New New Orleans is here: Part 1, the people
[Click here for an archive of my 2005 New New Orleans posts.]
Three years in, what has New New Orleans become? A month ago I was back in the Big Easy for the first time since Katrina. Did the city bear more resemblance to my optimistic view (
Which would it be for New New Orleans?
I was in New New Orleans at an AHIC conference that included a vivacious and knowledgeable lunchtime speaker, Allison Plyer from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, followed by a bus tour of the flooded sections including the infamous Lower Ninth Ward.
Called ‘lower’ because it’s farther below sea level than the other half of the Ninth Ward
In September, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit
This blog post is a gift from an American person
However it is rebuilt, the New New Orleans will bear little relation to the Old New Orleans:
Any resemblance to King Canute is purely coincidental …
However clumsily he phrased it, Speaker Hastert has squished his enormous foot into a highly relevant question, because by the time the water is pumped out, much of the Old New Orleans will be unsalvageable:
Many of the houses will be total losses. Now immersed in what amounts to sewer water up to the roof, many houses may remain under water for weeks or even months. Insulation, wiring, ductwork and other systems will likely be ruined, said William Coulbourne, a structural engineer with URS Corp. in
And wood immersed in water for protracted periods rots …
In my pessimistic view, New New Orleans would shrivel and become an urban ghost, a Bayou Torcello, or worse, a soggy organized-crime sin palace like
The historic analogy for
The leaders of
That makes the future
Three years on, what have we got? The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center is upbeat, citing ‘a position of strength’:
Yet even in that first paragraph, the statistics tell a more complex story. As Allison Plyer, the Center’s chief researcher, told us in a lunch speech, before Katrina, the City of
The metro area has recovered more than the Big Easy itself
Yet 88% of the city’s pre-Katrina jobs are back.
Metro area employment
After losing roughly 180,000 jobs (metro-wide) through Katrina, the area steadily recovered employment through 2006, and even through 2007 (although at a dwindling rate. Job growth in 2008 has been essentially flat.
This arithmetic yields a simple syllogism:
28% of the people held only 12% of the jobs
The huge diaspora splashed across America – many, in a bit of hurricane-relocation irony, to
As I wrote only two months after the storm:
Even as Paris suffers through the hideous consequences of malignant income over-concentration, back home Hurricane Katrina has done what three decades of well-meaning urban social policy could not: it has decisively and permanently deconcentrated poverty from Old New Orleans.
Old New Orleans was one of the nation’s sickest cities, with declining population, a shrinking employment base, high poverty (23%), and high unemployment (15%). In terms of economic demography, Katrina did two things simultaneously:
1. Scattered the poor across the country.
2. Created an unprecedented labor opportunity for those in the building trades.
Workers from all over have been pouring into
Those who have returned or immigrated have fewer children than those who left:
“School enrollment lags population recovery”
That demographic swap is highlighted in the Center’s report, which noted “the number of Hispanic students in metro area public school has increased each year” to 5.9% in 2008, versus 3.9% before Katrina. This is also off a smaller school population base: 14% of the families not returning took with them 24% of the school-age children.
Though the Center strives mightily to suggest ongoing recovery, its own statistics show that the New New Orleans we see today is the stable state, and its future growth will be normally organic:
That’s also seen in the statistics on applications for and closing of “Road Home” reconstruction housing:
When your applications for roughly $60,000 apiece in free money have stopped dead for nine months, you can officially declare your rebate period over.
What does this new demography mean for the city?
[Continued tomorrow in part 2.]