The past few weeks have included various stories and opinions about New Orleans and its state 10 years post-storm. Generally, they’ve annoyed me, as they all seemed to subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) suggest that Katrina and its aftermath provided a wonderful opportunity for others to come in and save us from ourselves. Look at all the opportunities this blank slate provided! Look at how much better things are than they were eleven years ago! Please, let us all pat each other on the back!
Thank goodness for these more recent stories that have been shared – ones that better capture the complex, but often negative, emotions and experiences of many of us here.
“I consider all 3,620 days since we returned from the evacuation to work, live and raise our kids in this damaged and difficult city days of service to the recovery. We’ve mourned loved ones, gutted houses, started nonprofits, navigated an ever-morphing school system and cleaned up plenty of messes….
“But what is the right tone? Some consider “anniversary” too celebratory and “commemoration” too elegiac. Even in a city known for jazz funerals, it’s confusing. Obviously we need to remember and to remind. And obviously we need to be grateful that we’re still here. But I’m at a loss over how to feel. …
“With the anniversary has come the hard data and research that reveal a troubling truth behind these divergent narratives. Not everyone has benefited from the recovery. A majority of blacks think the quality of life is the same or worse since the storm, while a majority of whites think it’s better. Black men are making 50% of what white men are making, and half of the black men in the city are unemployed. Gentrification is displacing scores of people from their longtime neighborhoods. The people and places responsible for producing our famous culture are seriously threatened.
“Our city was unified after the storm, and now the old fissures are widening. This can be the moment we acknowledge them and commit to solving them.”
“Scattered around the city, placards are appearing that read, ‘Stop calling me resilient’ The text continues, ‘Because every time you say, Oh, they’re resilient that means you can do something else to me. I am not resilient.'”
“It has been ten years since Hurricane Katrina, but the city is still waiting for much of the recovery to occur.
“The New Orleans East neighborhood that my family returned to is missing a neighborhood market or grocery store. Two enormous, undeveloped empty lots face my family’s home. Nearby, other blighted properties have not been renovated or even demolished.
“This is a neighborhood that used to feel vibrant with businesses, family and fun, but for the last few years it has remained desolate, much like many other predominantly black neighborhoods in the city.”
“Madeleine LeCesne, a New Orleans native who is headed to her first year at Princeton this fall, was nine years old when Katrina effectively washed away everything her family had built in the city’s Gentilly neighborhood.
“Maddie, as she is known, started writing poetry at the age of six, scribbling her compositions on the headboard of her bed. The bed was lost in the storm. Her family was evacuated to Texas.
“She is now a cheerful and accomplished young woman. In 2014, she was a National Student Poet. This week, she shared a stage with a who’s who of New Orleanians — lawyers, writers, politicians — who all agreed on one thing: The city has not come as far as it should have.
“But for Maddie, the storm’s wake brought a particularly painful sort of pessimism.
“‘I can say that I will never own a house one day, because I had to watch my parents lose everything,’ she said matter-of-factly. ‘I can say that I have been of voting age for more than a year. I haven’t filled out my voter registration forms, because I don’t trust politicians. My parents voted. They paid their taxes. And they still lost their homes.’…
“She described an ‘overwhelming anxiety’ that she lives with every day.
“Keep in mind, Maddie is a success story.”
“Yes we (most of us, but not all — so many died, so many were broken, so many could not return) survived. Yes we have shown resilience and creativity and fellowship and generosity. And all that should be celebrated — it is what makes going on worthwhile. But I don’t need to be told about how plucky, inventive, and lucky we all were. We know it….
“Katrina is not your feel good story. It is not your experiment in social policy. It was tragedy on a grand scale — and yes, human goodness, too — but also a theater of institutional neglect and spite, a perfect stage for our American propensity for forgetting and for silver linings.”
“[S]even out of 10 jobs being added in the metro area have occurred in low-wage industries like tourism, administrative services, and retail. In contrast, job growth in good-paying industries like transportation and distribution, energy and petro-chemicals, and durable manufacturing lags their peers nationally….
“Median household income in 2013—at $45,981—is lower in real terms than in 1979. Meanwhile, many white households in greater New Orleans are better off, having expanded their ranks in the middle- and upper-class since 1999 while the corresponding share for black households shrank.”
“New Orleans has no place in a cost-benefit analysis, because what it offers — what it adds to America — cannot be counted. Its value is avowedly sentimental, and it was folly to believe that a culture could be weighed in this way. After 18 years there, I should have known that myself. The reason I didn’t helps explain why others couldn’t either….
“As an animating principle, joie de vivre has its drawbacks, and they help explain the city’s dysfunction. A major metropolis devoted to the good life cannot be a place of surpassing efficiency. But why couldn’t I see that flaw as the tolerable side effect of a miraculous, serendipitous, singular creation?…
“My belated New Orleans education forced me to swallow an impossible, and yet an inevitable, fact: the spiritual, the musical, the mystical side of human relations. Sometimes what is important cannot be seen, only felt.”
“But while in most cities gentrification is caused by a simple desire for prime real estate, in New Orleans the draw is the very culture that the resulting changes to the city is eroding….
“‘When Katrina happened, I knew something was gonna change — I just didn’t know how,’ Meyers says. ‘But now I see it. It’s a lot of people who are not from here who stay right next door to us. People from South Carolina, all over the world, New York, California. So you felt a sense of well, my neighborhood’s ’bout to be gone.’
“He hops off the stoop and looks down the street into the sun, eyeing the houses. ‘I probably know 2 out of 15 who stay here right now. And everybody knew everybody before that. We the first ones here and ’bout to be the last ones left. And we on the verge of getting kicked off our own block.’…
“‘It’s not that people are resistant to change, it’s that they include us in their change in our community,’ Chapman continues. ‘People who have gone to school here and stayed here and adopted the culture, and not tried to change it, we accept them.'”
“The truth is more complicated than that.
“It’s true that the city has grown from near abandonment immediately after the storm to 80 percent of its pre-Katrina population, and it continues to grow faster than most other major cities. Its police department and jail are undergoing massive reform efforts. And tax collections are up year over year. The city’s schools are showing large gains in student test scores and graduation rates, according to a recently released study.
“Still, the impact of the floods was devastating and it continues to affect the area. About 1,800 people died, many of those in New Orleans. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleanians’ homes were flooded.
“Ten years later, the city still suffers many blighted homes and overgrown lots.
“Violent crime continues to be a problem, and the city’s homicide rate consistently ranks near or at the top nationwide.
“The city’s fiscal progress could be undone by millions of dollars in unmet obligations. Advances from the police department and jail reforms are fitful.
“The sweeping school overhaul remains extremely controversial….
“Meanwhile, the city’s lack of affordable housing is reaching a near-crisis point. About 50 percent of the city’s residents spend more than 35 percent of their income on housing, and 37 percent spend more than half their income on housing.”
“There is little research examining how Katrina-related trauma affected different age groups of children. Of the children displaced by the storm about 46,025 were under age 5 and 33 percent of them poor.
“But the research that does exist suggests that children who were already exposed to traumatic events were particularly vulnerable when Katrina stripped away all other predictability and security in their lives….
“…[C]hildren who were in the city at the time of the storm experienced more profound symptoms of trauma than those who were able to get out with their families. And ultimately, the children’s post-disaster trajectories tended to take one of three paths: declining, equilibrium or fluctuating.
“Those whose post-Katrina lives got worse saw simultaneous and ongoing disruption in family life, health care, schooling and friendships. Those who reached equilibrium were able to do so after quickly finding stability due in part to their families’ access to financial, social and cultural resources.
“The fluctuating child experienced moments of stability following moments of instability. They may have been doing well with housing, for example, but were struggling in family relationships.
“But the biggest key, said Fothergill, in these children’s lives were having one or more anchor relationships — grandmothers, aunts, uncles and others who provided support.”
“Who says Twitter is only good for snarky comments and posting cat photos? Ninth generation New Orleanian Julie Willoz (who normally tweets as @JCWilloz) is this week’s guest tweeter for @beingNOLA. Over the past two nights, she’s tweeted a stunning, dramatic story. Well worth reading.”