Monday, July 30, 2007

When Starbucks is a good thing

This Starbucks comes with flood lines

If you frequently watch CNN, read USA Today, or pay attention to just about any American national mainstream media source, you might be surprised to hear that good things are actually happening in New Orleans— good things that have nothing to do with the regularly reported crime, mired education system, or supposedly stable levees.

Good things here just aren’t newsworth— it’s far more compelling to hear about yet another police beating, drug-related murder, or under-funded school than to receive news about:


progress. No, progress is not a profanity in the city that care forgot. Progress is a real, widespread condition far more prevalent than crime and tears.

Here’s a fact: It’s been two years since Hurricane Katrina hit this city and two-thirds of the original population is back. Why is national media not focusing on that? Several new schools are opening this fall to help the
current schools cope with the population boom. Many of these schools are sponsored by national and multinational organizations that exist outside of New Orleans— places that dare to invest in what can happen here.

In other widely unreported news: A branch of the New Orleans public library just opened near our Lakeview neighborhood. It’s opening is exclusively due to a $25,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Hazim and I went to the library this weekend, got cards, checked out books, and saw countless others—
old, young, black, white—doing the same. No one got shot, no one mentioned the word Katrina, and no one lamented the lack of books— we were all too busy beaming with a sense of progress.

Progress slapped us in the face a few days later while driving down Harrison Avenue, Lakeview’s main thoroughfare, once a pocket of commercial prosperity in the form of bars, restaurants, banks, churches, and offices before “the storm.”

The Chase bank was no longer in a trailer.

A furniture shop, boat shop, and shoe store had opened.

A spa was being built.


“Oh my God, Haz, Starbucks!”


Starbucks has arrived—in Lakeview, just a few blocks from our apartment, in the middle of a recovering street once under ten feet of levee breech flood water. We pulled into the parking lot. There were benches and tables outside, a familiar mass-produced feel inside from what we could see through the door. The smell of over roasted beans crept into our car.

A painted, purposeful brown line traced the orange, stucco exterior of the building. KATRINA, th
e line read, in capital letters, in its middle. We got out of the car and stood under it: this was the building’s floodline— no doubt still visible as the building got its Starbucks makeover. The line is at least 10 feet high.

I’m not at all a Starbucks fan under normal situations. I hate the taste of the coffee, hate
the manufactured feel of their cafe interiors, don’t like their history of bad labor conditions and lack of support for free trade coffee. But Starbucks is slowly trying to change their tune just as New Orleans is trying to change hers.

Having a Starbucks in our neighborhood doesn’t make me a fan—but it does make me happy. Haz and I did have some coffee there— once. It wasn’t very good, but it was coffee, in our neighborhood. Yes, we would be happier if we got a CC’s, CafĂ© du Monde, or a PJ’s—three local chains with tasty brews—instead. But we got Starbucks and that’s a lot. This little coffee shop is bringing life to the other buildings for lease on the street and showing potential investors that it can be done: yes, you can believe in New Orleans, it’s ok. Progress can happen here, Anderson Cooper, it’s not all bad.