HBO is a luxury for me. Actually cable is a luxury, but I was able to catch episodes of HBO’s Treme on Amazon Prime this week. Treme is a drama focusing on a neighborhood in New Orleans after Katrina. It is a really well written show. Watching it made me see some commonalities between New Orleans and Detroit. New Orleanians, just like Detroiters, rep their city first. They live and breathe it, even when it hurts like hell.
Something became clear in my readings about Katrina and in watching this show. The struggles of New Orleans were happening way before Katrina hit. Katrina made the struggles more noticeable. The same is true with Detroit. Detroit did not have a natural disaster, but the man-made choices created very similar results; unlivable neighborhoods, lack of opportunities for low-income persons, transportation challenges and gentrification. People leaving a home they do not want to leave in order to make a living. People working hard to make the city wonderful and people getting lost in the change and in the chaos. That is New Orleans. That is Detroit.
There is one episode where a character is singing and talking about the many people who left New Orleans “cannot get back” because their homes were taken over by the Federal government or were destroyed and could not afford to rebuild. One line that got my attention was “What make New Orleans is the poor people. New Orleans without poor people is not New Orleans.”
Gentrification is a normal part of cities which is unfortunate. In gentrification many poor are squeezed out of the city because something made their city more attractive to people with resources. What else is squeezed out is the flavor of the city. We tend to blame the poor for all that is bad that happens in cities like the violence, the dirtiness, unkempt homes, but the truth is that innovation, inspiration and creativity in cities tend to start with the poor. Detroit without poor people is not Detroit. Let’s make sure we keep our flavor. So, it is important that a city takes its poor under inconsideration when it is rebuilding and transforming. Poor does not mean trouble. Poor means limited financial and educational opportunity, which can change with opportunities.
New Orleans and Detroit are inclusive cities. I hope Detroit stays true to its inclusive city in its planning and development.
New Detroiters and Native Detroiters, listen and take lessons from New Orleans.