“I want to be as candid as I can be without losing my job,” Eric Shaw stated with frank humor as he began his talk “Planning, Institution Building, and Long-Term Recovery in the State of Louisiana,” which he delivered to a packed audience in Lewis auditorium last Friday afternoon. The young, Harvard-educated hired gun brought in from previous urban planning positions in D.C., Miami and Silicon Valley, he was in the unique position of a technocrat who was running not to be elected to public office, but rather to create a new public office. Still, he had to carefully negotiate paying lip service to the stance of disinterested academic expertise while playing kiss-up to the interests of his political superiors.
As one of our nation’s most destructive and deadly hurricanes barreled through the Gulf Coast, millions lost everything they owned, leaving them with nothing but an overwhelming mess. The government quickly became entangled in a tremendously expensive restructuring program for all the cities destroyed by this unexpected event. Consequently, the U.S. became reliant on guest-workers to rebuild the area. This developed into an embarrassing and unlawful situation as the workers began to face major human rights violations. In times of turmoil, perspective can be lost, leading to unjust practices. Are there ever times when this is acceptable?
Were it not for Kimberly Roberts, the fiercely tenacious protagonist of Trouble the Water, this documentary would have left many in tears. While television media seemingly only covered the disaster after the Hurricane Katrina, Trouble the Water brings us right into the thick of the storm: the rising flood waters overcoming street signs, houses, trees, footage of the death of neighbors and family and the rotten corpse of a dog in the street. Roberts, along with her husband Scott, shares her videotaped documentation from directly before Katrina hit, during the storm itself and the struggle to survive afterward.