Tuesday, September 2, 2008

As I watched the Gustav creep closer to New Orleans I began to wonder. What would happen if the levees don't hold? How will all the amazing families that I have met cope. How will all the workers and volunteers that I had met in the last two years deal with the destruction?

New Orleans is a city that forever changed who I am. I went there two years ago to help, to give my time and knowledge, for it was all I had to give. I went for 10 months and stayed for 22 months. When I decided to go my thinking was "what would it be like if my beloved Portland was destroyed like New Orleans was, what if the government was not there for my city?" I also had the fortunate experience of having gone there before so I knew how different the city was from other cities. I knew that there would be more aid needed than in other cities, it's just how the social and economical structure is there. The people who needed the most help are worse off than most Americans

In my time there I was introduced to people from all over the world who were there to help. I help volunteers to build houses, work through out gender stereo typing (A female doing framing, no way) and volunteers taught me how to overcome diversity,  see beauty in horrible things and build a community where there seemed to be no hope.  I found myself with no monitory stability but yet a lot of emotional strength that comes from being part of such a strong group of people. 

So when the storm looked like it was going for New Orleans I thought about the homeowners that just moved into there new homes, how would they survive being displaced one more time. I began to wonder if my decision to go there and help rebuild was wise. There were a lot of  people  who thought we shouldn't rebuild.  At times I thought about the unnatural placement of homes in swamp land. Yet when I would look at the city my issues with an urban environment would be washed away by the rich culture and architecture of New Orleans.  As the storm approached a thousand ideas about the city came rushing through but in the end only on idea remained. I don't question that New Orleans should be rebuilt or that my time there was not invaluable. My thoughts all focused on Mr Go and the degradation of swamps and the improper building of structures that ignore the basic environment needs of the area.

New Orleans was founded on land that the Indians lived on, above the flood planes for most of the year, the first houses were build in the area were raised and build to weather through hurricanes. Windows closed out the debris, first floors were for storage only and things were built solidly. Before Mr. Go there was a natural barrier to storms from the gulf, but in the name of progress a access way was built that brought a few ships in and a lot of sediment and water. I hope that people start to discuss the real causes of flooding not only in New Orleans but all over the US. 

We watch every year it seems as cities get flooded and lives get altered. There is talk of the levees that break or rivers that flood. There is lots of coverage about what happened the news shows clips of poor families sweeping up the mud from there houses, but where is the stories about the development that has completely altered the water flow of the river. Or how about showing how removing drain spouts from houses coupled with good retention landscaping would help. I just wish that real progress would start to take place in the area of environmental protection and responsibility. I can rebuild houses all my life, but without policy reform, political responsibility and social awareness there will be no relief to the destruction that we inflict upon ourselves

I will end with something I heard on the radio and I am paraphrase here "people think of Armageddon as a big meteor that will come and wipe us out.... perhaps we should look at the human race as the meteor." 

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