News

Big Easy slow to recover, but progress is evident

Ken Kaye
South Florida Sun-Sentinel (MCT)

Walk around downtown and it's almost like Katrina didn't happen. Harrah's casino sees a bustling crowd. Restaurants and shops do a good business. The trolleys are running. And the French Quarter is filled with Cajun rhythms and revelers at night.

But the Crescent City's soul is unquestionably aching. What was once a happy-go-lucky spirit has given way to a more somber determination to dig out. Overall, New Orleans remains in a dire struggle to recover 19 months after Hurricane Katrina toppled the levees of Lake Pontchartrain, putting much of it under water and killing more than 1,800 people.

"I think we've made a lot of progress in just 18 months," said Jacqueline Boyd, a retired resident whose second-floor apartment in Orleans Parish was destroyed by high waters. "But I give it about 10 to 15 more years to recover."

While many neighborhoods have rebuilt, many others appear ravaged, particularly those just south of the lake. In these "ghost towns," as residents call them, block after block is filled with boarded-up homes and yards full of hurricane debris. Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers are plentiful, providing temporary housing for those who stayed. Tens of thousands of others have resettled in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and other nearby states.

Meanwhile, the areas that weren't that badly damaged are overcrowded with those seeking decent places to live. The problem is homes are expensive and rents are high, said Norsha Cooper, whose apartment in Orleans Parish was flooded in the hurricane. To afford rent, Cooper, 34, a parking attendant, and her two children moved in with a cousin near downtown.

"The city has a long way to go," she said. "Due to the hurricane, people don't have enough money to get everything up and running."

Even the downtown area retains some poignant reminders of Katrina's destruction. Dozens of shops along Canal Street, the city's main commercial corridor, are still boarded up. Some motels, waiting to be razed, have turned into water- and wind-damaged eyesores.

Colleges are scraping to meet enrollment goals. Though a public school recently opened in Orleans Parish, one of the most devastated areas, more than 75 schools around the city have not reopened. The city's police force has dwindled from a pre-Katrina level of 1,700 officers to about 1,400, as about 17 officers per month are leaving. And the murder rate has climbed sharply, from 56 per 100,000 pre-Katrina, to 81 per 100,000 last year.

Mayor Ray Nagin has been widely quoted as saying New Orleans is on the mend. He notes the city has issued 102,000 demolition and building permits and already has collected about 50 million cubic yards of debris.

Nonetheless, the recovery process would seem to be overwhelming. The city has identified 20,000 separate projects that still need to be undertaken, from rebuilding schools, hospitals and police stations to improving basic services such as water and sewage.

City officials estimate it will cost about $135 billion to bring the Big Easy back to its old self. Yet the flow of federal funding has been clogged by federal regulations requiring 10 percent in matching funds.

There are some positive signs in the city.

According to The Brookings Institution, a private non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that independently analyzes government problems: More than 50,000 workers moved back to New Orleans between November and January and the unemployment rate has dropped from 5 to 4.5 percent. Louis Armstrong International Airport is seeing about 65 percent of the passenger traffic it saw pre-Katrina. And more than 90 percent of the city's hotels have reopened.

Before Katrina hit, the city had about 455,000 residents. Immediately after the storm, only 50,000 remained. At the start of 2007, the population had rebuilt to about 230,000, according to city estimates.

Within the past few months alone, more tourists have arrived and new shops and hotels are taking root in the downtown area, says Crystal Ward, a waitress at Big Easy Daiquiris & Cafe, a fixture on Canal Street.

"Business is definitely picking up," she said.

One recent arrival is Don Leoncio Cigars, which opened its doors on Canal Street at the beginning of March. Company president Ysidoro Rodriguez said he saw tourists as well as more conventions returning to the city.

"New Orleans is growing," he said. "This was a big surprise for me."

And some say New Orleans already feels like the Big Easy again.

"It's not exactly what it used to be," said Darrell Myles, 43, an employee with the Louisiana Clerk of Criminal Courts Office who lost his home in the Carrollton area of the city. "But it's getting there."

Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.