Video: Ninth Ward's future

By Kerry Sanders Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/19/2005 7:34:49 PM ET 2005-12-20T00:34:49

Before Katrina, most Americans had never heard of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. Fourteen thousand African Americans once called the two-square-mile area home.

While trivia buffs knew this is where music great Fats Domino lived, by and large, this working class community was out of sight and out of mind.

Then, the levees broke.

Today, it's dried out, but cleanup in the Lower Ninth has barely started.

"It's like they just forgot about us on this side of the water," says one resident.

Forgotten, they charge, because they're poor. And they believe powerful developers see opportunity.

"They putting it off," says another resident. "They're prolonging it because they want our land. And you're not getting mine."

City Council members say the mayor's commission wants victims to have one year to rebuild. If they do, they can keep their neighborhoods. If not, the land will be bulldozed and turned into public space, like a park.

"I see people who may have one house in the middle of a wasteland, fighting to rebuild that house, and that's going to be a war," says City Council President Oliver Thomas.

A war over strongly held American ideals — that no matter what your race or income, your home is still your castle. And no one, not even the government, can take it away.

Because the Lower Ninth in some spots is 14 feet below sea level, architect Scott Bernhard says houses here should be raised off the ground as they do in the wealthier areas.

"I think we'd be adding as little as 20 percent and as much as 40 percent to the cost of construction," says Bernhard. "It's a lot of money."

It would require deep pockets to redevelop this area. That is why critics worry the identity and the residents who made the Ninth Ward what it was could be left behind.

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