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December 09, 2005

A Very Good Long Article About New Orleans by Peter Gosselin

Peter Gosselin writes:

On Their Own in Battered New Orleans - Los Angeles Times: What Bush said would be one of the largest public reconstruction efforts ever is becoming a private affair, leaving the tough choices to residents as their risks increase. Laurie Vignaud faces a double dilemma: If she rebuilds her wrecked ranch house at 1249 Granada Drive in the great suburban expanse south of Lake Pontchartrain, will her neighbors do the same? And even if they do, will that guarantee their Gentilly neighborhood does not end up an isolated pocket in a diminished, post-Katrina New Orleans?

Nothing in Vignaud's 46 years, not even her job as affordable housing vice president with Hibernia Bank, the region's biggest financial institution, prepared her for this problem. From her relocated offices in Houston, she recently confessed, "It's scary. I don't know when I'll ever go home." Double dilemmas abound in this deeply damaged city, and represent considerably more than the start of the slog back from disaster. Lost amid continued talk of billions in federal aid is the fact that most homeowners and businesses are being left to make the toughest calls on their own. Lost is that New Orleans' recovery -- which President Bush once suggested would be one of the largest public reconstruction efforts the world had ever seen -- is quickly becoming a private market affair.

"My constituents have pretty much concluded that it's up to us to put our neighborhood back together and get on with our lives," said Republican city council member Jay Batt, who represents the Lakeview neighborhood just west of Vignaud's. To market advocates, this is the way it should be. Rugged individuals settled the American West in the 19th century and can resettle the Crescent City in the 21st. But the risks that individual New Orleanians must shoulder in such an on-your-own recovery appear staggeringly large.

"There is no market solution to New Orleans," said Thomas C. Schelling of the University of Maryland, who won this year's Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of the complicated bargaining behavior that underpins everything from simple sales to nuclear confrontations. "It essentially is a problem of coordinating expectations," Schelling said of the task that Vignaud and her neighbors must grapple with. "If we all expect each other to come back, we will. If we don't, we won't. But achieving this coordination in the circumstances of New Orleans,'' he said, "seems impossible."

Posted by DeLong at December 9, 2005 10:33 AM