Day 3, Entry #8 with Andy Grace discussing Tuscaloosa tornado relief.
Having spent hours with the city planner and some of his deputies throughout this whole process, and having sat through more city council meetings than I care to recall, I can say the only thing that’s for sure about the rebuilding process is that it’s riddled with misinformation. Nearly everyone who lives in this town knows someone who knows someone who “can’t rebuild.” More often than not, it’s the city’s fault. Alberta’s not cleaned up? It’s the city’s fault. The Pawn Shop can’t come back on 15th? It’s the city’s fault.
I think before the storm–before my neighborhood was changed forever, before the roof was nearly sucked off our house, before we lost the 32 year old pecan tree in the backyard, before the homes just two blocks away got lifted up and carried across Forest Lake–I was mostly disinterested in city government, felt pretty sure that they didn’t care about the same things I cared about, and thought that special interests controlled our local politics the same way they control our national politics.
But the more I’ve gotten to know these folks and the more time I’ve watched them interact with the community, the more impressed I am with what they’ve been able to accomplish and the groundwork they’ve begun to lay for a more healthy and prosperous city. It’s ugly, yes. And some people cannot rebuild exactly what they owned exactly where it was. But if we allowed every single person to put back exactly what was there, we would have missed an opportunity to make this city work better.
15th and McFarland, just about five blocks from my house, was still operating under zoning and code restrictions first written in 1973. Lots of the older buildings had been grandfathered in as subtle things changed, but the result was a congested, ugly, soulless mess. That’s not a knock against the hardworking business owners who poured their heart and soul into those places. But lets just be categorically honest here–15th and McFarland was an awful looking place that didn’t work very well. Why would the city want to go back to that in the name of rebuilding quickly?
I’m disheartened by the pace of the redevelopment and I share the frustration that a lot of folks feel about how slow things are coming back. But this was a nasty blow the city took, and it’s not going to get rebuilt overnight. My observation in the past 9 months when I see angry business owners or confused homeowners, or hear someone snicker at the mayor like he’s either a naive kid or full of shit, is that mostly what we’re upset about is the storm. But you can’t blame the storm. It’s just wind, and it moves on. It’s got no agenda, no reason, no history. It’s a weather pattern. But a city–you can blame that. A government? You can blame that.