Nearly five months after the ravage of Hurricane Katrina, a new plan has been proposed to rebuild New Orleans that could shake the foundation of the basic rights to property and freedom of choice we as Americans hold dear. And it's happening as we speak.
The "Bring New Orleans Back Commission" recently unveiled a plan that was not only an affront to Katrina victims, but smacked of the exclusion, division and social engineering of an earlier, uglier time in this nation's history.
The proposal identified "certain neighborhoods" for redevelopment and recommended the demolition of many of the city's most racially diverse neighborhoods. Residents from areas like the Ninth Ward, New Orleans East and Lakeview would not be permitted to move back for at least months and would have to prove why their neighborhoods should not be bulldozed.
These same neighborhoods represent almost two-thirds of the city and more than half its homeowners. To add insult to injury, the plan proposed a building moratorium that would prohibit returnees from obtaining city permits for their contractors even if they chose to rebuild and not sell their property to the city.
The commission's plan amounts to a massive, red-lining scheme wrapped around a giant land grab for potential real estate developers. Moreover, it has once again called into question the ability of local leadership to demonstrate any ability to unify the community or marshal the necessary support and resources of the federal government to rebuild the city in earnest.
This lethargy has caused some to ask the question: Should America even invest in rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast? The answer must be yes.
First, we must recognize that Hurricane Katrina was an equal opportunity destroyer. It devastated the lives and homes of the rich and poor, Black and White, the haves and the have-nots. Our nation's core values demand that Katrina's victims have the right to return, rebuild and recover. And our nation's history has reaffirmed that right, in every century, again and again.
In the 19th century, the great city of Chicago was devastated by fire. Three hundred people lost their lives, and 90,000 people were left homeless. Yet, Chicago stands today as one of the nation's great centers of commerce, culture and diversity.
In the 20th century, the great city of San Francisco was ravaged by a massive earthquake. It killed more than 700 citizens and caused more than $400 million in damage. However, today San Francisco is one of the nation's and world's great cultural and financial centers.
In 2001, the Big Apple, New York City, was struck by a terrorist attack that left nearly 3,000 people of all races, creeds and colors dead and destroyed two great towers that were symbols of American strength and commerce. Yet, New York City is now experiencing a strong economic rebound.
All of these cities have risen from the ashes. They've come from great disasters. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz with its own unique and extraordinary culture. But, we must remember that New Orleans is also an economic engine for this country, with port and rail systems that link our nation to the world. The corn that's grown in Iowa, the cattle, the finished goods, the coal that's mined finds its way to markets abroad through the Port of New Orleans. In addition, 25 percent of America's oil and gas reserves come directly from the Gulf of Mexico.
But will New Orleans stand alongside San Francisco, Chicago and New York as a city that experiences a great rebound? America must commit to invest its muscle, its might and its will in the rebuilding of this community.
The images and the reality of Katrina struck this nation. It changed our lives, and it changed the course of events in our lifetime. New Orleans and the region must be rebuilt, but any plan must include everyone.
Marc Morial is president of the National Urban League.