The Color Change: White Washing a City - by Dr. Beverly Wright, PhD
Sunday, August 16, 2015
For Immediate Release
Letter to the Editor
The Color Change: White Washing a City
It Started with those Green Dots
by Dr. Beverly Wright, PhD
Let's just be "real" about how Black people
feel their quality of life has, or is changing, ten years after
Katrina. I can tell you this; Black folks know that things are
changing, but at their core, they do not believe these changes will
benefit them. They basically see a "New" New Orleans that
is whiter and richer, and they see this happening at their expense.
They can identify a number of actions taken by local and state
government that have dramatically affected their lives. These
include: (1) the Plan for the Future or the infamous "green dot
map"; (2) the takeover of the New Orleans Public Schools by the
state forming the Recovery School District; (3) the hostile takeover
of public schools by charter networks; (4) the firing of all New
Orleans public school teachers and personnel; (5) the suspension of
the federal Davis-Bacon Act; and (6) the awarding of billions of dollars
in no-bid contracts to a handful of politically connected
nationally-based contractors. In this blog, I will speak to one of
them, the Plan for the Future.
In order to understand the real implications and the devastating
results of these actions, we have to begin at the beginning. And for
most African American and Vietnamese New Orleanians, it starts with
the "green dot map." I remember my phone ringing very early
one morning and it continued to ring with calls from friends, most of
whom lived in Eastern New Orleans before the storm, asking me if I
had seen the front page of the Baton Rouge Advocate. I was living
there at the time, having been wrenched from my home in "the
East" by Katrina.
I recall running to the door to get the paper and immediately seeing
why everyone was so frantic. There it was; a map of the city of New
Orleans, with a large green dot sitting right on top of the area
where our homes were located. As I looked at the legend that
indicated these green dot areas were to be converted to parks and
green space, I felt an incredible sense of disbelief that quickly
morphed into anger. Even more incredulous was the additional twist
that indicated these were also areas where a building moratorium
would remain in effect until neighborhoods could prove viability. The
city was going to turn our homes into green space and essentially
prevent residents from rebuilding!
To top it off, there were other categories for rebuilding identified
on the map which included; (1) areas where rebuilding was allowed
(that's right, you guessed it; most of these areas were not even
flooded); and (2) areas to be redeveloped, some with new housing for
relocated homeowners, where "coincidentally," Southern
University, the University of New Orleans and Dillard University were
located. The city had invested so much in these institutions of
higher learning that refusing to invest in the surrounding areas
could not plausibly be defended even though these areas had been
"drowned" by flood waters, just as much as some of those
areas plastered with green dots. In this lies the fuel for the
Bluntly stated, most African Americans felt that this Plan for the
Future "was an attempt to take their homes and not allow them to
return to the city." The designation of the Uptown area - which
most African American citizens know to be home to many affluent white
families - as one in which rebuilding would be allowed; and
conversely, New Orleans East and parts of Gentilly - well known to be
predominantly African American and Vietnamese - as areas where
neighborhoods must prove viability or simply be designated as
suitable for green space, sealed the anguish, heightened the distrust
of government, and bolstered the belief that Black people would not
be treated fairly under this "Plan for the Future."
While activism and community self determination beat back the
"green dot plan," planners began to deny its authenticity
by inferring that it was only a suggestion. Resettlement in these
areas began despite the plan and to this day has been very successful
through the shear will and energy of those residents who turned the
onslaught against their communities into fuel for rebuilding.
But, I cannot say that this success extended to all aspects of
recovery in these communities. What has failed is the ability of
these communities, especially those in New Orleans East, to
experience the enormous amount of economic development taking place
in other parts of the city.
Residents have watched with dismay as "The East" has seen a
proliferation of multi-family housing economically fueled by Low
Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) coupled with an enormous shortage
of affordable housing fueled by the destruction of public housing and
astronomical increases in rents in areas that have traditionally been
home to African American citizens. Gentrification in these areas is
taking place at warp speed.
As a resident of eastern New Orleans, I can tell you that the
community feels betrayed by both local, state and federal government
officials, whom they blame for the lack of amenities in their
communities and an increase in disamenties, inclusive of crime,
litter, and the proliferation of undesirable businesses such as pawn
shops, liquor stores, halfway houses, and dollar stores on every
corner. As one resident put it, "I should have known something
was up when they began to build a dollar store at every I-10 exit in
While the plan to stop rebuilding in the East by turning
neighborhoods into green space failed; the plan seems to have another
alternate phase, which I call "trash the neighborhoods, and they
will leave." Most Black homeowners believe that they are being
"run out of their neighborhoods." They see the new design
for the city by these two telltale neon signs: (1) the reconstruction
of "housing projects" through the use of former luxury
apartment complexes, not designed for large families, nor having the
amenities required for the safe and healthy upbringing of children);
and (2) the "white washing" of traditionally African American
neighborhoods, pushing poor people out to the suburbs (i.e. New
Orleans East) where housing is more affordable- gentrification at the
expense of the poor.
The city of New Orelans' progress toward prosperity should have at
its foundation, the inclusion of the well-being of African American
communities. While my discussion here has focused only on the Plan
for the Future, many actions listed in beginning of this blog, have
stimulated change and movement towards the total transformation of
the city. And I will say loudly and clearly, if city officials,
federal and state government, urban planners, developers and realtors
don't change the present trajectory of this transformation, New
Orleans will become a city where Black folks used to live.
Wright is a sociologist and the Executive Director of the Deep South
Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr.
Wright may be reached via email via email@example.com.
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