Skip to comments.A Two-City Tale (New Orleans and Houston offer a study in contrasts)
Posted on 09/06/2005 4:26:40 PM PDT by RWR8189
Late last week, as New Orleans was sliding into savage conditions, some talking heads were glowing with pleasure at the idea of a moral meltdown of such immense proportions that it would not only bury George Bush in its rubble, but erode forever the country's self confidence. Or, as Robert Scheer would happily write, "Instead of the much-celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people abroad, we have seen a callous official incompetence that puts even Third World rulers to shame."
Not quite. The reason New Orleans slid so quickly from civilization into Third World conditions was that it was pretty much a Third World city already, and didn't have too far to go. In its violence, in its corruption, in its reliance on ambience and tourism as its critical industry, in its one-party rule, in its model of graftocracy built on a depressed and crime-ridden underclass that was largely kept out of the sight and the mind of vacationing revelers, it was much more like a Caribbean resort than a normal American city. Its crime and murder rates were way above national averages, its corruption level astounding. The latter was written off as being picturesque and perversely adorable, until it suddenly wasn't, as it paid off in hundreds of buses--that could have borne thousands of stranded people to safety--sitting submerged in water, and police either looting or AWOL.
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville defined a long set of traits that made Americans "different," and that remain today just as valid: Americans are restless, inventive, pragmatic, entrepreneurial, socially mobile, and so future-oriented they are ready and eager sometimes to let go of the past. None of these things defined what once was New Orleans; in fact, that poor destroyed city played them in reverse: It was socially static, fairly caste-ridden, non-entrepreneurial (read hostile to business), and wholly immersed in its past, to the point where its main industry is marketing ambience and nostalgia. "New Orleans's dominant industry lies not in creating its future but selling its past," wrote Joel Kotkin in the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com. "Tourism defines contemporary New Orleans's economy more than its still-large port, or its remaining industry, or its energy production. Although there is nothing wrong, per se, in being a tourist town, it is not an industry that attracts high-wage jobs; and tends to create a highly bifurcated social structure. This can be seen in New Orleans's perennially high rates of underemployment, crime and poverty." New Orleans, in short, was the place you went to take a vacation, not to prosper in life and start a family, much less start a business. This lack of opportunity, or the upward ladder of social mobility, is perhaps one reason so many evacuees felt they were breathing fresh air when they landed in Houston, and are deciding to make it their home.
Let us look now at Houston, for it is the second city in this cosmic drama, and one in which Tocqueville would feel right at home. Like so many cities in the Sunbelt, it is expanding, entrepreneurial, based on the future, and the place where the "much celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people" comes roaring to life. "In l920, New Orleans's population was nearly three times that of Houston," says Kotkin. "During the '90s, the Miami and Houston areas grew almost six times as fast as greater New Orleans, and flourished as major destinations for immigrants . . . These newcomers have helped transform Miami and Houston into primary centers for trade, investment and services, from finance and accounting to medical care for the entire Caribbean basin. They have started businesses, staffed factories, and become players in civic life."
It is now no surprise that Houston is the place where in days they built a new city in and around the Astrodome, that has taken in 25,000 refugees from New Orleans, and is planning to feed, house, employ, and relocate most of them. Houston is the place where the heads of all the religious groups in the city--Baptists and Catholics, Muslims and Jews--came together to raise $4.4 million to feed the evacuees for 30 days, and to supply 720 volunteers a day to prepare and serve meals. If New Orleans was where the Third World broke through, Houston was where the First World began beating it back, and asserting its primacy. Are we surprised that the star of this show has been Texas, home of Karl Rove and both Bushes, widely despised by the glitterati as sub-literate, biased, oppressive, and retrograde? No.
Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.
Don't kid yourself. Houston has it's graft and poverty just like any other large city. It's also home to Sheila Don't-you-know-who-I-am Jackson-Lee.
Houston has become the oil capital of the world, and one has to wonder if the oil companies still remaining in New Orleans will take this opportunity to permanently relocate.
Yeah, I just like hearing that.
Not sure I really know what he's saying. He should check the welfare rate of Houston before he proclaims victory. That town is one twister away from chaos.
Houston flooded in part because of poor planning a few years ago (2001) and had an incompetent mayor.
We have close to one party rule here as well as corruption that focuses civic dollars in the hands of a few connected developers.
They partnered with Ken Lay to get a 51% victory on the stadium referendum.
The same puppet master, Mayor Bob, who got run out by term limits has chosen his next two successors, both Clinton cronies.
Houston's only daily paper serves these interests and waited until after Mayor Lee P. Brown entered his final term to dump criticism on him and basically ask "how did this fool get elected three times?"
Tom DeLay is the AntiChrist to the Comical and they spare no opportunity to vilify him. In part this stems from his opposition to federal funding of their death train trolly.
New Orleans was a rotten place but Houston isn't heaven.
I seriously doubt that.
"The reason New Orleans slid so quickly from civilization into Third World conditions was that it was pretty much a Third World city already..."
I don't know if New Orleans will survive as a city, let alone as an important port ... I suppose it could if it is artificially propped up by the federal government ... but I doubt very much that its stature as a desirable tourist destination will survive. Its ugly underbelly has been exposed. The New Orleans of Louis Armstrong, jazz, and goodhearted fun has decayed into the New Orleans of decadence, corruption, and crime. Thanks, but no thanks.
Yeah, a woman of her age who thought we planted an American Flag on Mars. Must have done a few too many drugs and men back in '69
I'll trade you one Sheila Lee and up you Memphis' Ford family?
Didn't New Orleans have legal whorehouses a century ago?
Didn't much of the music that the city is known for get played by the same names that later made that music famous?
From Huey Long to Edwin Edwards, corruption has been a way of life in Louisiana.
Go back centuries and pirate/smuggler Jean Lafitte is rumored to have put a bounty on territorial governor William Claiborne's head (the posters did exist).
Republican government? State, city, or national represenation?
It is doubtful this city will ever see a Republican mayor anytime soon. Not sure what the balance of power is on City Council although I do know some names/etc.
I do agree that Houston would probably not go into total lawlessness but the flap over the K-Mart parking lot raid (where minors were violating curfew and older young adults were meeting up to go racing up Westheimer) show that police in this town will cut and run rather than face more national attention.
Also I know 5 people who have been carjacked in the past year. The two women I know who had this happen in the past month have been unsuccessful to get the police interested in following up on their cases even though the cars were recovered and evidence (phone calls, ID badges, fingerprints) was left in the cars.
Houston is the biggest small town there is. The citizen don't riot when we win or lose a major sports championship. Then again, the more new citizens we get from other cities (be it their job or bad weather that brings them to town), the less they are familiar with the way things are around here. It only takes a small number of people going wild to have a "riot".
*note to self -- print this out tomorrow...*
They've already got the LA deep sea oil port back up to 70%. The other LA ports aren't far behind.
The problem is that the ports only require a relatively small part of the population to run.
If it wasn't for Texas...
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