Last week saw a massive amount of coverage marking the 10 year … ‘anniversary’ is the wrong word – memorial of Hurricane Katrina. The stories of triumph and tragedy reminded us how rebuilding the Gulf Coast, New Orleans in particular, became a national cause. And the view ten years on is mostly positive. Schools and homes have been rebuilt, systems and infrastructure has been updated and people, though not all, have returned to New Orleans. Over and over again you heard stories that emphasized people’s love for the city. I wrote in For the Love of Cities, how New Orleans at that writing (2011) was the most exciting city in America because of the influx of people, ideas, money and passion that was rebuilding a great American city. Today New Orleans remains a work in progress but clearly on a different and higher path than the one it was on before the storm. New Orleans has become the benchmark of how love of place can sustain a place even in the worst of times.
New Orleans is not singular in this love affair with place. Every place has people that love it and it is those people that can be the difference between failure and rebirth. New Orleans captured so much of our national attention in part because of its size but also because of the size of its reputation. So many of us had visited New Orleans and partaken of its food, music and culture. We had watched Super Bowls and Su
gar Bowls from the Super Dome. We all felt New Orleans, at least a little bit. Other cities did not have that benefit when they were challenged by disasters.
I think of two cities yet there are so many more. I have been fortunate to work in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Joplin, Missouri over the past few years. Each city was rocked by a disaster, flooding in Cedar Rapids in 2008 and an EF5 tornado in Joplin in 2011. Each city received an initial outpour of sympathy and support. Federal funds flowed into each and rebuilding began. But neither city resides in our broad national consciousness the way that New Orleans does. Rebuilding those cities fell upon the shoulders of their citizens – the ones who loved their place. People like my friends Amanda West and Andy Stoll in Cedar Rapids and Jane Cage in Joplin. Their everyday heroism is the story of the vast majority of our cities everywhere. People who make the conscious choice to show up, to raise a hand to help where they can and perhaps most importantly of all – not leaving.
Every city has people that love it. If you are reading this, chances are you are one of those people. You may not realize it but your are rarer and more valuable than you think. Cities everywhere need more people who love them because when we love something, we go above and beyond for it, we forgive shortcomings and we will fight for it. Cities everywhere need more people who do more than pay their taxes, spend their money and obey the law. That should be the minimums in our relationship with our places. And sometimes it takes a disaster or threat to shake us out of our everyday malaise and remind of us of the important our places, but I hope we can find a bit of introspection and perspective in the clear light of a sunny day.