A Tale of Two American Cities: Disaster, Class and Citizenship in San Francisco 1906 and New Orleans 2005



Destruction, notes David Harvey, “is often required to make the new urban geography out of the wreckage of the old.”2 The history of San Francisco's Chinatown following the 1906 earthquake and fire and New Orleans' public housing following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 reveal how powerful class interests collude with the fog of disaster to lay claim to the urban spaces of the poor and marginal. In two historic U.S. disasters we witness the concerted efforts of urban elites to confiscate the spaces of two politically vulnerable populations: the Chinese in 1906 and low-income African-Americans in 2005. The widely varying outcomes of these two attempts reveal a good deal about the intersection of calamity, class, race, and citizenship in American history.