Two days ago marked the 10th anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast. The greatest impact was in the city of New Orleans where the failure of the federal levees submerged some 80% of the city. An estimated 400,000 people were evacuated or displaced from their homes and over 1,800 died, the majority of whom were from New Orleans.
There were bands in the street celebrating the city’s recovery. Specials on CNN and network TV. President Obama stopped by, as did former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. There was a conference hosted by The Atlantic recognizing the city’s resilience. Most major newspapers ran features commemorating that dreadful day and the city’s remarkable recovery. The city has been largely rebuilt and repopulated since that disaster.
Except, not really. Some areas, such as the Lower 9th Ward, that were hardest hit, have struggled to return to normal and face serious challenges, including persistent crime and intrinsic poverty. As detailed in a sobering feature in Mother Jones earlier this month, “Four of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, including the Lower Ninth Ward, are still largely abandoned, with less than half of their pre-storm populations.” NPR’s Greg Allen was quoted in the article following a visit to the area earlier this summer. “One of the first things you notice is the many empty lots, several on every street. Instead of houses, they now hold weeds and tall grass… Some streets are so filled with potholes, cars can’t drive down them. There are a few convenience stores and fast food stands, but no supermarkets or grocery stores.” The article continues: “Some residents in the neighborhood sold their properties to the state after the storm, Allen explained. Others wanted to rebuild their homes but did not receive enough federal money to cover the costs of reconstruction.” Some areas that were less severely damaged are recovering, with higher-earning residents moving into previously working-class neighborhoods. It’s not a pretty picture.
BuzzFeed News reporters also visited Louisiana and Mississippi speaking to dozens of people whose lives were changed by the storm. They published a series of articles “on how life, crime, and politics have shifted since the storm hit 10 years ago.” One feature questioned whether the gentrification that is occurring throughout the city was saving New Orleans or ruining it. “New bike lanes have been built, massive redevelopment projects are underway, and commercial areas like Broad Street in Mid-City … which once were home to liquor stores and check cashing joints, now have boutique tea shops, gourmet restaurants, and upscale grocery stores.”
While change is inevitable, what made New Orleans so unique is its people and its culture. If the changes that the city continues to go through prevent many of the people that made this uniqueness work from living there, what then what will the city really have gained?