Editorial: Bus tours through Lower Ninth Ward should continue
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
Updated: Sunday, October 21, 2012 21:10
The New York Times recently reported that the city of New Orleans has banned bus tours of the hurricane-damaged Lower Ninth Ward, imposing in one case a fine of $150 on a tour company found to be operating in that neighborhood. The city’s motive for enforcing such a policy is obvious: to promote the city’s cultural and historical attractions and discourage a form of “disaster tourism” that profits from the sight of abandoned homes, breached levees and destroyed communities. For the few remaining residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, moreover, the city’s ban on disaster tours reinforces their right to privacy within their own neighborhood. New Orleans is cracking down on the tour companies that have shown little interest in contributing to the redevelopment of the city after the destruction and chaos wrought by the landfall of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding seven years ago.
While we can sympathize with the desire for privacy and dignity of the remaining Lower Ninth Ward residents, the tours should go on. The city of New Orleans has no incentive to allow them to continue, though, and so they won’t. But to hide the appalling destruction that still remains from Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath would be to do a disservice to the public consciousness of this country. There should be much more outrage that a neighborhood in a major American city lies in ruins even seven years after the hurricane. Our failure to resurrect the neighborhood and the city as a whole, which remains depopulated, will surely be reflected upon by future generations as representing one of the darkest hours in American history. Another New York Times reporter, writing earlier this year, described the Lower Ninth Ward as “a dumping ground for many kinds of unwanted things…no longer resembling an urban or even suburban environment”.
And we also cannot ignore the racial dimension of this tragedy. When Kanye West famously declared during a hurricane relief telethon in 2005 that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” he was correct in all but his choice of scapegoat. It is no secret that the sections of New Orleans that were speedily rebuilt after the flood were the white, commercial and touristy sections of the city. The Lower Ninth Ward, a mostly black, working-class neighborhood, has been left to languish in ruin and neglect. The post-Katrina New Orleans is an even more racially unequal and stratified place than it had been before.
These uncomfortable facts must not be forgotten. That is why the tours should show to America, and to the world, the shameful state of a once-vibrant city, and hopefully inspire some shame.