Wednesday, March 2, 2011

'New' New Orleanian moves on, reluctantly.

Goodbye New Orleans. I never expected to write those words, a mere five years after having moved here. But this week, they are the final words in an incredible chapter of my life.
It was February of 2006, just six months after Katrina, when I sat in an office at NBC News in Manhattan and composed an e-mail to my bosses, asking them to transfer me to New Orleans.
"What about your family?" they asked. "What about your career?" my family asked. Both will be fine, I promised. What I didn't know at the time was that New Orleans, even in its darkest moments, would nourish both my family and my career.
So I officially moved to New Orleans in April 2006 to help run the NBC News bureau, bringing along my family. Each day, I left them to go out into a post-K world and navigate mountains of storm debris, missing traffic signs, closed bridges and rutted streets. But I managed to find my way from Plaquemines to the north shore and from Baton Rouge to Slidell and meet the people who lost so much.
Their stories were told on various NBC programs and chronicled on the NBC Nightly News blog: homeowners who lost their homes but found the will to rebuild entire neighborhoods; businesses that lost their market but found more efficient ways to run, and government institutions that lost credibility but discovered a more effective way to serve the city.
In short, my job here was easy. I hadn't lost a home, a loved one or a way of life. I only had to chronicle the stories of New Orleanians who lost everything but held on dearly to their way of life.
And then something happened. This outsider who came here to cover the story of a city struggling to rebuild became an insider.
I smiled and nodded to strangers, hung out in funky restaurants, yelled my lungs out during Saints games, strapped my kids on a rickety ladder during Mardi Gras and fiercely defended the city to anyone who dared criticize it.
In 2007, I made it official: my Facebook status changed to New Orleanian by choice, and my family bought a home here.
In my new capacity as a public relations professional, I became the ultimate insider, working with politicians, business people, educators, non-profits, community leaders and ironically, even journalists.
Now my job wasn't just objectively covering the rebuilding of the city. Instead every day I went to work and navigated the invisible obstacles to the recovery. I fought alongside those citizens, businesses and institutions to help them.
We fought for big issues like public education, redevelopment, health care, criminal justice, strong flood protection and vibrant tourism as well as the biosciences, community playgrounds and the visual arts.
I would come home each night and feel that I was a true New Orleanian because each day I had fought for the future of my city.
Now I have to say goodbye. It wasn't intended, just a personal and professional opportunity that simply couldn't be replicated, even in a new New Orleans.
Pretty soon, I'll be on the outside of this bubble again. Perhaps that's what gives me the opportunity to offer an objective view of the city I will leave behind, a view of what the next five years will hold.
This summer, I predict that New Orleans will get a substantially improved level of flood protection. The work won't be complete, but it will stand as a testament to those citizens who fought Washington for 100-year protection.
In 2012 I predict the Saints will be back in the Super Bowl led by Sean Payton, who will retain his home in Dallas. It will remind everyone who fought for the chance to return home after the storm that New Orleans can still be your home, even if you don't have a house here.
Also in 2012, New Orleans will finally make a sizeable dent in blight, led by the redevelopment efforts of a robust NORA and the enforcement teeth of City Hall. This will vindicate property owners who kept their grass cut after the storm as well as kept an eye on the blight next door.
In 2013, the new Veterans Administration Hospital will open its doors ushering in modern health care to our city. The new LSU hospital will be under construction, and a new re-use for Charity Hospital will be announced, proving that historical preservation can have a place beside modern health care.
In 2014 crime will be reduced thanks to modern policing, efficient courts and adequate jail facilities. This will be a victory for elected officials and for ordinary citizens who balance the need for protection with the need for reform.
And in 2015, on the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, New Orleans will be named America's Comeback City and credited for its burgeoning center of bioscience, entrepreneurship, cultural attractions and innovative public education.
This will be sweet victory for a city that nearly lost it all but somehow, miraculously found its way.
Steve Majors is a former NBC News producer who most recently served as vice president of The Ehrhardt Group in New Orleans.

© 2011 All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment