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London’s Lessons on Recovery


Bombed out church in East London, Mile’s End.  The section of land, now a park and small urban farm, was once the city center of this part of town.  It is all gone, ALL GONE.  Note the cobble street… it is all that is left functioning.  Goats now nibble around the remains of this local Parish.

Living in New Orleans, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, 5+ years later, we get a lot of criticism on it’s speed or lack thereof.   It is easy to think such when you have not been here, or maybe been here and only seen a touch of it, not really drinking in, intentionally taking in the breadth of the destruction.

I’m in London’s East End, in the Tower Hamlet Borough, at Mile’s End.  It was heavily bombed during the Blitz of WWII, and the evidence of it is apparent in 2010 with swaths of old buildings, 100-400 years old – grand old neighborhoods, shops, etc, contrasted with countering swaths of newer government tower blocks. They are mostly ugly testaments to the 1970’s and 1980’s when architecture went pragmatic and lost all aesthetic.  About a five minute walk from where I am staying, in a Bangladeshi enclave is a neighborhood that was preserved.  It is beautiful.  Nearby is the site of where the first V1 rocket hit in 1944, killing a couple of hundred, wounding more.  The exact site is still not rebuilt – weed overgrown lots now.  What’s amazing is the old neighborhood, now quaint again, but not dazzling by any stretch, was left derelict from 1945-1993.  It was only recovered 17 years ago.  Imagine!  They left it derelict for 48 years.  It’s not uncommon here… a park with a small hill jutting up unexpectedly… the buried rubble they could no longer be bothered to carry away, or because they can’t allow themselves to forget completely.  There are adhoc parks – nonexistent like that in North or West London…just here where the scars are deepest:  Even today.

Photo of the enclave neighborhood preserved from the bombing, which lay derelict for almost fifty years after the war, now back to it’s intended function and honor.

So, the implications for us in New Orleans?  There are many.
1.  Recovery takes a long time.  Besides land issues, tax issues, recovery funding issues, there are energy levels, grieving issues, personal plans, etc
2.  Recovery may not be like what it was, or better.  It can be worse, ugly and change the DNA of a neighborhood.
3.  When it is rebuilt, who will live there?  What are the implications of the change?
4.  Why were such large areas left?  Will we have the same?  What will motivate recovery for us?

View from my window

My Counsel:
1.  Have a plan, build the plan.
2.  Don’t compromise and if you change the way it was, the people who have stakes must be involved.
3.  Realize recovery isn’t a drive through burger joint.
4.  Rebuild something worth it.  Ugly is always ugly – it never becomes classical – just old and ugly.
5.  There is nothing that will replace grieving and you simply have to accept it will take a long time.

Sunset in East London (Note the Swiss Tower (The Egg).

East London, may you be coming into peace now.  May you remember without the tears.   New Orleans, we still have tears, though less often now.  Take comfort in London’s experience… it just takes time…

It’s ugly, daytime, night time… ugly – worse than this photo reveals.  Recover to last and be proud of…

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