Tuesday, 02 September 2008

'The weather is nice here': New Orleans and social capital As New Orleans shows the world how to organise for, and minimise, potential disaster, it's worth remembering that some of its citizens are still in post-Katrina recovery. The systematic creation of a ghost city got me thinking about levels of trust and social capital. They'll be busy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where scholars have been crunching material from hundreds of interviews following Hurricane Katrina. That output is summarised neatly in an article here by Kimberly Hendrickson: At the core of the project is a deep interest and faith in civil society and a rejection of the pessimistic view of social capital popularized by Robert Putnam. You can sense this optimism in a piece about Vietnamese-Americans’ attitudes about culture, linking New Orleans East’s rapid recovery to residents’ take on adversity and self-reliance. It’s in a piece about public opinion in the Lower Ninth, suggesting that the predominantly poor, black residents of that ward have a strong sense of community that survived both the storm and government malfeasance. It’s in a report commending Latino arrivals in New Orleans for their entrepreneurial spirit. This work is important, because it takes urban politics to a place many students of cities do not want to go: a serious examination of group and neighborhood values and of the diverse cultures within larger cultures that give places vitality and character. This paper by Emily Chamlee-Wright and Virgil Henry Storr, about the powerful expressed sense of place among returning residents in the heavily-damaged Lower Ninth Ward, refers to the importance of the 'signalling' effects of key services and businesses returning: When a grocery store returns, for example, people come to expect that the community will rebound. In turn, this positive expectation reduces the perceived risks of returning. Sense of community in times of adversity is not going to surprise anyone, but it will be interesting to see what social capital effects there are in the present context and the next few weeks. Meanwhile, I quite liked this interview quote: New Orleans people come outside because the weather is nice here. And they come outside. They do their flowers. They wash their car, and they just sit out on their porch. You notice how a lot a people sitting out now? ...And even in the evening, they do their work in the morning and they come out and they sit out and they listen to their music and their radios and stuff like that. And it be pretty outside and they fellowship with one another. They just don’t stay confined in their house. The pic above is by Eric Gay: source.

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