Television images of New Orleans in the aftermath of the famous hurricane, Katrina, will forever be burned into the minds of millions. When you think of New Orleans, it’s still hard not to see devastated homes, boats buzzing down flooded streets, and terrified citizens camped on roofs and hanging from helicopter rescue lines. People left the city by the tens of thousands, and damages are estimated at more than $100 billion.
How does a city recover from that? The answer in this case: in a million amazing ways. As New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu says, “The people of the city didn’t build it the way it was. They built it the way it should have been built the last time.”
New Orleans Recovery on Many Fronts
Now, when people think of New Orleans, they think of superhuman efforts after the storm to bring about change. Accomplishments have been made in many areas. Some you would expect: disaster recovery, emergency preparedness and flood protection.
- A $2 million state-of-the-art emergency operations center was established in the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
- New evacuation plans include transportation for 40,000 residents and tourists, Evacuspot pick-up points, and improved collaboration between public safety agencies, with a state-of-the-art communication system.
- A $14.5 billion investment in a Greater New Orleans hurricane and storm damage risk reduction system includes a 133-mile perimeter system, 70 miles of interior risk reduction structure, a 1.8-mile-long, 26-foot-high surge barrier and the world’s largest drainage pumping station.
Other areas of recovery represent efforts by citizens to go beyond repairing the damage to making their city better than it was before by improving civic engagement, criminal justice services, health and wellness, K-12 education and neighborhood revitalization.
- Government reform efforts include the city’s first ever Ethics Review Board, a new Office of Inspector General and a new Independent Police Monitor position.
- Many efforts have been made to increase neighborhood engagement, promote public participation in government decision-making and bring the city together in a comprehensive recovery plan.
The city’s jail population and murder rate have decreased substantially with efforts to reduce violence and promote conflict resolution.
- New Orleans has increased access to health clinics, bikeways and trails, homebuilding grants and educational opportunities.
For visitors to New Orleans, the most interesting areas of recovery are economic development, entrepreneurship, culture and tourism.
- The city added more than 14,000 jobs between 2010 and 2015, 78,000 of them created by the tourism industry.
- Numerous awards and official kudos confirm the city’s economic development improvements.
- New Orleans far exceeds the national average of business startups per capita, at 56%.
- Restaurants in New Orleans increased by 600 since Katrina, to a total of more than 1,400.
- Sales tax collected now surpasses dollars collected in 2004, the year before Katrina.
- More than 9.5 million visitors came to New Orleans in 2014 for events, including 129 festivals attended by an estimated 4 million people, up 25% since 2010.
- More than 6% of New Orleans citizens are employed in cultural industries, half again as much as the national average of 4%.
With a tourism industry worth more than $6 billion, New Orleans still is considered one of the world’s premier travel destinations. Recent accolades include:
- World’s Best City, Travel+Leisure Magazine
- Top 10 City to Visit in 2015, Rough Guides
- Top 25 Cities in the World, Condé Nast Traveler
- Six Trips that Will Change Your Life, Coastal Living Magazine
- 20 Best Places to Travel in the World, National Geographic Traveler
- Excellence in Sports Tourism, World Travel Awards
True New Orleans Katrina Recovery: Individual Lives and Neighborhoods
The recovery of New Orleans has been studied extensively and reported on by many on television, in newspapers and in speeches, such as those given by Mayor Landrieu and during visits by dignitaries, including Pres. Barack Obama. However, the real story of New Orleans recovery takes place in the neighborhoods, within families struggling to come together again after being separated, and along streets full of businesses that survived the storm or sprouted up after it.
There is still much to do to turn New Orleans into the city it wants to be. Some believe recovery has been uneven, with racial disparities and economic and educational opportunities more accessible for the well-to-do. The city’s hardest hit section, the Lower Ninth District, is still missing homes, businesses and residents. More than half of those who died in the storm were elderly, and their wisdom and knowledge went with them.
However, the wounds are healing after Hurricane Katrina, the people are returning, the problems are gradually becoming those of a normal city, rather than a city ravaged by a hurricane – if you can ever call an extraordinary city like New Orleans normal.