New Oreleans rebuilding slow

Only 30 percent of child care and 50 percent of schools are in operation.

If President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address is any indication, the reconstruction of New Orleans has been dropped from his to-do list. Nary was a single word about the city he left to drown mentioned in the speech. Instead, he focused on a very different kind of failed reconstruction in another gulf region. We heard no update of the much-ballyhooed “higher and better” future he promised the city, and that’s truly a shame.

Right now, 30 percent of child care, 50 percent of schools, 40 percent of restaurants and only 17 percent of buses are in operation compared to before Hurricane Katrina, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, most of which in areas left relatively undamaged by the hurricane. Many families still live in transitional housing trailers. With a year and a half elapsed, this is hardly what anyone could have had in mind when Bush stood in Jackson Square promising a brighter future for the city. And while the broken levees have been patched and the city is now dry, the questions on how to prevent this kind of destruction in the future by preparing the city remain unanswered.

One of the solutions floated was to use the destruction wrought by the hurricane to clear out the low-lying, blighted areas where the poor lived. These have been shot down by residents, who remain skeptical about any action by the outside advisers, particularly when it appears to mean that a reconstructed New Orleans is a smaller, whiter New Orleans without a place for them, as they charge.

Early this month, the city’s Planning Commission released the Unified New Orleans Plan, which abandon’s the idea of shrinking New Orleans’ footprint in favor of a litany of hopeful outcomes and few tangible mandates. It is sadly reflective of the haphazard, ineffectual leadership that has characterized the city since Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Not just the Bush administration, but Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin must work together to come up with a comprehensive solution if we want to avoid losing this great American city to the sea and to indifference.