Shades of gray : race, class and coalition building in the fight to save New Orleans' public housing
Author(s)Wilch, Rachel Meredith
Race, class and coalition building in the fight to save New Orleans' public housing
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning.
Xavier de Souza Briggs.
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To what extent does the opposition to planned demolition of New Orleans' public housing engage leadership and participation across race and class lines? In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) announced plans to demolish 5,000 of the city's 7,000 public housing units. On the surface a diverse array of activists oppose the plan; however, it is unclear how these anti-demolition forces organize themselves, what their objectives are beyond the near term, and whether they empower politically marginalized public housing residents. This thesis addresses those issues, and more broadly examines the challenges of participatory planning and decision making in a post-disaster context. I use a case study approach centered on interviews with key informants and a survey of key media coverage. I draw on a scholarly literature to ground my assessment in models of "empowered participation." First, to frame my investigation in New Orleans' distant and recent past, I explore the city's development history, the growth of public housing, and the post-Katrina struggle to save threatened units. This discussion explains some of the pre- and post-storm relationships between public housing and social stratification. Second, using informant interviews and media accounts, I analyze the current anti-demolition effort. Rather than a unitary movement, I find three coalitions intersecting in their mutual opposition to the demolition plans but not collaborating with each other; I identify a set of push/pull factors that hold the coalitions together internally but divide them externally from one another; and I find that despite appearances, leadership and decision making power are allocated along race and class lines that exclude residents from the debate.(cont.) Third, I identify four reasons for residents' absence from the activism and its leadership: residents remain largely absent physically from the city, they have more immediate concerns than public housing advocacy, and they hold a variety of perspectives on the demolition issue, and the opposition effort is not structured to facilitate their participation. For now at least, the opposition to public housing demolition does not engage leadership and participation across race and class lines to include residents. But how much participation should we expect? I conclude by comparing the enormous and unusual constraints of the post-disaster setting to examples from the literature on participatory planning and decision-making and the literature on public housing activism and resident-led struggles. Ultimately I find that anti-demolition advocates currently fail to engage diverse perspectives and leadership, but also that any meaningful measure must evaluate not only actions but context and time as well.
Thesis (M.C.P.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, 2007.Includes bibliographical references (leaves 84-87).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Urban Studies and Planning.