The Nation: Katrina Three Months Later
Susan Straight, "Katrina Lives": "Years from now, when someone says to a man, "What happened to that '56 Chevy you used to have?" he'll say the one word. When someone says to a teenager, "You were born in New Orleans but you graduated from high school here in Minnesota?" the girl will think the one word.
When someone says, "Your grandfather died in 2005?" there will be the unspoken lament. When someone says to a whole generation of Louisianans, "What happened?" there will be the one-word answer.
In that way, her name will be added to the list that every black American knows, from both handed-down and newly created stories, told by grandparents or children. The names that call up shared knowledge and define moments in hurt and rage--Tuskegee, Tulsa, Rodney King and before him Eula Love, Scottsboro, Jonestown and MOVE and SLA.
Ari Kelman, "In the Shadow of Disaster": "The flood was voracious; it swallowed whole neighborhoods, ending hundreds of lives. But the battered levees have been repaired. They again stand between New Orleans and catastrophe, holding the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain in check. The antique drainage system, too, is back online. Any water that falls in the city, every drop of rain or tear shed, ultimately flows through canals until it's pumped over the levee into the lake. This is how New Orleans has been engineered: to control stray water, to clarify the border between the city and its surroundings.
It has been a losing battle. And yet, though it sounds particularly odd following Hurricane Katrina, the city's efforts have been spurred by the notion that nature favors it. From New Orleans' founding near the mouth of the Mississippi in 1718, the city has banked on geography to sweep it to greatness. Long before technologies circumvented the vagaries of geography, boosters claimed the city would reign over a commercial empire. But the local environs rarely cooperated with imperial visions. The lake and river loom above the city. Much of New Orleans lies below sea level, atop a high water table; there's no natural drainage. And pestilence thrives in the steamy delta. Scholars call this the disjuncture between "site"--the actual real estate a city occupies--and "situation"--an urban area's relative advantages as compared with other places. New Orleans, with access to the river and the gulf, enjoys a near-perfect situation. But it has an equally horrid site." (more)