Now that the cameras have been shut off (again) and much of the media have gone home following saturation coverage of New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, we're left again to assess the city through our own lenses. A study released last week by the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University (LSU) provided a wide-angle view. Titled "Views of Recovery Ten Years after Katrina and Rita," the survey of more than 1,000 people statewide showed that opinions on the recovery correlate strongly with where people live and how bad the flooding was in their areas. People in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, for example, see a greater decline in the quality of life and find the economy worse than before the storm compared to residents of New Orleans whose homes stayed relatively dry during Katrina.
White and black residents also differ in their assessment of the changes within New Orleans, particularly changes in the governance of local public schools. One-third of black residents say schools are better and nearly as many think they're worse, while 55 percent of white residents think schools are better and only 16 percent find them worse. Everyone seems to agree, however, that residents did not have enough say in how the region came back. Sixty percent agreed with the statement, "People like me had no say in the rebuilding process."
Just as New Orleans' recovery is undeniable, lingering inequities also are undeniable. Just last week, the Lower 9th Ward broke ground on its first major retail chain since the storm — a CVS pharmacy. In 10 years, not one national chain had opened to serve those who returned to the Lower 9. Across town, new eateries and shops seem to open in Mid-City and the Warehouse District on a daily basis. And Central City is seeing a third stage of recovery, with pricey restaurants opening blocks from some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. "Resilience" clearly means different things in different parts of town.
President Barack Obama understands the nuances — and the disparities — of our region's recovery. In a speech in Treme Aug. 27 (where he had stopped for lunch at Willie Mae's Scotch House), the president said, "Part of our goal has always been to make sure not just that we recovered from the storm, but also that we started dealing with some of the structural inequities that existed long before the storm happened." Later in the day, speaking to an audience at the Andrew P. Sanchez & Copelin-Byrd Multi-Service Center in the Lower 9, the president noted that what initially was seen as a natural disaster quickly became a man-made disaster as well — "the failure of government to look out for our own citizens."
We would have liked to hear the president go one step further and acknowledge the failure of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect southeast Louisiana before and during the storm, but he stopped short of that admission. Meanwhile, we remain grateful to those who came to help after the floods. As our region continues to recover, let's all work to make sure that "resiliency" applies equally going forward.