Our dear friend, Ann Arnold called last week. She learned of the death of my father and needed to touch base to make sure we were alright and to express condolences.
Ann and Wayne Arnold have lived in New Orleans, Louisiana for over 40 years.
Their daughter, Missy Arnold Wilson, and our oldest daughter, Jennifer, have been good friends since they were little girls.
We met the Arnolds when we moved to New Orleans in 1975. During our five years in that wonderful old city, Ann and Wayne showed us the ropes in more ways than one!
Wayne and Ann are heading into their third Christmas since Hurricane Katrina ravaged their city. Nothing much has changed or been done to address the disaster left in Katrina's wake.
I've been watching Brad Pitt on television over the past couple of weeks. Last Friday evening, Larry King interviewed him. He's been on all the major networks promoting his "Pink Project" as a part of his "Make It Right" campaign (http://www.makeitrightnola.org/).
Last week we watched news reports from New Orleans that pictured irate residents of public housing protesting the demolition of several thousand units of housing that had been their homes. I know we can argue about plans and strategu. I might even agree with the developers who apparently intend to use low income housing tax credits to rebuild a portion of the city with a focus on mixed income neighborhoods. But, the point here is the understandable frustration of the people of New Orleans.
Nothing has happened to give residents even a glimmer of hope.
So, the city is now depending on private efforts. Brad Pitt is the best thing going in New Orleans these days.
Isn't there something wrong with this picture?
Don't get me wrong.
God love Brad Pitt.
But individual, grassroots only efforts will never be enough.
Forget the past lack of responsiveness. Don't even go down the path of who's to blame for the incredible lack of progress--believe me, it's hard to heed my own directive here!
Here's the point: What can be done going forward? How can the American people help Brad Pitt and our fellow Americans living in New Orleans?
New Orleans provides a case study in a major national disaster in an urban area and how it should be attacked.
1) The President of the United States should appoint a "Director of Recovery for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast." This new appointee must be a very strong and proven leader and should sit with the President's Cabinet and be authorized to marshal the resources of every government agency around the table.This Director's job would be to develop a plan for rebuilding the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. He or she would certainly devise a strategy for working closely with the residents in the process, but the ultimate responsibility would be the Director's for bringing about the reconstruction of the city using every resource available. Every Cabinet agency and department would likely find a place in the massive effort.
2) Working with the Congress, the President should lay out an aggressive appropriations plan for funding the rebuilding process. The Director would coordinate and inform the funding strategy that would also draw in local, state and private investments in the entire plan. A nation that can spend hundreds of billions of dollars on war should be able to spend whatever is necessary to restore a major American city.
3) The President should make the renewal of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast a priority and he should challenge both major political parties to make the city's rebirth a key part of their respective party platforms in this election cycle. The challenge of New Orleans offers our leaders a wonderful opportunity to rediscover the strength of bi-partisan approaches to difficult national problems.
4) Any plan should contain clear benchmarks and measurable outcomes for judging progress and measuring success.
5) The plan would involve private, national, regional and local sources of funding, volunteerism and community development but only as complimentary to the larger, public effort.
Three Christmases in "the city that care forgot." Tragic how that well known phrase of celebration has turned in a horrible way to be a summation of the national response to its time of greatest need.
W must act to restore the care to this amazing national treasure. If we fail the "care test" here, we may fail in other cities in days to come.