I am having trouble comprehending the tragedy in New Orleans, dismaying in any number of ways. Yesterday, September 1, FEMA director Michael Brown admitted that the federal government didn’t know until that day that people had been waiting for help at the New Orleans Convention Center, and in another interview seems to have insinuated that the scope of the tragedy had something to do with the “people who did not heed the evacuation warnings.” I hope he didn’t mean to insinuate that, because it would be beneath contempt. (Update: CNN has compiled a wonderfully straightforward exposure of the lies of Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff.)
For better or worse, there is a nineteenth-century angle to this week’s events. Last weekend, the City section of the New York Timesprinted a list of unsolved mysteries about New York history, and historian Kenneth T. Jackson contributed the question, “Why has the waterfront in New York historically not been the residence of the elite?” This week’s reporting suggests a possible answer, in the form of this map, which probably also explains why the nineteenth century didn’t get around to developing Red Hook to any great extent.