Friday, June 20, 2008

Regional Differences

I don't know if it's possible to write about this without sounding judgmental. We'll see.

Bearing in mind the differences in population (urban vs. suburban) and urgency (dire vs. steady increase), it's hard not to make comparisons between the devastation of Hurricane Katrina (ie: New Orleans) and the flooding along the Mississipi (ie: Iowa).

  • lots of water
  • destruction of personal property
  • breaking levees
  • typical for area - it's happened before

Now let's think about how people responded. New Orleans was one long series of "Who's responsible," with local, state, federal government, FEMA, and the population all getting a portion of blame. Iowa seems to be more about "How can I help preserve my city?" I know, they have more time to fill sandbags; their flooding has been a slow and steady increase, while Katrina was a matter of only a few days warning, right? But if you look at it from the perspective of what we can see in media coverage both then and now, New Orleans was all about what the government was supposed to do to fix the problem, while Iowa is all about what the local residents are doing to try and save themselves.

I do see that getting millions out of the path of a devastating hurricane with not enough time is a vast deal more difficult than what's been going on along the Mississippi, and it's not something that could have been stopped with sandbags. But I never seem to hear anyone in news stories talking about how the government has failed the Midwest in this flood season; it's just lots and lots of v-roll of hundreds and hundreds of people filling sandbags, trying to keep their own levees from breaking.

Is the difference that people in urban areas are more dependant upon the government, while the more scattered populations of the midwest are more self-reliant? Yeah, I think so.

I'm sure everyone can think of their own set of rational excuses to be made for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and how it responded in the face of natural disaster. But the bitterness and blame of Katrina is curiously absent from the Midwest, who have lost as much, and will continue to lose more for some time to come.


Kathryn said...

I think there's another difference at work as well - economic. Recent experience has suggests to me that a sense of self-efficacy has a definite relationship with economic status. The cause and effect aspect of that is complex, but often, I think it comes down to a question of what resources people have access to. Those who have access to fewer resources are almost always more vulnerable and less able, both physically and psychologically, to handle things when they hit. Poverty goes hand in hand with helplessness. Many of the residents of New Orleans fell into that category. In that respect, I think the devastation there had something of a different flavor. There's always the chicken and the egg question: which came first, the helplessness or the poverty? Especially where poverty has existed in a family for multiple generations, that's tough to answer.

doctorj2u said...

Do yourself a favor and check out this New Orleans blogger. He moved back to his hometown of New Orleans to help rebuild the city from scratch.

Beth said...

As a small-city-dwelling Midwesterner, I probably should feel pleased that this is how things come across and hope that they're true - and then keep quiet about things I really don't know much about.

Recent events have repeatedly brought to mind The Music Man's "Iowa Stubborn" when the villagers sing:
"We can be cold as our falling thermometers in December if you ask about our weather in July, and we're so gosh-darned stubborn we can stand touching noses for a week at a time and never see eye to eye. But we'll give you our shirt and the back to go with it if your crops should happen to die."
The Iowans I know are all really nice, so I don't know about the first part, but the shirt part seems to be true lately, doesn't it?