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Heike Hoffmann: Normality in the State of Exception? New Orleans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

In summer 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita put New Orleans and the whole region of the Gulf Coast in a state of exception. Two natural phenomena passed the city in quick succession, causing a disaster in a US-American city, the extent of which surprised not only the American public: Eighty percent of the urban area were flooded, numerous people died, until now many displaced people have not returned to the city, large parts of housing and infrastructure were destroyed. 

It is well known that the events in New Orleans attracted enormous attention, not just in terms of media, largely because it showed an unexpected vulnerability of the US-American city: It seemed that, primarily in the aftermath of the disaster, numerous stakeholders of politics, economy and civil society at the local, state, federal and international level tried to meet the challenge of rebuilding New Orleans – better – or at least working proactively on its reconstruction. In addition to rescue and recovery work, and cleanup in the aftermath programs, plans, and actions were initiated to make New Orleans workable and viable again. The brilliant civil society engagement was highly praised. Simultaneously, much was reported on Government incompetence at all political levels. In fact, from the perspective of urban development the so called “rebuilding process” seems predominantly chaotic. It took years for spatial urban results to become visible.

But the semblance of chaos that became apparent through the disaster and that is characterized by the tangle of stakeholders and the multiplicity of plans and initiatives is deceptive: In the context of US-American multilevel government system and of the constant competition of cities, nothing but the “normality” of urban development politics is disguised by the state of exception after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This thesis is going to be developed within the contribution through an outline of actual guidelines and structures of urban development politics in the US and principles and habits of the rebuilding process in New Orleans. It will be concretized on the basis of examples of different fields of urban development politics.

About the Author

Heike Hoffmann, Dipl.-Ing., graduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning in 2006 (TU Berlin). Currently lecturer and Ph.D. student at the School of Urban Regeneration, Department of Architecture, Urban Planning & Landscape Planning at the University of Kassel. Research interests: governance and regulation of urban development and urban planning policies, mainly focussing on urban revitalization and reconstruction projects in Germany, Latin America and the United States. Dissertation (working title): “US-amerikanische Stadtpolitik. New Orleans nach Hurrikan „Katrina“ und „Rita“ – US-American Urban Politics. New Orleans after Hurricanes “Katrina” and “Rita”. 

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