After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, longtime residents were forced to leave due to storm damage and new transplants were drawn to the possibilities of a city rebuilding from the ground up.
This August marks the tenth anniversary of the 2005 devastation of New Orleans by hurricane Katrina. Still, as bad as things looked back then, you’d be hard-pressed today to find any physical signs of the terrible devastation left behind in the storm’s wake. Even the iconic landmark Louisiana Superdome, a refuge for thousands of Nawlins residents fleeing the deadly flood waters, has a glitzy new identity courtesy of German automaker Mercedes Benz. It’s very apparent that the Crescent City has moved on in a big way. But not everyone is reaping the full benefit of the city’s resurgence.
New Orleans is open for business, but who’s really benefiting
As the airport limo made its way through crowded streets toward my hotel in the French Quarter, I saw lots of new construction—from new upscale condos to skyscraper office buildings—going on all over downtown NOLA. There is an obvious plan in place to reinvent New Orleans. The face of New Orleans is changing. Local critics question whether changes in the city’s socioeconomic make-up are pricing lower income residents out of the city. This March, city officials launched an online auction site to sell 3,000 tax-adjudicated properties, many of them being bought by out-of-town investors and real estate speculators. The storied birthplace of Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino, with its 60 percent majority black population, is fast becoming another gentrified urban homestead for wealthier newcomers.
Gentrification as the process by which individuals with a relatively higher socioeconomic status move into lower-income neighborhoods, eventually resulting in the displacement of existing residents.
It’s clear the heart and soul of New Orleans is still missing. Not all of the displaced residents have returned home. An estimated 200,000 pre-Katrina residents, who were sold on the government’s temporary relocation plan to other states, are still in involuntary exile ten years later. Many of them can’t afford to come back to the new New Orleans where housing costs have more than doubled and wages have remained at their lowest. Lori Peek, a social researcher at the University of Colorado, is one of those who believes they will never make it back:
For all the individual success stories in the lives of Katrina’s displaced people, we cannot ignore the devastating reality of the lived experiences of most of the evacuees. Years after the disaster, tens of thousands of Katrina’s displaced are still strewn about the country, struggling to meet their basic needs. Most will never return home.
Like most visitors to NOLA these days, I wanted to see the predominantly black Ninth Ward where floodwaters did so much of their damage. My visit to the Ninth Ward left me with the impression that New Orleans is a city with two faces: one, an emerging boom-town bustling with tourism and new economic growth in downtown; the other, a cleaned up, spruced up Ninth Ward with few outward signs of on-going neighborhood re-development or economic revitalization. What is new about the Ninth Ward is that it’s now a magnet for tour buses coming through with hundreds of curiosity seeking tourists wanting to see where it all happened.
The music keeps the good times rolling in
Socioeconomic distractions aside, the music of Nawlins takes center stage, and is the primary reason hundreds of thousands of visitors come to this city year after year. It’s also why I came. The music of New Orleans—Zydeco, Cajun, Creole, blues, ragtime, traditional and Dixieland jazz—is the featured draw of the French Quarter Festival, which takes place every year in April.
The French Quarter Festival’s free four-day musical showcase brings out the best musicians Nawlins has to offer. Last year, the festival attracted upwards of 733,000 people. In previous years, the average attendance has been around 550,000. During festival time, the popular French Quarter fills up with visitors who pack the hotels, feast on good tasting New Orleans cuisine, and drop some 251 million into the city’s coffers for the pleasure of it all. Its music festivals have been a big part of city’s resurgence. In good times and bad, native New Orleansians have always turned to music as a means of coping with adversity. But with an influx of new people, new cultures to the city, there’s a concern that NOLA’s indigenously pure music could lose its distinctive cultural identity.
How can we sing a song to the Lord in a foreign land? May I never be able to play the harp again if I forget you, Jerusalem! Psalm 137:4-5 GNT