Like many Americans, we were curious to visit New Orleans
to see how life is returning since Katrina.
It’s been more than three years since the hurricane hit, the levees
breached, and Mayor Nagle famously declared that New Orleans was being
neglected due to ‘racism’.
Having seen corruption first-hand in New Orleans, I was wondering whether
progress was being made, whether the nation’s generosity was being wasted,
and whether the hard hit areas were making a comeback.
New Orleans is unique in American history with its strong
multi-cultural heritage. As a
result, simple assessments – and simple approaches – rarely are effective.
The French Quarter pretty much looks
like it always has.
It wasn’t particularly hard hit and life appears
(One amazing thing for us was that we found a place to
parallel park the big rig so we were able to walk around the French Quarter.
What are the odds of that?)
Unfortunately, Bobbie ended up with food poisoning
and spent the next several days severely ill.
Outside the French Quarter life is a
We visited the Lower Ninth Ward which had been
particularly hard hit.
Before Katrina, the Ninth Ward was a packed,
vibrant, and often dangerous area.
Predominately black, the area had a reputation for
being unsafe for residents and tourists alike.
The term ‘urban blight’ certainly applied to the
run-down buildings and occasional abandoned building.
But the area was densely populated and seemed to
have its own strong of community.
Today the Ninth Ward is largely
Entire blocks are condemned.
Houses have been razed, turning what was once a
dense block of houses into an empty concrete patchwork open field.
For many houses that still stand, the spray painted
markings on the outside serve as chilling reminders where rescuers noted the
number and room location of the dead.
Schools, shops, and more are nearly all gone.
More than 3 years later it still looks like a
disaster or even a war zone.
Not everything is a
there are individual new homes that have been constructed.
Looking like any modern house in a new neighborhood,
these homes are far nicer than what they replace.
Few and far between and located next to overgrown
lots, rubble, or a condemned house, they raise the question of ‘why?’
Assuming that insurance money paid to rebuild the
house, it’s hard to see how the owners have made the right economic decision to
It’s certainly admirable to be at the forefront of
rebuilding a community, but when the surrounding area immediately means that
your house is worth less than what it costs to build, it is tough to see how an
average family can make a good decision to stay and rebuild.
New Orleans’ population
remains well below pre-Katrina levels and the destruction in the lower Ninth
Ward serves as a real example of the challenges in rebuilding the city.
A few homes do remain and serve as critical housing
for the chronically poor.
Displacing them only makes life harder.
But without wholesale redevelopment – in some cases
outright bulldozing of square miles – it really is tough to see how New Orleans
makes a comeback.
Even redevelopment isn’t easy:
building from the ground up would be a lot easier
than rebuilding in New Orleans because the areas must be cleaned up first and
the legal issues associated with abandoned properties, etc. make the costs even
And all that is before any politics or corruption get
Three years after Katrina, New Orleans
is still one of the world’s great cities.
If New Orleans manages to rebuild there is no
question it will be better than ever, but, but significant challenges remain.