Monday, September 17, 2007

New Orleans

I just got back from a weekend in New Orleans and thought I would share my thoughts on this recovering city.

You should plan a trip to New Orleans. The food in great, there is lots to do in the city and plenty of places to have a great time. I had dinner Thursday night at the Commander's Palace in the Garden District, breakfast at Camellia's Grill, lunch at Bayona in the French Quarter and a dinner Friday night at Antoine's Restaurant in the French Quarter. The food, service and accommodations were all wonderful. All four of these places have recently re-opened.

The French Quarter, Canal Street, and other tourist areas were not as damaged as other parts of the city, are re-opened and waiting for you to come and visit.

The bad part of the story is that the city's housing stock was badly damaged across the economic spectrum.

We drove through some affluent areas that were badly damaged. There were a few signs of the damage. But the areas are now mostly rebuilt. People with money were able to line up contractors quickly and rebuild before getting their insurance money.

In the middle class areas, you could see the bathtub ring across the front of the buildings in the neighborhoods. This ring marks the level of the waterline where the floodwaters sat for weeks waiting for the levees to be fixed and the pumps turned on. The debris is gone, but few houses have been re-built. Most of the people are just gone. They fled from Katrina, settled down in a new community and have stayed there. Similarly, the commercial infrastructure has not been rebuilt in these areas because the customers are not there. The supermarkets have no desire to rebuild if there are no longer customers in the neighborhood. Schools are still closed because the population of students is gone, as are the teachers.

In the poorer areas there are still FEMA trailers and little rebuilding. There is no capital to rebuild. Unlike the middle class areas, the people did not have the resources to flee and start over in a new community.

The population of New Orleans is currently 33% to 50% smaller than it was was pre-Katrina. It seems like a big chunk of this missing population is the middle-class.

The city is alive and vibrant, just smaller than it used to be. New Orleans will come back as the small business and employers come back to the city. It will take years.

Hopefully, over those years the government and the people will not forgot how important it is to build and maintain the levees and pumps that allow New Orleans to exist. Another hurricane will come some day. That is inevitable. New Orleans needs to make sure it has the defenses to withstand the next hurricane.

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