What is a Jack-O-Lantern Effect?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of the Mississippi and Louisiana coastlines, including the port city of New Orleans, many refugees were either shipped to other cities, such as Houston, Texas, or provided with housing vouchers for temporary relocation. The hope was that federal, state and local government agencies would rebuild and restore many neighborhoods to their pre-Katrina status. In reality, a selective rebuilding program helped to create what many critics call the jack-o-lantern effect.

In terms of urban renewal efforts following blight or disaster, the jack-o-lantern effect could be described as a patchwork of restored or new properties surrounded on all sides by areas of blight and devastation. When one particular area has its utilities restored to the exclusion of surrounding areas, the effect is similar to that of a single Halloween jack-o-lantern illuminating an otherwise darkened neighborhood.

When residents of New Orleans's largely black 9th Ward were allowed to return to the area, many were stunned to see what little progress had been made towards repairs and renovations. Instead, government and private agencies were offering to buy individual lots from owners who no longer wanted to live in New Orleans. These offers were often rejected for being significantly less than the property was worth.


Some 9th Ward political leaders and advocates believed the government wanted to acquire the property in order to build more expensive housing units for returning white New Orleans residents. Only then would the levies be repaired to meet their original standards.

The jack-o-lantern effect did not begin with the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, however. The idea of renovating selected areas of a blighted or devastated city has been utilized for centuries. When the golden age of railroads ended, for example, city planners often created a jack-o-lantern effect by renovating commercial or higher-income areas first and seemingly ignoring lower-income neighborhoods. It is not uncommon to see smaller towns and cities with small pockets of active commerce or housing surrounded by areas of blight or decay.

The jack-o-lantern effect has often been applied to urban renewal projects which appear to favor one demographic over another. In New Orleans, many black residents felt betrayed by their political leaders for allowing predominantly white neighborhoods to be restored ahead of predominantly black neighborhoods. Creating a jack-o-lantern effect by selective rebuilding can serve to reinforce these beliefs and fears, so city planners and other government agencies must be aware of the effects a hodgepodge approach to renovation can have on residents and business owners.


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Post 5

poor blacks are treated no differently from poor whites. its only that poor whites tend to live in rural areas, away from the TV cameras, and poor blacks tend to live in cities. rather its the likes of jerry springer who puts cameras in front of poor whites. the media isn't much concerned about them. race relations makes for great news.

Post 4

The US *definitely* has a caste system - we just don't call it that! Americans would be really upset if anyone called it a caste system but then how do you explain the fact that poor black people are overlooked not just during Katrina but in education and just about every other issue in the US! White people and middle class/upper middle class people are treated very differently than poor and minority people and anyone who doesn't agree has probably just been privileged their whole lives.

Post 3

Living in India I always suspected that the U.S. too has its Brahmins and Harijans ( literally, children of God or the untouchable class). What I read today about the selective rehabilitation of New Orleans only goes to prove that I was right. So much for the Great White Myth of 'All men are born equal ....Etc'!!

Post 2

thanks so much for the information...I have followed Katrina issues, but had not heard of this one. Now I will know what they are talking about!

Post 1

Is this site typically making political statements? As I understand it, the 9th ward was *underwater*, so perhaps the government offering to pay for land that was basically ocean floor, wasn't such a cold-hearted deal as you've portrayed it.

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