New Orleans Erupts over Public Housing

After the New Orleans City Council votes to demolish 218 public housing buildings, dozens of protesters try to force their way into the meeting.

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BILL WOLFF (Announcer): From NPR News in New York, this is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

(Soundbite of music)

ALISON STEWART, host:

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News, your home for news, information, and today, the winter solstice.

I'm Alison Stewart.

MIKE PESCA, host:

And I'm Mike Pesca. It's Friday, December 21st, 2007. One of the things we'll also be talking about today are new movies coming out with our reviewer. And I have to say, Alison, as a new dad…

STEWART: Hmm-mm.

PESCA: …as a dad of an 8-month-old, the one thing that's really fallen by the wayside - people say, oh, you can't go out, you can't do anything. Yeah, yeah, we do. We get a sitter when we have to. It's going to the new movies…

STEWART: Yeah?

PESCA: …that is the one thing - just because it doesn't really rise to the threshold of a) do we hire the sitter and b) do we not spend time with Milo(ph).

STEWART: See, there you go. So I guess I shouldn't ask you what you think about the Screen Actor Guild nominees for best casts in a movie.

PESCA: No, I have strong opinion. It just means I haven't seen the movie.

STEWART: (Unintelligible) though.

PESCA: Yeah.

STEWART: …I just wanted an opinion about that.

PESCA: This day - I mean, it used to be when you go to the movies, you were comparing it to what you would do on your regular night, being…

STEWART: Yeah.

PESCA: …watching TV or you know, drinking a fifth of Jack Daniels or, you know, working with the elderly, whatever your night is. But now, you have to compare it to watching an 8-month learn to climb furniture. That's compelling stuff.

STEWART: I agree with you.

PESCA: If Alvin and the Chipmunks could take in 44 million, Milo climbing furniture - that's at least a $50 million feature.

STEWART: He'll take care of you in your old age if you get a video camera. But…

PESCA: Yeah. If I cut down on the Jack Daniels.

STEWART: Hey, coming up on the show, we're having a conversation with the Chicago Tribune's Paul Salopek about why we should be paying more attention to the conflict in Congo.

PESCA: And also today is the occasion of the winter solstice. Things will get sunnier and brighter from today on. NPR's Margot Adler is a knower of all things pagan. She'll be in to talk about what today means.

STEWART: And when I woke up this morning, I jumped out of bed literally and said it's Friday, not just because we're having a holiday party tonight. It's because on Fridays, we take a visit to the island of the rejected cartoons, rejected New Yorker cartoons. Matthew Diffee will join us with some of the very funny and very saucy cartoons the New Yorker magazine decided to pass on. We'll also go to Rachel Martin for today's headlines in just a minute.

But first, here is the BPP's big story.

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STEWART: Protests erupt in New Orleans over a plan to demolish public housing.

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Unidentified Woman #1: We're going to fight. We're going to fight.

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, shut up.

PESCA: That was yesterday. Police were using pepper spray and Tasers to get control of the crowd outside of the New Orleans City Council. Meanwhile inside, after a six-hour meeting, the city council voted unanimously to demolish the four largest housing developments in New Orleans to make way for mixed-income homes.

STEWART: Council president Arnie Fielkow said that the mismanagement and neglect have left the complexes dilapidated. He also said, quote, "It is my hope the word project will never be used in place of what should be transitional homes. Every citizen deserves a safe and affordable place to raise a family," end quote. Many of the 4,000 housing units have been vacant since Hurricane Katrina struck two years ago.

PESCA: Although New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin did not attend the meeting, he voiced his support for the council's decision.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (Democrat, New Orleans): This is an improbable day, you heard lots of pain today, pain from Katrina that was voiced. And the city council and its wisdom has come up with a solution that will allow us to move forward.

STEWART: The council laid out certain requirements for the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, and the Housing Authority of New Orleans that it said…

PESCA: HANO.

STEWART: …would - yeah, really, said it would and she would that low-income residents are not left homeless.

PESCA: But that's not enough to quell some residents' concern that the ultimate goal is to replace a poorer African-American neighborhood with a wealthier, whiter one.

Attorney Tracy Washington had this to say on CNN.

Ms. TRACY WASHINGTON (Attorney): It's a race issue because the public housing development were 100 percent but and these are the people who are not being allowed to return to the city.

STEWART: The New Orleans Times-Picayune, however, is siding with the city council. In an editorial yesterday, the paper wrote, quote, "For all the arguments this week about the needs of poor people, the truth is that these mammoth old complexes had failed as decent housing long before Hurricane Katrina and the flood of August 2005.

PESCA: HUD officials hope to begin demolition in the next couple of weeks.

That's the BPP's big story. Now, here is Rachel Martin with even more news.

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