NCR contributor on five years since Katrina

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Frequent NCR contributor and New Orleans resident Jason Berry offered his thoughts on the city's post-Katrina revival for two publications this weekend.

In the Canadian paper The Globe and Mail, Berry spoke of the divide between the burgeoning of culture and the failure of politics Katrina brought to the city.

From the piece:

Culture prevailed, post Katrina, but politics failed.

From a pre-storm population of 457,000, New Orleans is smaller by 100,000. The city was 67-per-cent African-American; today that figure is about 61 per cent. Roughly a third of the population lived in poverty before Katrina and now, despite a smaller human footprint, poverty and crime still run deep.

The flood hit hardest in downriver neighbourhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward, which today has pockets of recovery amid a ghost town of empty houses. The brightest spot is a cluster of pastel homes, solar powered and of cutting-edge architectural design, sponsored by Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation. A movie star did more to rebuild the Big Nine than city hall.

After the flood, Mayor C. Ray Nagin, an African-American and nominal Democrat (he gave $1,000 to Mr. Bush's 2000 campaign), failed to use the media as a bully pulpit to gain Congressional support for infrastructure funds. He touted a “market driven” recovery. “The city has made a hash of post-hurricane planning, and the invisible hand of the market is raising its middle finger,” Tulane historian Lawrence Powell would write.

Over at Politics Daily, Berry wrote on similar themes, emphasizing the strides New Orleans has made since the hurricane.

From that piece:

As the celebrations roll out over the weekend, New Orleans has not achieved the smaller urban footprint that planners from the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C., endorsed in the early weeks after the flood. The population is smaller, with large areas under-populated and under-serviced.

The cultural life is richer, the mayor a few tons smarter. A Recovery School District of charter schools has supplanted much of the public school system, the bureaucracy of which was a patronage hive of astonishing corruption. Test scores for many kids are up, though the long-term success of the new model has yet to be determined.

The root problems are still here. Yet, even with nearly 30 percent of the people living in poverty and a criminal justice system that desperately needs an overhaul, the city that drowned on national television has come back in ways that no one could have imagined.

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