Think America's game is up? Take a trip to New Orleans and you'll find a different story

The city was decimated by Katrina, but now it's blazing a recovery trial

Share
Related Topics

With Obama’s victory unlikely to break the deadlock between Democrats and Republicans, and an economy yet to fully reassert itself, some people are writing off America as a country that has lost the will to fight. It could be compared to a sports team in the dressing room at half time facing the prospect of defeat.

But is such defeatism justified?

I have just returned from New Orleans, which is a potent symbol of America’s challenge. Hammered by Hurricane Katrina and ravaged by recession, this US city suffered so seriously that many thought it would never recover.

I was there with the phenomenal British American Project, a conference designed to build transatlantic ties, and got to see close up what happens when fate destroys the people you love and the possessions you cherish.

The emotions are real and raw.  Tears are never far from the surface and the sense of suffering is everywhere to see. Katrina swept through New Orleans and as the levees broke it flooded over 85 per cent of the city.

Communities were displaced, loved ones killed, homes submerged, families destroyed.

And even before Katrina the city was in freefall decline. Its education results were some of the worst in the country, its economy was propped up by government hand-outs, even its football team, the New Orleans Saints, had become a metaphor for the city as a team of losers.

But here’s the thing. There is something that the toughest of times establish instantly and that is just what sort of fighter in life you really are. Make no mistake, New Orleans has proven to be a true heavyweight and has fought its way to a recovery that is phenomenal, motivating and emotionally inspiring.

The most obvious manifestation of this has been a galvanising of infrastructure projects on a mammoth scale. New Orleans has risen again. It has built itself back brick by brick.

But there is much more to it than that, something about the attitude of the people you meet. Unbowed, undefeated and unbelievable. This is a community that has skilfully turned tragedy into triumph. 

We met entrepreneurs that lost the lot and rebuilt massively better businesses; we met educators that have inspired today’s New Orleans students to be the fastest improving in the States; we visited the Saints and saw a stadium magnificently rebuilt and a team that many see as one of the most talented in America today.

Phoenix

Oh, and then there is the music and culture that acts as the cement to hold it all together. Some say that this sort of thing is intangible. I’d say get yourself over to New Orleans. It’s tangible, brilliant and permeates everything.

There is still a long way to go. Visiting District 9 you are just overwhelmed by the loss, the sad houses still standing with the chilling white crosses showing that they had been cleared by the emergency services. But while poverty still abounds this is unmistakably a city on the up.

Never give up, never surrender. Today’s phoenix rises from the ashes not because of serendipity or luck but because of steel will and determination not to die. 

A couple of weeks ago Obama said that for the States “the best is yet to come.” Many scorned that particular view, many predict that the American century is over. Many, I would suggest, are very wrong.

America fights hard when its back is against the wall and right now it’s fighting ferociously. New Orleans is a mobilising trailblazer and an inspiring beacon. It shows what happens when you galvanise the power of belief, the strength of community, the potential of people. 

“Who’s that? Who’s that? Who’s that say they gonna beat them Saints?" That’s the cry of the sport team, the roar of New Orleans, and the spirit of a city that has just plain refused to be beaten. 

Thought the game was over? Think again. America’s second half has just begun.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

£40 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse needed in salfordI a...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: architecture, suitcases and ‘pathetic figures’

John Rentoul
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script after James Foley beheading

Robert Fisk
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape