Oldies but Goodies: from KD5QEL

I’ll be back home–that is to say, in New Orleans–for four insane days of back-to-back literary activity marking the fifth year of Katrina and the man-made disasters, plural, which followed and continue unto this day.

In honor of the Rising Tide NOLA conference and the book launch for A Howling in the Wires, I’ll post a couple of tastes from my KD5QEL blog, born of the horrors of watching my home and my people being drowned, starved, shot, beaten, raped, stranded, herded, lied to, screwed over, and generally left hanging. Here’s a taste of how well things were going about six months later:

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Thursday, March 23, 2006
A taste of Disney Orleans: Martha Stewart pal is first developer in

Excerpt from USA Today’s interview with Bruce Karatz on KB Home, which has nothing at all to do with K&B Drugstores, but who is the first greedy McDeveloper into post-K New Orleans:

Q: You recently announced a joint venture to build homes in New Orleans (with a local land developer, the Shaw Group). Where does that project stand?

A: We’ve acquired 74 finished lots in downtown New Orleans, where we expect to start building homes imminently.

We also bought a large parcel (3,000 acres) in Jefferson Parish, 15 minutes from downtown, contiguous to a (Tournament Players Championship) golf course, where we will do a large master-planned community with homes of different sizes and prices that have the feel of New Orleans. The architecture is not going to look like something you would see in Phoenix or L.A. … As of yet, we are the only large company who has announced any new development of any considerable size in New Orleans. We’re now seven, eight months into post-Katrina, and we’re the only ones that have stepped up. I honestly think that’s part of the problem with New Orleans: It’s a weak business community. And I personally felt it was important for a company like ours to do something, because if we waited for others, we could be waiting a long time. And if we’re successful, it will motivate others.

Q: Will you offer any special prices for families displaced by the hurricane?

A: We’re not going to subsidize buyers. There are a number of assistance programs that are being talked about. It’s beyond our ability to handicap the chances of whether these programs will ever see the light of day. We’re just going to go in and build quality, attractive homes at a level of quality that has not been done in New Orleans, and we hope enough people who like it and can afford it will buy our homes.

Q: Some parish council members raised questions about problems KB had with quality. Your company was fined in August by the Federal Trade Commission for violating a 1979 consent decree (over quality and timing of warranty repairs). And the Texas attorney general received more complaints about KB than any other home builder from 2002 to 2004. (The problems have been resolved, says Tom Kelley, spokesman for the attorney general.) What have you done to assuage any of the council members’ concerns?

A: To my knowledge, no one has ever raised them. Our FTC consent order dates back 30 years. Last week, Fortune magazine, in its survey of most-respected companies, ranked KB No. 1 among home builders. We hope local interests feel happy to have a company of our stature operating in their city.

BOYS AND GIRLS: The Shaw Group is a Pentagon contractor of the filthiest order. This is rich-white-folk welfare, y’all! Find out more on Shaw and other vultures on Talking Points Memo. As for Karatz, he seems to prefer investing in Democratic politicians. If you buy ’em going in, they can’t speak against you too much on the Senate floor.

And when do you ever recall seeing “74 finished lots” in downtown New Orleans? Is he redoing the slum clearance of the Depression-era housing projects on the other side of North Rampart that replaced Storyville 100 years ago? Or has he discovered Treme? Who did the lot “finishing”–Shaw Group? Who holds or held title to these newly-discovered fresh lots? Are they erasing a historic and CULTURALLY SIGNIFICANT African-American community in order to hire undocumented Mexican workers for less than the going rate of pay (or maybe subcontract it out to rednecks who won’t even pay them) to build new Styrofoam and faux-facade McMansions for rich white Bushies from out of town? Uh, DUH. What do YOU think?

If New Orleanians don’t STAND UP once and for all against this travesty, this RAPE of our city’s heritage, then we deserve every damn thing we get. And more. Y’all wanna shuck and jive and do the bamboula for Martha Stewart clones? You wanna replace Tambourine and Fan with Tangerine and Tan? Expropriate the land out from underneath the renters whose families have lived on it for 100 years or more, and tell them “we hope enough people who like it and can afford it will buy our homes?” I want NO PART of it. That is NOT what “Rebuild New Orleans” means.

THIS is an environmental justice issue if ever there was one. You don’t flush black humans down the storm drain and then rush in to build overpriced, chintzy housing stock for wealthy white rich humans. Get the out-of-town developers OUT. NOW. BAN them from the city. That is the first order of business for our next mayor, whoever that may be. Pass a law declaring that only local architects, contractors, builders, workers, and craftspeople may control the process, and shore that up with a heavy requirement a la the VCC that all structures be built using historically accurate materials and historically appropriate architecture as a MINIMUM starting point. Add into that requirements for alternative energy efficiency. USE the urban planning school at UNO and HNOC and CPC and VCC and PRC and AAE to do this RIGHT. HAVE SOME SPINE, FOR ONCE! Make it safe, affordable, and livable. Don’t give it away to the highest bidder because it’s quick, easy, and profitable.

Yes, New Orleans IS a “weak business community.” That’s exactly why we need to build business WITH AND FOR LOCAL PEOPLE. Stop exporting all those call-center jobs to Bangalore, for example, and open some call centers in New Orleans. Build some logistics warehouses. Build some environmentally sound manufacturing companies. Pay people to learn the labor-intensive historic building and restoration skills our city needs and then hire them to fix our houses the RIGHT way. Get a hybrid auto manufacturer to open a plant in New Orleans. Have a major communications company open a studio there. Hire some locals to offer, say, port security upgrades?

Use some common sense, for crying out loud. Otherwise, we’ll be up to our armpits in spit-shined New Yorkers cooing about how “authentic” the local feather-mask shops are and Mike Stark‘s ass will come back to haunt all of you.

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Sadly, things ain’t much better at the end of August in 2010.

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