Monday, March 01, 2010

[Detroit, New Orleans] New Orleans is the New Detroit

New Orleans is the New Detroit: First, I swear I am not writing this because I am bitter about my Super Bowl prediction. I am writing this as a caution -- as a counterbalance to all the New Orleans feel-good wankery going on in the press (especially the sports press, in their Quixotic endeavor to be "relevant"). My case in point is an article at World Hum by Adam Karlin. After a post-Super Bowl visit, Adam came to the conclusion that New Orleans has turned a corner and was now on track for a better future. This immediately triggered my BS detector, which is finely tuned in such circumstances having been subjected to nearly 50 years of articles about Detroit turning a corner. To wit:
The city is at 80 percent pre-Katrina population levels. Those still gone very likely aren't coming back. A generation of go-getters, artists, musicians, writers, cooks, bartenders and policy pioneers, plus an influx of Central Americans (particularly Hondurans), attracted by the prospect of not just rebuilding but recreating the city, have, to a degree, filled the hole.

Then: White candidate Mitch Landrieu garners a majority vote from both white and black New Orleanians, a first in city history, and wins the February 6 mayoral election. At Landrieu's election party, there is the sense/hope politics in New Orleans have transcended old racial paradigms.
Starts off pretty well. Sadly, he makes the paradigm racial mistake of his generation, conflating the lack of multi-culturalism with vaguely defined socio-economic ills. But he properly senses that massive change is required and describes some anecdotal evidence of it, which is where it falls of a cliff. Here is the evidence of New Orleans turning a corner:
The Saints [winning the Super Bowl]...caused the Crescent City to collectively and absolutely--please excuse the technical terminology--flip its goddamn sh*t. Which then turned the remaining weeks of the carnival season--oh yeah, Mardi Gras was happening during all this--into, of course, Lombardi Gras.
Eating oysters and cheese and bread and ribs and drinking wine and listening to music in my favorite restaurant here this week, a place that mixes dishevelment, indulgence and comfort into one space that perfectly microcosms the city, and looking at a mixed race family dine next to a man in white body paint with a pink beehive wig, I realized New Orleans was practically bleeding happiness.
Everywhere, folks say: This is what we've been waiting for. They're specifically referring to the Lombardi trophy, but I think they know deep down the 2010 carnival season marks when, at long last, post-Katrina New Orleans became, again, just New Orleans.
A kid jumped onto a car under the bridge at Claiborne and Esplanade and danced with his ass in the air until the people in the car got out and joined him.
This is the formula. This is how basket cases are enabled by the press and in the popular mind. Talk about the good time you had, the happy optimism you saw everywhere, the humanistic success story, what fine and spirited people you saw everywhere you looked. Hell, you can even go over the top:
I'm not New Orleanian by birth or residence, but in my heart I claim this town. It inspires me like a lover, and does so for many others. I'll say this: I've intermittently wept my whole time here whenever life's randomness conspires to remind me how Nola is, as Bob Dylan said, One Very Long Poem. Like when at the Candlelight Lounge, the Treme Brass Band started playing and Miss Angelina served me white beans and ham hocks off a hot brick and called me baby and then everyone was dancing so fresh it was like they were transformed into light and air, like happiness and the human spark, caught in some Kabbalistic back-tide, was made manifest in every person and note they danced to. They were dancing like the rhythm was always there and they'd been given new legs.
Wow. Waiter, I'll have a small order of prose, fluorescent purple, please.

I am just too overwhelmed by the similarities between this article, and others like it, and the apologies for the city of Detroit that I have read regularly for nearly a half century, to be anything remotely optimistic about New Orleans. In fact, you can compare this to a Detroit article I deconstructed a couple of months ago. In both cases a journalist has had good times in the city in question and decided that's the proof that things are on the upswing. Sentimental fantasy.

This is going to be a bitter pill to swallow, but a Lombardi Trophy will not save a city. Neither will a lazy Saturday in the Quarter scarfing Beignets and Muffalettas; a killer jazz combo in Faubourg Marigny; an easy afternoon stroll through the Garden District; or a deliriously drunken hurricane-snarfer in a green afro wig. I know it is heartbreaking, but reality is reality: Hope Don't Feed The Bulldog.

To prosper a city needs a good climate for commerce. At a minimum that means a low crime rate, so entrepreneurs and customers and employees don't flee for their safety, and an absence of corruption, so they can make business decisions without wondering who they'll have to stroke and for how much just to stay afloat. To my knowledge, New Orleans has neither of those. In fact, the lack of them is a point of pride with some locals and virtually all visiting journalists (who don't have to hang around and deal with the consequences) as an example of the colorful native culture. New Orleans apologists, like their Detroit forefathers, are nothing more than enablers of this dysfunction.

Look, I hope New Orleans has turned a corner and maybe this Landrieu fellow can pull something off, but NOLA was crime ridden and corrupt long before Katrina and I see no reason to expect otherwise in the future. I would very much like to be proven wrong, not by another glowing restaurant review or a Drew Brees photo op, but in some objective measure of day-to-day reality.

Until then, just keep a path open for me from the airport to the French Quarter. I like the local color too, but only for a day or so.