Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Stitching up New Orleans | Katrina hit two years ago
this week. How far has the city come, how far does
it have to go?

The Big Easy gets busy

August 27, 2007|Julia Reed | Julia Reed is a contributing editor to Vogue and Newsweek. Her latest book, "The House on First Street, My New Orleans Story," is due out in early 2008.

Pre-Katrina New Orleans was a schizophrenic place. Insular and complacent on one hand, and resting on the laurels and the habits of its storied past, it was also world famous for elevating living in the moment to an art form. "Laissez les bons temps rouler" wasn't just a tourism slogan but a genuine attitude. Tomorrow -- when you live between a notoriously restless river and a 40-mile lake -- may well never come.

But there was a tomorrow after Katrina. And while the respect for history and joie de vivre that had set us apart from other places was not destroyed, the complacency that gnawed at New Orleans, as well as the utter disregard for the future, are all but gone. In their stead is a level of civic activism unseen in the 16 years I've been here. Garden club ladies thrust petitions in my face in the grocery store parking lot; residents of every class and race march together to protest the out-of-control crime rate. Early on, self-appointed leaders drove rebuilding efforts in their decimated neighborhoods without a bit of guidance from our mayor and before a single federal dollar materialized.

These days, there are as many activist groups as Mardi Gras krewes. One of them forced the Legislature to consolidate the multiple -- and completely ineffective -- entities charged with the maintenance of our levees (now there are two, stocked with engineers rather than cronies) and to replace the city's seven tax assessors with one. It's the kind of arcane-sounding stuff that will never make national newspapers, but here it represents a sea change.

Pre-Katrina, the city's problems, from the hopeless, dysfunctional school system to government corruption at every level, seemed intractable. "This is Louisiana, baby, what're you gonna do?" was the stock response, accompanied by an eye roll, if not a grin. Now it's " This is Louisiana, it's New Orleans, our home -- what're you gonna do?"

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|