Monday, October 10, 2005

We simply can't afford to lose the Ninth Ward.

Newsday does a masterful job of showing why the Ninth Ward must be restored.

For all of its geographic and social difficulties, the Ninth Ward in many ways defies stereotypes. It was poor and crime-and-drug ridden, but it had a higher rate of owner-occupied housing than the rest of the city -- a product of intergenerational transfers dating back to the time of its settlement by recently freed slaves in the last half of the 19th century.

That, residents say, provided a sense of cohesion missing in other urban ghettos. "It's a close-knit neighborhood," said Tyrone Harrell, a steward at the Bethel AME Church on Caffin Avenue who drove in to take pictures of the damaged building last week. "Everyone ate at everyone else's house, you'd have gumbo and jambalaya and fried chicken."

Poor and rundown as it may have been in parts, others say, it played a critical role. It provided the housekeepers and busboys that a tourism-based economy needs. It produced artists and entertainers. And its rhythms had a profound cultural influence on the wider city that leave New Orleans as a kind of gentrified theme park if it disappears.

"What gave New Orleans its culture, its distinct character, are the people and the institutions in that community," said Dr. Silas Lee, a New Orleans pollster, political consultant and urban-studies expert. "That's what made it exotic."

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