Monday, September 5, 2005

Katrina's Cultural Toll

Frederick Starr in the NY Times grieves over the cultural and architectural losses that Katrina has wrought:

[New Orleans] faces the loss of some of America's most notable historic architecture. Maybe not in the French Quarter, which may emerge relatively intact, or the Garden District, which was spared most of the flooding. The dangers lie in neighborhoods like Tremé and Mid-City, which extend along Bayou Road toward Lake Pontchartrain and are rich in 18th- and 19th-century homes, shops, churches and social halls. They have been badly hit by the violent winds or torrents of water. And so have hundreds of other important buildings and vernacular structures throughout the city and across the breadth of South Louisiana and the Gulf Coast...

Louisiana, especially South Louisiana, is a living archive of American social and cultural history, and not just in its buildings. In no other state is the proportion of people born and raised within its borders so high. As a consequence, they are something that is ever more rare in a homogenized and suburbanized America: the living bearers and transmitters of their own history and culture. Katrina, and those fateful levee breaks in New Orleans, put this all at risk.
Of course the human toll taken by Katrina is infinitely greater than the loss of buildings, and Starr writes movingly about that, too.

Starr's attachment to New Orleans and its people began to grow when he bought a historic house in a marginal area and worked with old and new residents to improve the neighborhood. They came up with a neighborhood motto -- "Be nice or leave" -- and started their own neighborhood festival. His experience will resonate with many of Greensboro's historic district dwellers -- it certainly does with mine.

In the long run, Starr is optimistic about his city:
I expect [the people] too, will return, and that life in New Orleans will go on, with all its precariousness and sense of fragility and, yes, with all its relish for the moment.
Read the whole thing.

Update: Waterfall has a personal remembrance and photo of a house lost in Gulfport, Mississippi. Hat tip to Slowly she Turned.

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