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Four Years After Katrina: The State Of New Orleans

Posted by Lindy on December 4, 2009


Full articles: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/28/four-years-after-katrina_n_270944.html

Date: 28th August 2009

NEW ORLEANS (Associated Press) — Shelia Phillips doesn’t see the New Orleans that Mayor Ray Nagin talks about, the one on its way to having just as many people and a more diverse economy than it did before Hurricane Katrina. How could she?

From the front porch of her house in the devastated Lower 9th Ward, it’s hard to see past the vegetation slowly swallowing the property across the way. Nearby homes are boarded up or still bear the fading tattoos left by search and rescue teams nearly four years ago. The fence around a playground a few blocks away is padlocked.

“I just want to see people again,” she said recently, swatting bugs in the muggy heat.

On paper, the city’s economy appears to be thriving, with relatively low unemployment, home repossessions and bankruptcy rates. But in post-Katrina New Orleans, whole areas of some neighbourhoods are sparsely populated, even desolate.

There are other causes for optimism: the overhaul of New Orleans’ long-dismal public school system, an influx of college-educated residents, the greening of neighbourhoods as they rebuild, and the elevating of more homes to help protect them from future flooding.

After Katrina, the mayor started talking about a new New Orleans. What he meant, he said recently, is a “better New Orleans; an updated New Orleans, one where we basically updated all of our critical assets but respected our history. “I definitely think we’re on track to realizing that,” Nagin said.

Some analysts believe the economic resilience powered by tens of billions in federal rebuilding aid is unsustainable. Once the money is spent, they say, the tourism-based economy and lower-wage jobs that dominated before Katrina are likely to re-emerge.

However areas like Lakeview, which saw some of the worst flooding, has come back stronger than other New Orleans’ neighbourhoods largely due to its relative pre-storm affluence and residents’ will to take charge of Lakeview’s recovery. As Lakeview residents invested in homes and businesses, government dollars followed. The post office has reopened, main streets have been or are being rebuilt and a business district is thriving. It’s one of the best examples of Nagin’s market-driven approach to recovery, where money follows money.

Side streets such as Bellaire Drive, a frequent bus route taking camera-toting tourists to see where a flood wall failed, are pocked with dangerous potholes. The public school is empty. Vacant houses dot many blocks.

By one estimate, 36 percent of New Orleans’ housing is empty and  there is no clear indication when or whether they will be rebuilt.

Many home construction workers had more work than they could handle in the first two to three years of the recovery. Now, small groups can be found gathered outside building superstores and at busy intersections well into the afternoon, still looking for work.

Flozell Russell, 38, a welder before Katrina, said he’s out looking for work around 6 a.m. each day; one recent day, he was among about two dozen men on a patch of grass near a busy intersection, the smells of po’ boy sandwiches mingling with the roar of heavy equipment. Seeking work as a carpenter, welder or construction helper, he said he’s sometimes lucky to make $50 for a day’s work. “It ain’t getting better. It seems to be getting worse,” he said, a pencil behind his ear, a spare pair of work boots handy. Russell said he lives in a friend’s tool shed because he can’t afford rent.

Russell’s experience seems contradictory to New Orleans’ relatively low unemployment rate — 7.3 percent in June compared to a national rate of 9.7 percent. But the area’s rate is low in part because many of the poor who left after the storm never returned. And because there is a need for engineers, project managers and social workers, New Orleans is attractive to recent college graduates.

Trevor Acy, 24, moved to New Orleans from Mississippi early this year to work as a grant specialist. It was the only place he could find a job after college.

“Coming in I had a lot of preconceptions about New Orleans,” Acy said, referring to the city’s long-standing reputation for crime, poverty and a roaring nightlife. “But I’ve found the people to be really genuine, really warm.”

New Orleans has regained about 75 percent of its pre-storm population, though a recent reports said slowing of school enrolment suggests those moving in are single or childless couples. While Nagin believes the roughly 455,000 here before Katrina can be recovered in the next few years, some experts are think it could be 20 years before the population tops 400,000. He cites as challenges facing the city a lack of major new commercial development and slow job growth.

Residential addresses actively receiving mail

2000 total: 188,251

2008 June: 146,174

2009 June: 154,592

School enrolment

2003-2004: 186,901

Feb 2005: 108,573

Feb 2009: 140,822

Hospitals open

Pre-Katrina: 100% (39 hospitals)

Jul 2006: 56% (22 hospitals)

Jun 2009: 69% (27 hospitals)

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