New Orleans after Katrina: Shifting Landscape

"While the weather forecasters emphasized the enormous power of Hurricane Katrina as it headed toward the Gulf Coast, few area residents expected it to ravage their region. In the end, Katrina caused an estimated $200 to $300 billion of property damage across a 300-mile stretch of the Gulf. Inflicting twice as much damage as Hurricane Andrew did in Florida in 1992, previously the nation’s most destructive tropical storm, Katrina swept away entire communities, destroyed more than 62,000 structures, flooded more than 250,000 homes, halted the operations of some 12,000 businesses and claimed more than 1,200 lives. Displacing more than 1 million Americans over a 92,000 square mile area, the storm triggered the largest emergency relief effort in U.S. history.

Nowhere were the effects of this horrific storm more visible than in New Orleans, where three major levee failures resulted in serious flooding affecting 80 percent of the city. The storm and its raging floodwaters added an unimaginable burden to a city that was already experiencing serious environmental, economic, social and governmental problems.

In the days following the hurricane, a number of national policy institutes prepared reports describing pre-storm conditions within the city, the impact of the hurricane and the resulting levee failures and possible recovery strategies. Among the most frequently cited of these studies was a preliminary estimate suggesting that only half of the city’s former residents would return. It prompted a number of planners and policymakers to advocate a “planned shrinkage” approach to creating a more compact, more efficient and less flood-prone city. (...)

The federal and state governments’ investments over the past 50 years in flood control, wetland reclamation and highway construction have led to the rapid growth of the suburbs outside New Orleans, while out-migration by middle-class, white families caused the city’s population to decline and led to residential segregation previously not seen within the city. Historically it had been among the most mixed cities in the nation in terms of race and income, due largely to the physical barriers to expansion imposed by the wetlands surrounding the city.

What New Orleans residents need and deserve is not simply a blueprint to restore the city to its former status, but a visionary plan to transform it into a more vibrant, sustainable and equitable city (...)."


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photo via Huffington Post

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