How Katrina revived New Orleans

By Guest Contributor
August 27, 2010

USA/

The following is a guest post by Amy Liu, a senior fellow and deputy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and co-author of the New Orleans Index at Five. The opinions expressed are her own.

This weekend, President Obama will head to New Orleans to mark the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. He should use this opportunity to present a plan for the future, not merely acknowledge the past.

We know how these anniversary rituals go. Fact sheets summarize administration achievements. Remarks feature on-the-ground successes. But this year, successes are tempered by the lingering uncertainties and unmet needs of the massive Gulf oil spill.

The president can’t avoid the entanglement of two of history’s worst disasters playing out on his watch in the same region. Luckily, the tremendous progress made post-Katrina in New Orleans offers a lesson for how the administration should shape its post-oil spill recovery efforts.

Thanks to the combination of federal and philanthropic investments, New Orleanians have been able to put the city and metro area on the path to transformation and long-term prosperity.

Katrina exposed the long-standing problems that faced New Orleans – poverty, racial and economic disparities, a stagnant economy, unsustainable land use, and failing public services, such as public education, criminal justice, and health care. The last thing taxpayers and local residents want is to have billions of dollars spent building back those failures.

In the last five years, New Orleanians, with federal, state, and other partners, have worked tirelessly to reinvent their metro area. There is now a land use master plan, which has the force of law behind it, that will guide future development without the rules being changed arbitrarily by a developer or a city official, which has happened in the past. This is a big deal in and of itself and also because most cities haven’t updated their land use plans in 20 years.

There are nearly 100 new community-based clinics that offer quality preventive care to low-income and minority patients. There is a more integrated, efficient and fair criminal justice system coming into view. The overhaul of the public schools is producing a higher share of students proficient in math and English.  And a new inspector general’s office is rooting out fraud, waste, and corruption.

While economic trends in greater New Orleans are still fluctuating from the impacts of the recession and the oil spill, there are early indications that the regional economy may be performing better than in previous decades; there is growth in knowledge-based jobs, average wages and entrepreneurship.

NFL-DRAFT/

Yet, greater New Orleans is still a work in progress. The Gulf oil spill, like Katrina, exposed remaining challenges. The New Orleans metro economy continues to be sluggish and overly dependent on a few industries that have been shrinking long before the oil spill — tourism, oil and gas, and shipbuilding. A shortage of educated workers holds back the region’s transition to a more innovative future. The rapidly-eroding wetlands are ill-equipped to protect the coastal economy and quality of life.

The Obama administration has asserted its long-term commitment to the Gulf Coast. The President, then, must use this Katrina anniversary to present plans that respond to the economic and environmental fallout from the spill while furthering the transformation that has begun in greater New Orleans, including:

  • Sustaining current post-Katrina reforms, such as the progress in health care and the criminal justice system. Housing and neighborhood opportunities represent a mere beginning on a long road of systemic improvements.
  • Diversifying the metro economy by providing incentives and tools to help leaders, workers and firms join the nation’s transition to a more clean and renewable energy future, expanding its energy portfolio.
  • Strengthening existing and growing industries, such as helping to modernize the port as a vehicle for doubling exports and expanding U.S. capacity to handle an increasing volume of freight.
  • Giving minority- and women-owned enterprises opportunities to participate in the post-oil spill cleanup and recovery efforts.
  • Restoring the wetlands as part of a comprehensive approach to coastal protection that builds on the levee reconstruction and structural solutions to date. This would have the added benefit of creating jobs and strengthening the region’s engineering and innovation in coastal protection products and services.

With the overall economic recovery wavering, it is time to use limited public and private sector funds in ways that will have bold, far-reaching effects.

If Obama can partner with the people of greater New Orleans in this shared vision for prosperity, he will leave a lasting legacy of having catalyzed the most successful urban transformation in recent history.

4 comments

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Sometimes good things come out of tragedy

Posted by STORYBURNthere | Report as abusive

Nice to conveniently ignore that half the city will have to be bulldozed and that the population has shrunk by nearly 300k since Katrina… other than THAT, everything is getting better. These fluff pieces that are low on facts and big on sentiment are a real detriment to Reuters – going back to AP for news.

Posted by CDN_finance | Report as abusive

The final stroke of Katrina propaganda – “Katrina was a good thing” is an example of the porous morality that is alive in the United States. Katrina did not ‘revive’ New Orleans – the City of New Orleans is a major port in the United States. It was going to be rebuilt if only because it is at the mouth of the Mississippi River – this is information normally provided to elementary school children. The current resurgence in necessary business activity should not hide the callous disregard for human life that was shown following the hurricane nor should it blot out the uneconimical location of the ‘ship canal’ that cuts through the city and remains a threat to anyone living there. Why not some more stories about the Army Corps of Engineers and the unnecessary risks they put millions of Americans at in order to satisfy short-sighted self interests? (The people that needed the ship canal and wanted it built are long dead and their businesses long ago wound down)

Posted by cranston | Report as abusive

New Orleans is a garbage dump in the middle of a swamp. The Feds and State should have taken the golden opportunity to raze the entire city to the ground while they had a chance. That would have been an improvement. Restoring any of the garbage dump is just making the state worse. No one could imagine where people get the idea the Port of New Orleans contributes anything to the state. New Orleans is a garbage dump for cruiser ship tourists. The Port of Louisiana does around 248 million tons of business every year. The Port of New Orleans does an average of 8.6 million tons in a year. In other words, the Port of Louisiana is 29 times bigger and more important than the tawdry, tacky, tasteless tourist marina in New Orleans.

It’s not too late. Start fire-bombing New Orleans today, and make Louisiana a better state. There’s no need to order an evacuation. Getting rid of the people would improve the state and the country, too.

Posted by FirstAdvisor | Report as abusive

[...] would ever return. Well as you can see from many of the news articles today, New Orleans has a new breath of life. But it isn’t quite there, yet. And now faced with the oil spill disaster it is unclear once [...]