Fighting over the Future of New Orleans

Police turn away protesters after the City Council votes to demolish 218 public housing buildings.

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

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ALISON STEWART, host:

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

We have news, information, and apparently, today more Bill Wolff. I thought it was just me that was sweet on him, but apparently the staff kind of like - well, he knows a lot about sports. So he's coming back to talk to us a little bit about this whole NFL kerfuffle. Congress getting involved.

I'm Alison Stewart, by the way.

MIKE PESCA, host:

And I'm Mike Pesca.

When people said, hey, what do you think about having Bill Wolff on? I said, I'm not married to him. And Alison said…

STEWART: I am.

PESCA: Yeah.

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PESCA: It's December 21st, 2007. And today is the day of the big NPR holiday party. This is the last day for office holiday parties, especially if you lack at the schedule and…

STEWART: Yeah.

PESCA: Excited?

STEWART: It's my first, if I can stay awake. I have never been to an NPR holiday party. I'm curious to see the, you know, Mr. Krulwich wear the lampshade at the end of the night. Margot Adler…

PESCA: He starts off with the lampshade.

STEWART: Ah.

PESCA: And then he ends up with an entire (unintelligible). It's unbelievable, the strength of that man.

STEWART: I'm sort of curious to watch you guys party.

PESCA: All I could say is when engineer Manio Zuba(ph) offers you Jell-O, that has not just Jell-O.

STEWART: You know, it just sucks.

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PESCA: Coming up on the show, pollster Andrew Kohut is here to talk about how to read the polls.

STEWART: And making goodwill cool. Rachel Martin will give us that information later on, as well as today's headlines in just a minute.

But first, here is The BPP's Big Story.

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

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STEWART: You can listen more of that sound at nola.com. They shot video yesterday of police using pepper spray and firing Tasers to get control of a crowd of protesters outside of city hall in New Orleans.

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.

PESCA: Council President Arnie Fielkow said that mismanagement and neglect have left the complexes dilapidated. He also said, quote, "It's my hope that the word project will never again 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.

STEWART: Now, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin did not attend the meeting. He did, however, voice his support for the council's decision.

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

PESCA: The council laid out certain requirements for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, and the Housing Authority of New Orleans, HANO, they call it. It said that because of these requirements, they're going to try to ensure that low-income residents aren't left homeless.

STEWART: But that was just wasn't enough to quell some residents and citizens' concerns. The ultimate goal is to replace poor African-American neighborhoods with a wealthier, whiter one.

Attorney Tracey Washington said this to CNN.

Ms. TRACEY WASHINGTON (Lawyer): It's a race issue because the public housing developments were 100 percent black. And these are the people who are not being allowed to return to the city.

PESCA: The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the paper in that town, is siding with the city council. In an editorial yesterday, the paper said, 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."

STEWART: HUD officials hope to begin demolition in the next couple of weeks. And we'll speak with someone in just a few moments, who is on the scene in New Orleans.

That's The BPP's Big Story.

Now, here's Rachel Martin with even more news.

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