Developmental Paths?

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans' paper of establishment record, published an editorial today urging LSU to accept the power-sharing deal proposed for the $1.2 billion hospital they are steamrolling ahead in lower-Mid City. At issue is the LSU administration's refusal to share seats on the hospital's governing board with Tulane and other universities. The row is yet another roadblock for the project (thank goodness!), in addition to the glaring absence of a detailed, defensible business plan, lack of hundreds of millions in project funds, and major opposition from a growing coalition of pro-Charity Hospital supporters who have a better plan.

The Times Picayune's role in all of this is formulaic. It's what a major daily newspaper and therefore key part of the urban growth machine is supposed to do. According to sociologists Harvey Molotch and John Logan, big newspapers like the Picayune tend to play a referee function among the elite. This is especially true for major urban redevelopment projects with a complex corporate and political constituency. Newspapers often broker deals, urge compromises, and promote the shared interest of a region's dominant industries, real estate owners, builders, political leaders, universities, sports franchises, corporations, etc. Editorials are the main venue for these interventions, but the steering of reportage to certain topics, conspicuous omissions, and other patterns in news coverage serve this function also.

Why do the dominant newspapers do this?

Largely because newspapers are powerful regional business entities, having a interest in the general growth of an urban region: growth means an increase in population which means an increase in newspaper subscriptions and ad revenue.

Today's editorial demonstrates this from the get-go, even though the paper couches its advice to LSU in humanitarian terms; "[...] there is a crying need for the medical care of a proposed new world-class teaching hospital." Sure there is, and if we prioritized health care above all we'd reopen Charity Hospital, not hold out for the teaching hospital that requires demolishing a whole neighborhood and waiting years until it finally opens, all without a guarantee that the health care it provides will serve working families like the Charity system has for generations upon generations.

The second sentence of the paper's editorial intervention gets to the political-economic focus and tries to shake some sense into LSU so that it doesn't burn its wealthy allies. Railing against LSU's near-sighted and selfish administration, the Picayune recognizes LSU's behavior as counterproductive to the broader interests of the region's economic elites:

"In our region, such a hospital in tandem with the nearby new Veterans administration facility would lay the foundation for a biochemical corridor [sic], the most potent economic engine this metro area has seen in decades."

Forgive the Times-Picayune's editors. It's not a biochemical corridor that the hospital boosters (including LSU, big real estate holders, and various venture capitalists) are proposing. Their obsession with the LSU hospital plan is that it supposedly will anchor a biomedical corridor.

(It won't, but that's another story for another post.)

Perhaps this slip of the pen can be explained by the Picayune's decades long history of coddling that other failed developmental vision for Louisiana - the petrochemical refineries and factories scattered all up and down the Mississippi from Venice across to Port Fourchon, up and through New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

The biochemical corridor that New Orleans' elite leadership has promoted and profited from since the end of World War II has accomplished quite a few things, none of which have improved the commonweal and prepared our communities for a healthier more secure future. The chemical industry offered some jobs and helped churn out exotic chemicals and materials of all kinds, from plastics to medicine and pesticides. But it did little to alleviate the mass unemployment and underemployment of our region. The chemical corridor made our region famous as "cancer alley," because of the toxic effluents and emissions dumped from these facilities into our rivers, lakes, land, and air. Grave environmental injustices resulted from the boom of chemical plants up and down the river. Here's a good book about one town that lived in the shadow of Shell Corp.

As someone who loves to fish I find it quite shameful that this region's leadership promoted the chemical corridor as our economic development path. Have you seen how many "advisories" there are warning us to avoid consuming fresh seafood and river catches because of pollution?

The profits from this region's chemical corridor operations mostly accumulated in the bank accounts of transnational corporations with headquarters outside of our state - the Shells, Exxons, Halliburtons, Conocos.... What a sad, future-less developmental path. We have poisoned our land, water, and air, sent the profits abroad, and maintained the poverty of our friends and neighbors across the state. For what?

Today, when not Freudian-slipping over past visions of wealth and power gone awry, New Orleans' elite consensus makers at the Times Picayune are promoting a new developmental path for the region, one based on biotechnology and medical services that will supposedly take form around the LSU teaching hospital proposed for Mid-City. This developmental vision is highly dubious for many reasons. Furthermore, it's exceedingly clear is that past booms were not what they were made out to be by the TP and company.

Nevertheless, the Times-Picayune will press on for the Mid-City hospital because it most effectively triangulates the interests of this city's most powerful industries and some of its greedier institutions. It's classic growth machine politics that will enormously benefit the top 5% with mostly public dollars and do virtually nothing, or worse, for the bottom 40% in New Orleans who have lost health care and perhaps soon a whole neighborhood to this top down scheme.

This has been the Times-Picayune's role since the paper was founded. Indeed, the first developmental vision the paper promoted on behalf of the regional economic elite was the slave and plantation system, a vision the Times Picayune's founders pushed through imperial expansion into Tejas, Mexico.

(This too is another story that'll have to wait for future blog postings.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Dow, St. Charles sound "all clear" after smelly release

St. Charles Parish officials sounded the "all clear" alert in the Hahnville area 35 hours after foul-smelling fumes began to escape from a faulty storage tank at Dow Chemical's St. Charles Operations facility Hahnville.

The stench from the ethyl acrylate housed in the tank sent at least 27 people to the hospital complaining of eye and nasal irritation, and forced parish officials to block off parts of River Road near the plant.

Ethyl acrylate is used in the production of plastics and adhesives.

The acrid smell, which residents compared to burning plastic, drifted over much of the New Orleans area on Tuesday.

Dow workers filled the 640,000 gallon tank with foam to dampen the fumes and treated the material with other chemicals to neutralize it.