In New Orleans, a snapshot of life after project tear-downs
After Hurricane Katrina, many of New Orleans' public housing projects -- sources not only of deep neighborhood culture and connectedness but also notorious crime and blight -- were demolished over furious opposition from advocates for the poor.
When the City Council approved the federal government's plan to tear down 4,500 public housing units in 2007, activists tried to force their way into the council chambers in one of the most dramatic public clashes over post-Katrina rebuilding policy. Police used stun guns and pepper spray on the protesters while, nationally, politicians such as then-Sen. Barack Obama and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for delaying the tear-downs.
In the end, however, the City Council sided with those who believed the massive, maze-like projects were a failure in social and urban planning.
Today, there's a better sense of the effect the tear-downs have had on former residents, and how they and others have fared now that the "Big Four" housing projects have been replaced with new, modern, mixed-income apartment complexes.
On Sunday, the Times-Picayune reported that half of the families from the four projects' 3,000 or so households have returned to New Orleans. The percentage of households back at the site of their original home projects ranges from 7% to 32%. (One of the replacement developments is not yet completed, and residents are waiting in temporary housing for the units to come online.)
The changes could not be more dramatic than at the site of the former C.J. Peete projects, known locally as the Magnolia projects. New Orleans rapper Juvenile, with a mix of bad-boy pride and straight reportage, once described them as a warren of drug dealing and murderous violence, a place where "on New Year's that lights get shout out at six o'clock/Four or five o'clock in that morning' you gon' be gettin' shot."
Today, the Magnolia has been reconstituted as Harmony Oaks, with a website that shows off clean new buildings and little green grass plots and offers a "state-of-the-art exercise facility" and "urban living with a sense of community" where you can "walk to restaurants, shopping and entertainment."
Times-Picayune reporter Katy Reckdahl on Sunday profiled a number of original residents from the Magnolia who made it back and talked to them about their mixed feelings about the new normal. Although many appreciate the improvements and new amenities, they also miss their old neighbors. As one of them put it, "They took the project from us."
-- Richard Fausset
Photo: The B.W. Cooper housing projects, captured by Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole in 2006. The project, like three other public-housing developments in New Orleans, was torn down to make way for a new mixed-income development. In the case of Cooper, the units have not yet been completed; residents are living in temporary housing as they await their new homes.