1.20.2007

NOLA / 2

New Orleans has lost approximately half of its population since Hurricane Katrina. From the NYTimes:
Hurricane Katrina may have brutally recalibrated the city’s demographics, setting New Orleans firmly on the path its underlying characteristics had already been leading it down: a city losing people at the rate of perhaps 1.5 percent a year before Hurricane Katrina, with a stagnant economy, more than a quarter of the population living in poverty, and a staggeringly high rate of unemployment, in which as many as one in five were jobless or not seeking work.

Political leaders, worried about the loss of clout and a Congressional seat, press for people to return, but a smaller New Orleans may not be bad, some economists say. 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.

There were times when I was growing up when my home didn't have running water or electricity, and as a result I have been sensitive to the issues related to unemployment and poverty. Visiting New Orleans was always a little heartbreaking for me, because I always felt like I was returning to my childhood past. It always seemed that the ghosts of the South refused to die in that city, but some might argue that it contributed to the charm.

There is something pure about living in that type of economic condition, you experience the lowest of the lows and you exist without the type of security blanket that most people enjoy in life. But... it allows you a type of freedom that I almost miss, because it allows for an appreciation of life that you overlook when you have that security blanket. When you feel like you have to fight to survive each passing week, it makes you feel very, very alive. Vibrant, in tune with yourself. I feel that I have had to trade some that self-awareness in exchange for the economic security blanket that I have now.

If many of the impoverished NOLA residents can find a new home and integrate into the economic engine of their new city, then I am happy for them. It's unfortunate that it came with such a high price, and that the spirit of the city is permanently altered. Just like Iraq, I feel that we had a very small window of time to set things in the right direction, and the Bush Administration squandered it. The Big Easy could have been rebuilt as a shining example of the strength of post-9/11 America. But I guess Bush wanted to go blow the dough in some stupid desert...

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