Other Work That Matters: Why I Keep Telling Stories of Recovery

It’s hard enough to deal with the struggles and limitations and frustrations of a single community in normal circumstances, but when you find your community in the aftermath of a disaster, that’s a whole ‘nother level of hard.  Kimberly Miller wrote beautifully in the book about the experience of being a planner post-9/11 and post -Katrina, and I thought of her story when I read this lovely article by Luisa Dantas in Next City.  

“It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.” That was what then-Speaker of the House

woman in front of damaged house

From Next City: “Cordelia in Sandy-devastated Ortley Beach, New Jersey, Jan. 19, 2013. (Photo credit: Sara Baicich/ Sandy Storyline)”

Dennis Hastert said about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It was a shocking sentiment, but one that reflected the troubling lens through which many politicians and pundits were seeing, and subsequently remarking upon, the devastation of entire communities. Federal levees failed in New Orleans, yet for many in power the storm became an opportunity to publicly criticize the city’s culture and opine on what could be done better, on how the city could “recover.” What that meant depended on who you were. “Recovery” became a panacea for grief, and for the unimaginable institutional negligence we witnessed as one of our most beloved cities teetered on the brink of destruction.

Luisa describes how that experience led to a  powerful community-driven documentation process, one that resulted in a new understanding of how communities deal with disasters through an interactive timeline called Katrina/Sandy.  And she concludes:

Katrina and Sandy have become case studies in disaster recovery, but they must be looked at together and analyzed comparatively if we truly want to understand how our nation is preparing for a future in which severe weather is ever more common. The stories of the survivors of these events offer valuable insight into how natural disasters spiral into man-made catastrophes.

Our belief is that recovery and rebuilding can and should be different. We must listen to the stories of the past if we don’t want to recreate them.

Sometimes we can’t fix the situation we find ourselves in, but we can make sure that others have the chance to learn from our experience.

Read the rest of Luisa’s story here.