Jed Horne: Yes, our city has become smaller – but it has also found a surplus of spirit

Eyewitness

Share
Related Topics

New Orleans – with its penchant for masked revelry, secret societies and private lives lived behind veils of wrought iron and shuttered windows – has always been a city of mystery. And since Hurricane Katrina, a great deal of attention has been focused on an enigma of some consequence: How many people actually live here? And who are they?

The questions bristle with political and economic implications, which in a city like New Orleans inevitably provoke twinges of racial anxiety.

Had the city's élites, as accused, toyed with post-disaster recovery strategies in ways to keep the low-income, largely black "underclass" from returning in such large numbers?

Are people inhabiting the hulks of houses ruined in the flooding and assumed to be abandoned? Did the suddenly homeless pile in with kith and kin to share phones, electrical and postal services in ways that made these traditional population measures unreliable?

The 2010 census figures give at least a best-guess answer to these questions – not that the numbers will go entirely uncontested. From street-level here in New Orleans, the gloss on the numbers is this: the city's 29 per cent drop in population is severe, though less so in the context of the overall metropolitan region, now judged to be only 10 per cent smaller. Yes, the city is less black than it was, but at 60 per cent, African Americans maintain demographic dominance. The surge in Latino residents is impressive – an influx of 33,500.

The paradox at the heart of the data dump has to be that a city now confirmed to have undergone such a sharp population loss could be enjoying such a heady sense of redemption and vitality – and against the backdrop of a devastating national recession.

The opiate against economic pain to some degree is surely the government guilt money for rebuilding the city inundated when the federal levee system failed after the hurricane in 2005. To cite just a couple of examples, the city's entire public school system is about to be rebuilt courtesy of the federal government, at a cost of $2bn (£1.24bn). At a comparable price, a replacement medical complex is about to go up. These are huge sums for a relatively small city, and do not mention the billions already going into storm and flood defence.

But there is more to the heady zeitgeist of New Orleans than jobs and money. At least as important is a kind of survivors' joy. A sense of purpose and possibility has jolted New Orleans from the corrupting subtropical torpor to which it once felt doomed. Far more of the thieves who traditionally governed this place are being packed off to prison. New businesses are popping up without as many palms needing to be greased.

A cohort of talented, restless, and, largely, privileged young people have flocked to New Orleans, drawn by a sense of adventure and purpose. The flip side of the new economy is the persistence of murderous violence related to the street-level drug trade

Mysteries remain, of course. What happens when the last of the recovery money is gone? The central question posed by the census data is laced with a residual sadness: How many of those who left – the city's most vulnerable citizens among them – still struggle to return as the good times roll? Has Katrina's stamp on a shrunken city become permanent?



Jed Horne lives in New Orleans and is author of 'Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City'

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss