Gorbachev Tours Lower 9th Ward
Friday, October 5, 2007; 10:43 PM
NEW ORLEANS -- Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev toured New Orleans on Friday as an emissary of the global environmental movement, but his first view of the devastated Lower 9th Ward inspired a momentary return to his socialist past.
"If things haven't changed by our next visit, we may have to announce a revolution," he said through a translator, as he walked the lifeless streets with well-wishers and staff members of Green Cross International, a non-governmental organization which he chairs.
Gorbachev promised to return in five years to measure the city's recovery from Hurricane Katrina, which has so far been tangled by bureaucratic delays.
"No matter the flooding and the hurricane, the red tape and bureaucracy survive," he said.
During a stop in the Holy Cross neighborhood, a sliver of the Lower 9th with some rebuilding activity, Gorbachev stepped inside the wood frames of an environmentally friendly house that is a model for a 90-resident project funded and promoted by actor Brad Pitt.
Solar panels will power the two-story home, a feature that could slash utility bills by 75 percent for the low- to moderate-income families the project is designed for. It is built of wood grown from forests managed for environmental health, and raised off the ground so it will be less likely to flood.
Gorbachev joined the U.S. affiliate of Green Cross International to urge U.S. action on global warming. The groups say rising tides that result from the phenomena threaten the world's coastal cities, including New Orleans as it strains to rebuild.
Though Gorbachev mostly stuck to his environmental agenda throughout his visit, he ventured briefly into political talk. While at the foot of the Industrial Canal levee that breached during Katrina, he spoke with New Orleans City Councilman Arnie Fielkow about political attention given to the city two years after Katrina.
"The future of the city is still not decided," Gorbachev observed. Fielkow indicated that Congress could take the Soviet president's visit as a lesson.
"Maybe half of Congress has come, which is not enough," said Fielkow. "We need all of them to see this first-hand."