Writer Katy Reckdahl covers New Orleans with her usual tact and fair approach in this article from the Advocate. I wish there was more of the story covered here, but at least the idea of examining New Orleans’ “exceptionalism” has been raised along with comparing that assertion to its massive challenges. Certainly, the larger idea of American exceptionalism and its etymology should be examined as well. In other words, only reminding ones citizens about “positive” indicators-what for us is tied up entirely in our culture-seems to blind or restrict a more in-depth conversation about the systemic inequalities that also characterize life in New Orleans. Or as one astute online commenter said : let’s not keep falling for bread and circuses.
Allison Plyer, of the Data Center, who has crunched the city’s demographic numbers for nearly two decades, said the city is exceptional “only in terms of culture.” For the few indicators the Data Center keeps about culture, New Orleans is “well above the national average,” she said.
“We’re also well above the national average in incarceration,” Plyer said. “But we’re not different than other places in other measures of hardship, and those are glaring and need to be addressed.”
For all of New Orleans’ numerical similarities to places such as Cleveland, when Plyer looks up from her spreadsheets and PowerPoints, she sees a city that is special, she said. “And because it is special, I am interested in working to address issues of hardship and well-being here,” she said.
Tony Recasner, who heads Agenda for Children, said that because of the city’s small size and tight geography, the problems of the poor are often in plain view, just like the brass bands and parades. That proximity among people of all income levels contributes to high levels of volunteerism here, he thinks.