Notes from New Orleans: Controversial Demolitions Continue

Posted on: March 17th, 2008 by Walter Gallas

Demolition is underway at the St. Bernard housing project. Emily Wadhams, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Vice President of Public Policy, and I visited the four housing developments on Friday and Saturday to see the demolition progress.

At St. Bernard, we engaged a demolition worker in a discussion of why demolition was the best thing, as we watched a building come down in front of us. He had lived in the St. Thomas housing developments. He told us about the sense of entitlement that residents feel about returning to their particular apartment in the developments. He said the only thing that could break this would be the removal of the places themselves. The former residents, he said, could never abide seeing others move into these buildings, even though they represented so much hardship and poverty and crime. Again—the persistent argument that the buildings—and not the policies of the past—are the problem.

A pile of rubble at the C. J. Peete housing development.

An op-ed piece by National Trust president Richard Moe on the public housing developments ran in last Sunday’s (March 10) Times-Picayune. It called for a halt in the demolitions while a plan could be worked out that would incorporate more of the existing buildings. In Monday’s paper, Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBarry wrote “Sometimes those who’ve never lived in public housing seem most adamant that public housing be preserved. Some advocates seem much more interested in the buildings than the people who used to live in them… Many people who lived in public housing just don’t want to go back… Whatever the reason, their so-called advocates should try a new tactic: listen to them.”

Buildings are coming down at the B. W. Cooper housing development.

A letter to the editor from a former St. Bernard resident characterized the experience as “living in a concrete camp.” In Wednesday’s paper, a front page story by reporter Katy Reckdahl, analyzed the architectural, historic, and social merits of the Lafitte housing development. In Washington this week, Louisiana Senator David Vitter appeared to receive assurances from Mayor Nagin that the demolition permits for Lafitte would be authorized very soon. In today’s (March 16) paper, a letter to the editor points out that the removal of the roofing tiles, and copper vents and trim at Lafitte is demolition no matter what the mayor says.

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