By: Marc H. Morial
President and Chief Executive
National Urban League
Nearly five months after the ravage of Hurricane Katrina, a new plan has been proposed to
rebuild New Orleans that could shake the foundation of the basic rights to property and freedom
of choice we as American's hold dear. And it's happening as we speak.
The "Bring New Orleans Back Commission" recently unveiled a plan that was not only an affront
to Katrina victims, but smacked of the exclusion, division and social engineering practices
reminiscent of an earlier, uglier time in this nation's history.
The proposal identified "certain neighborhoods" for redevelopment and recommended the
demolition of many of the city's most racially diverse neighborhoods. Residents from areas like the
9th Ward, New Orleans East, and Lakeview would not be permitted to move back for at least four
months and would have to prove why their neighborhoods should not be bulldozed. These same
neighborhoods represent almost two-thirds of the city and more than half its homeowners. To add
insult to injury, the plan proposed a building moratorium that would prohibit returnees from
obtaining city permits for their contractors even if they chose to rebuild and not sell their property
to the city.
The Commission's plan amounts to a massive, red-lining scheme wrapped around a giant
land grab for potential real estate developers. Moreover, it has once again called into
question the ability of local leadership to demonstrate any ability to unify the community or
marshal the necessary support and resources of the federal government to rebuild in city in
earnest. This lethargy has caused some to ask the question: If America should even invest
in rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast? The answer must be yes.
First, we must recognize that Hurricane Katrina was an equal opportunity destroyer. It
devastated the lives and homes of the rich and poor, black and white, the "haves" and the
"have nots". Our nation's core values demand that Katrina's victims have the right to return,
rebuild and recover. And our nation's history has reaffirmed that right, in every century, again and
In the 19th century, the great city of Chicago was devastated by fire. Three hundred people
lost their lives, and 90,000 people were left homeless. Yet, Chicago city stands today as
one of the nation's great centers of commerce, culture, multi-culturalism and diversity.
In the 20th century, the great city of San Francisco was ravaged by a great earthquake. It
killed more than 700 citizens and caused more than $400 million in damage. However, today
San Francisco is one of the nation and world's great cultural and financial centers.
In 2001, the Big Apple, New York City, was struck by a terrorist attack which left nearly
3,000 people of all races, creeds and colors dead and destroyed two great towers which
were symbols of American strength and commerce. Yet, New York City is now experiencing
a strong economic rebound. All of these cities have risen from the ashes. They've come
from great disasters.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz with its own unique and extraordinary culture. But, we
must remember that New Orleans is also an economic engine for this nation with port and
rail systems that link our nation to the world. The corn that's grown in Iowa, the cattle, the
finished goods, the coal that's mined finds its way to markets abroad through the Port of
New Orleans. In addition, twenty-five percent of America's oil and gas reserves come
directly from the gulf.
But, will New Orleans stand alongside of San Francisco, Chicago and New York as a city
that experiences a great rebound? America must commit to invest its muscle, its might and
its will in the rebuilding of this community.
In a recent trip to New Orleans, I reaffirmed the National Urban League's position in our
"Katrina Bill of Rights". People must have the right to return. No rebuilding plan should write
off, select out or redline any neighborhood. People must have the right to recover — a "9/11"
like victim's compensation fund and fair repayment at up to120% of their home equity for
The federal government should support the building of a category 5 levee and flood
protection system with coastal erosion protections. We could pay for this system with some
of the $6 billion dollars earned annually from oil and gas leases located along Louisiana's
coast line. Katrina survivors must retain their right to vote and have the first opportunities to
work in the region. And finally, a memorial to the 1,000 victims who died must created to
The images and that reality of Katrina struck this nation. It changed our lives, and it
changed the course of events in our lifetime. New Orleans and the region must be rebuilt,
but any plan must include everyone.
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