Edwin Buggage Editor-in-Chief New Orleans Data News Weekly
A Changing City
As the City of New Orleans is on the eve of Hurricane Katrina, it must be asked where is it today? Is it getting better or worse? It would depend on your vantage point. Does a city that is experienced a shrinking population (484, 674) pre-Katrina, today has an estimated population of 383,997 people look like a bright future? Does It is 195 neighborhoods that is demographically changing, as newcomers are moving in displacing long term residents make the city a better place for all its residents? These are questions nearly two decades after Katrina people are asking themselves.
Moreover, in this time New Orleans has become a city that’s become for many too expensive to live in. Further, while it is an historical and a place that many loves to come and experience, the native people, who give the city its heartbeat are arguably on life support trying to hold on for dear life in a city that does not resemble its pre-Katrina self.
Conversely, many of the proponents of change would argue, the city is experiencing a renaissance, and refashioning where people are coming in re-populating areas, buying homes and spending money with businesses, and adding to the value of New Orleans. Thus, increasing the quality of life for all the city’s residents.
Crime and the Economic Divide
In this sea of change, the city continues to attract young, educated and predominately White people to New Orleans, who are planting new roots in a place that has an enviable lifestyle where one can truly enjoy life. Additionally, it offers where many of the amenities that are rated among the top in the world. Nevertheless, there is an underside to this narrative where an economic and racial divide are contributing factors to widespread crime and violence. It should be noted, today with fewer residents New Orleans again is on track to become the homicide capital of the nation with a rate of seventy-two per 100,000 residents. This jump in 2022 has taken place after a 50 year low in homicides with 121 in 2019. A truly troubling trend for the City of New Orleans citizens who desire safety in their neighborhoods and communities.
In post Katrina New Orleans, the educational system has changed dramatically. Where after the storm and levee breach left 80% of the city underwater, during this time of tumult, chaos, and uncertainty, over seven thousand New Orleans Public School teacher were terminated. Leaving in its midst fertile ground for New Orleans as ground zero for educational experiments. Some argue today that they have netted better results in terms of scores on standardized test, etc.
Whereas it fails to examine from a holistic perspective the impact that this decision had on the City of New Orleans beyond schools. Consider the mass layoffs of veteran teachers who made up a considerable amount of the Black middle class of New Orleans. That were homeowners, taxpayers, provided community leadership, inspiration, and role models for the children of K-12 education in the public schools of the city.
Fast forward to what took its place, programs such as Teach for America and charter school experiments have been met with mixed results. Some would argue that the teachers are inexperienced, do not have the cultural competency to work with diverse learners, and because of them they have contributed to the teaching profession in New Orleans becoming transient and negatively impacting students and communities adversely.
In a city during pre-Katrina was considered affordable, today the housing market is unrecognizable, as low-income renters and African American homeowners are being priced out of the market. This is forcing many to live in neighboring parishes and being an impediment for others who desire to return to New Orleans. This has created a population shift, as moderate-income renters and particularly homeowners who did not have the resources to rebuild their homes and decided to either abandon or sell homes to developers, who often made hefty profits in the new housing market in New Orleans.
Another factor contributing to the shortage of affordable housing is the boom in short term rentals reducing the number of rental properties available. Further exacerbating the problem in neighborhoods, particularly those on higher ground have seen Black working-class people displaced by Whites who see these areas as attractive and are willing to buy them at inflated prices or pay higher rents.
The Culture Traditions of New Orleans
New Orleans is a city where its culture is the lifeblood running through the veins giving the city its rich life and heritage. This some would say is not fully in jeopardy because it is a feature people come to enjoy, food, music, architecture, and the joie de vivre of the city. Some would argue that having a watered-down version of this is ok for tourists and newcomers to the city. Because authenticity is not important, only the superficial spectacle of what the culture is without appreciation of its history, traditions, or significance.
What is the Future of New Orleans and Who Will Determine its Direction?
To summarize, in this nearly 20 years later after a storm washed away a city, and possibly a way of life. We must ask ourselves, what will become of the most important ingredient in what makes the city special, its people? For they are a vital source of the rich gumbo that makes it what it is. Nevertheless, it does not negate the need for change in so many areas to make the city better for all, but at what cost? Ask yourself, does the city need to become a vanilla, Disneyfied version of itself to move forward? Or can it be a city where some who have left can return? Where all children can receive a quality education? Where our leaders can attract jobs that would place more citizens in the middle class? And most importantly, can the city bridge the racial divide that was exposed for the world to see during Hurricane Katrina?