Though the flooding of New Orleans was the result of shoddy construction of the city’s levees, the city’s recovery was to be not through enlightened government initiative but by frontier self-reliance, “personal responsibility.” Returning inhabitants, like pioneers, were to homestead on devastated land. This emphasis on individual recovery, in a city where large-scale urban infrastructures had failed, is key to understanding why the city has undergone only a slow and partial recuperation. The city was to be reconstructed both physically and ideologically as a city of individualization, a city of risk—a neoliberal experiment at the scale of over three hundred thousand people.

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