weather Service about the impending storm, it was hard to believe that more New Orleans residents didn’t heed the warning. Or that the City of New Orleans didn’t work harder to evacuate and warn low-income residents, the ones in the most vulnerable areas, the ones least likely to evacuate on their own. Or that so few of us outside of the region knew what was happening.

I know that evacuation is complicated and would have been very difficult for people who had nowhere to go (no family or friends outside the area) or no way to get there (literally had no transportation or no money to use it). And I’m sure that many long-term coastal residents had seen storms come and go. They thought: why should I believe this will be any different? (Or maybe some never heard the warnings? That’s possible, I guess?)

Among other foreboding statements, the warning said that “most of the area would be uninhabitable for weeks… perhaps longer.” If you saw a warning flash across your tv screen that said your city was going to be decimated by a storm within 12-24 hours, would you run for the hills? Or would you hunker down and wait for the storm to pass? I would like to think that I’d react quickly, but I honestly don’t know that I’d take the warning seriously.

2. Are you prepared?
I’ve talked briefly about this before. (I wrote a post about it two years ago.) And I hope that many of my friends and family don’t let events like Hurricane Katrina pass by them without asking important questions about their own preparation for emergencies.

A couple months back, there was a heavy snow storm in our city. Many suburban areas were hit hard and some lost power for days. A new neighbor texted me and asked if our neighborhood had ever lost power and admitted that her family wasn’t quite prepared if that happened. I was able to assure here that, in the time I’ve lived here, we’ve been pretty insulated from the weather and that our power grid has always stayed in-tact. But, there is never a guarantee.

There is no way to know what lies around the bend. And there is no way to guarantee that you’ve crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” in your preparation. History proves that even the most prepared people can be caught by surprise by things they never saw coming. All you can do is be ready for what you can reasonable anticipate.

Living in an urban area, our preparations for severe weather or other emergency situations may look different than yours. The threats are different here. But I think it’s important to assess the threats and do at least a reasonable amount of preparation for what is most likely to happen where you live. And, no matter where you live, you should make preparations for evacuating. I came across this video a few years ago and it was really convicting and, frankly, a little scary. My area might not be experiencing wildfires at the moment, but there may sometime be another reason to evacuate downtown, either by suggestion or by choice. Since I saw that video, I made it a point to be reasonably ready. Ready without obsessing about the unknown.

If you’ve been listening to talk radio or checking the news this week, you’ve likely had Hurricane Katrina on your mind, too. According to the reports I’ve seen, much of the Gulf Coast is coming back to life. I saw this movie a few months ago and it was filled with love and hope for New Orleans. My parents are headed down to the Alabama coast in about a month and I’m curious what their experience will be (we’ve been there twice before–years before Katrina).

Do you know anyone who was displaced by Hurricane Katrina?
Have you been to New Orleans or the Gulf Coast since?

Can I encourage you to think a little more this weekend about how you’d react to a similar scenario and whether or not you be ready?

On my mind especially this week was that old customer of mine. The refugee from New Orleans. His life had been completely dismantled by the hurricane and he was laying low in Cincinnati, alone, until the smoke cleared. I wonder if he’s still around or if he managed to, eventually, find his way back home again.

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Read this: News from Elsewhere

A few excellent articles worth sharing:

 

1. Here’s How Much Money You Must Earn To Buy A Home In 25 Big US Cities via Business Insider

Although this doesn’t seem to take into account the enormous amounts of debt and extravagant living expenses of most Americans, it does point to the fact that homeownership is relatively affordable for most of us. In Cincinnati, where the average home is just over $100k, “the American dream” is well within reach.

2. Pigs and Chickens Save Struggling Kansa School via World

I might not be a fan of standardized schooling, in general, but I could get behind an agricultural-based school. I wonder what this would do in an urban setting in the Midwest?

3. Chicago Aims to Beat Detroit on Horse-Drawn Carriage Ban via NextCity

Our city has a few horse-drawn carriages in the Central Business District and, as a downtown resident, I’ve heard varied opinions about them. This article offers an interesting discussion about the issue and how it’s playing out in two other cities.

4. The Yuppie Price Index for Services via Locality

Cincinnati was not included in this list (I wonder why?), but it’s interesting nonetheless. What exactly does it cost to be a yuppie in this city?

5. The Case for Big Cities, in 1 Map via the Washington Post

In 31 states, one or two metro areas account for the vast majority of economic output in the state.  Those numbers make clear that while you may like to hate on big cities, you — and we — need them.

It’s hard to ignore such striking facts. I would love to see one done on a local level. There’s got to be some Cincinnati-based data analyst willing to put together a similar study (and infographic!) for our region…

 

 

Enjoy!

 

The Hidden Cost of Sprawl

I came across this link on Twitter (via @brenttoderian) and had to share it here.

infographic1000It’s a Canadian study on the hidden costs of suburban sprawl and it reveals the economic stress sprawl puts on all citizens, both those inside and those outside of the city:

While a suburban mortgage may look cheaper, it’s perpetuating a problem for municipalities, businesses, and taxpayers.

The report can be found at thecostofsprawl.com and I’d love to know if there is another study with US-specific statistics. Preferably one with an awesome, user-friendly website like this one?

Can someone send me a link?

Is the Urban Middle Class Destined for Extinction?

Blogger Aaron M. Renn (aka: The Urbanophile) posted a link on Twitter to an interesting New York Times article that questions the affordability of Manhattan real estate for middle-income residents. The article discusses how market rates have shifted in the past 40 years, the difference between market rate and rent-regulated housing, and the near complete void of anything market rate that is affordable to the average family.

You can read the complete article here.

As a property-owner in an area of Cincinnati that is experiencing a renaissance, this issue hits really close to home. My husband and I are firmly planted in the middle-class. And we benefited from an opportunists’ real estate market a few years ago. But, were we to try to find a similar home now, it would be very difficult, maybe impossible. Heck, even a significant raise in taxes might make our home unaffordable.

Urban revitalization is a risky endeavor. But when we talk about the dangers of gentrification, we usually talk about how it will effect the poor, the homeless, those who depend on Section 8 and other “affordable housing” situations. We rarely talk about the way it will effect the rest of us–the working class and the middle class, those who benefit greatly from the amenities and accessibility of the urban environment. When the difference between the costs of subsidized housing and market-rate housing continues to increase, will there be anything left for the rest of us?

In a city like New York City, the middle class was being phased out decades ago. Am I crazy to think that Cincinnati could be inching toward the same problem, even if if happens on a much smaller scale? Similar to the outlying boroughs of NYC, there will still be neighborhoods of Cincinnati in which average families can purchase homes and rent affordable apartments. But, what about those of us who actually want to live downtown?

Some other things to consider:

-Let’s be honest: Having a family changes everything.

“One way to stay in Manhattan as a member of the middle class is to be in a relationship. Couples can split the cost of a one-bedroom apartment, along with utilities and takeout meals. But adding small roommates, especially the kind that do not contribute to rent, creates perhaps the single greatest obstacle to staying in the city.”- O’Leary, The New York Times

Since I believe that strong families are so important for the health of a community, I believe it’s absolutely necessary that there be a place for families to live in vibrant, thriving cities.

-Employers can help. It’s not unheard of for large employers–universities, hospitals, corporations, etc.–to purchase property and rent to employees at subsidized rates to aid in hiring, relocation, and job stability. What if event smaller businesses did this? What if there was a resurgence of business owners living within walking distance of their businesses and providing reduced-rate housing for their employees?

-There has to be a way to get in on the ground-level of development. One way that middle-income families make it work in Manhattan is that they have been around long enough that they secured their real estate before prices soared. They have, essentially, been grandfathered-in to the Manhattan lifestyle. Cincinnati’s downtown is still relatively affordable, but it may not always be. If you’re anything like me, you could not afford the new built-to-suit single-family homes in Over-the-Rhine. But many of us could possibly afford one of the remaining vacant properties that are ready for renovation. Securing these properties can be tricky and finding loans for their rehabilitation even trickier. So, it reasons to say that cities who wish to preserve a thriving middle class must encourage entrepreneurship and provide the means for early investment by those who have staying-power in their community.

I’m curious to know whether all cities experience this phenomena of a disappearing middle class and how they cope. I’d also love to know more about the rent-regulated properties in NYC. Who regulates them and what does it take to get ahold of a property? I’m also curious how Section 8 housing plays into the issue and when the number of government housing subsidies actually works against the working class to limit their housing opportunities.

Anyone want to chime in?

Urban Life Elsewhere: Eagle Street Rooftop Farm

Check this out!

Somewhere in Brooklyn, will a full view of the Manhattan skyline, lies this amazing rooftop farm. The Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a 6,000 sq/ft organic vegetable garden. The farm sells its produce and provides education programming for local kids and residents. 7_21_10_EagleStreetAnnie9982

(photo from this beautiful the selby photoshoot)

Cincinnati has some great urban gardening, and a few productive urban farms–this one in Price Hill comes to mind–but none on a rooftop (as far as I know).

For an introduction to the woman that makes it all happen, go here for a nice video.