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New Orleans of Future May Stay Half Its Old Size

But some economists and demographers are beginning to wonder whether New Orleans will top out at about half its prestorm population of about 444,000, already in a steep decline from its peak of 627,525 in the 1960 Census. At the moment, the population is well below half, and future gains are likely to be small.

...

The new doubts, surprisingly, are largely not based on the widespread damage caused by the flood. Rather, crippling problems that existed long before Hurricane Katrina are mostly being blamed for the city’s failure to thrive.

A hard, but fair, look at the situation in NOLA 17 months post-Katrina by the New York Times. The basic tennet is the possibility that the current population is within a few percentage points of what the new, normal population of NOLA will be. With pre-Katrina problems such as crime and government corruption now leading the list of issues facing the remaining residents (and those who have yet to return), the culture of NOLA is in peril.

With scholorly work now coming to the mainstream with predictions like this, what is the face of NOLA to become? Is it realistic to expect to preserve every cultural aspects of the city pre-Katrina? Where does the city shrink, either geographically, culturally, or both? Who gets to decide? Who is deciding?

In short, who chooses what to lose in order to save the most?

Hard questions, but questions that need to be asked (and for which I'll be flamed, I'm sure). Good article, check it out.

New Orleans of Future May Stay Half Its Old Size - New York Times

Comments

  1. The "Official Asker of Those Questions Deemed Stupid" strikes again - and as usual, it's not a stupid question. I agree with some parts of the NYT article - that New Orleans is not likely to regain its pre-Katrina population any time soon, if ever, and that crime and poverty rates are a major factor in many peoples' decisions whether to return or to stay. But I have misgivings about a lot of the article.

    For one thing, it's best to take anything written by Adam Nossiter with a grain of salt. Whether he's a tool is still up for debate and I'm not going to go there (not quite, anyway), but I have to agree that most of his articles I've read belong in the Op-Ed section. From Public Housing, to the Holy Cross vs Cabrini struggle, to the Anti-Crime March, to this latest piece, I've detected more along the lines of persuasive argument than hard news, and he's been guilty of some glaring omissions regarding the different viewpoints and analyses in our ongoing raging debates when they don't fit his thesis. That's not good reporting in my book.

    One of our many challenges is that there are lies, damn lies, statistics, and post-Katrina statistics. No one can agree on what the current population is, so I find it hard to swallow anyone's future projections, particularly when the latest planning process hasn't produced a plan, and hardly any of the federal relief money has been disbursed.

    It's also painful to see quotes like "Most of those who have not returned — 175,000, by Mr. Stonecipher’s count — are very poor, and can be more easily absorbed in places with vibrant job markets, they say." Smacks of Barbara Bush's statement in the Astrodome that "these people" are better off now than they were before. I agree absolutely that anyone who feels they've landed somewhere with better opportunities should pursue their own best interests, but it's overlooking a lot to suggest that a one-way bus ticket to an arbitrary city is going to be better for all 175,000 (or whoever's number you like), and that proximity to family and friends doesn't factor into quality of life.

    Disheartening too is "Large-scale concentrations of deep poverty — as was the case in New Orleans before the storm — are inherently harmful to cities." It brings up Andres Duany (one of our present planning mavens) and his statement in his gentrification manifesto that affordable housing is bad for cities, and the ridiculous "decanting monocultures of poverty" (to where, exactly? was Houston what he had in mind?). It makes it seem like the poor afflict cities with their poverty, not vice versa. Sadly, the way things are going, New Orleans is likely to continue manufacturing poverty, whether among returnees or new recruits. As long as we have schools that let kids drift along and graduate in the no man's land of knowing their letters but not being fluently literate in this Information Age, when even many menial jobs now require paperwork and computer use, employment is going to be a problem here. Our overwhelmingly tourism-driven economy with it's preponderance of low-wage jobs with little prospect of advancement isn't going to help much either.

    So I guess it's not the statement that "crippling problems that existed long before Hurricane Katrina are mostly being blamed for the city’s failure to thrive" that I take issue with in this case, but with the article's treatment of a city and it's citizens as nothing more than an economic unit. Less than that, actually, because an economic analysis would have gone farther than totting up the number of unemployed and would have looked harder at why New Orleans before Katrina wasn't a more "vibrant job market."

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  2. A little background on the statistics issue - estimates of the current population have been calculated by a number of professionals using a number of methods and criteria. Some factor in the number of Entergy and/or Sewerage and Water Board customers, some look at the Post Office's mail delivery and forwarding records, some attempt to guess at the number of squatters (undocumented laborers and returnees alike) and the likelihood that friends and families are doubled (and tripled) up (sometimes in violation of leases, hence an unwillingness to come forward). These factors are given varying degrees of weight by the various institutions researching them. It's not that statistics aren't being professionally produced, it's just that any attempt to estimate the current population suffers from the same uncertainties. Statistics aren't really "damn lies," but they can be pressed into misleading service. There was a particular controversy over Mayor Nagin's use of the rosiest numbers he could find to suggest that the population had reached more than half its pre-Katrina level. Using the gloomiest numbers without acknowledging that a wide range of estimates exists is just as wrong.

    The fact that New Orleans is smaller now, and the question of how to proceed under those circumstances are being vigorously debated at every level. The word "footprint" has been anathema since the BNOB made the mistake of precipitously proposing greenspacing before taking into account either their actual elevation, or the level of interest in returning and rebuilding. Now the term is "clustering," but its proponents haven't (to my knowledge) produced a thorough plan or even set of scenarios of how that might be accomplished. Even the UNOP admitted (in the pamphlet accompanying the questions asked at the second Communitee Congress) that requiring and/or incentivizing clustering would be more expensive than not. They didn't say how much more, or what the costs vs benefits of clustering or not would be over the short vs long term, so it's not been possible yet to take an informed position on what's still a very wooly issue. Those are some of the statistics I'd like to see (or sets of statistics and how they were determined, ideally). We don't know, for instance, what areas might be approved or disapproved for clustering. We don't know how people might obtain housing there - house "swaps" have been proposed, but just who will be doing the swapping and how is still a mystery. How big should a cluster be? How dense? What happens if a proto-cluster doesn't reach critical mass? The planning professionals haven't been forthcoming, and the laity have had to get on with their lives in the mean time and hope that their clusters will merit viability.

    And yes, it is an economic question at every level. But estimating the number of non-working adults as so many units and drawing the conclusion that the city couldn't support its population and those "units" should therefore be left wherever they were dropped off isn't really an analysis.

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