A Visit to New Orleans

Nola Resize I hope.jpgThis photo shows a tour bus on what appears to be a “Katrina Devastation Tour” in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Virtually nothing has been reconstructed there, and a weekend visit evidenced lots of rebuilding to be done elsewhere in the city.

I’ve just gotten back from Nola, where I was celebrating a wedding of two friends. That was terrific, and the French Quarter is still going strong (I highly recommend Broussard’s for dinner and Palm Court for music.) But I had no idea what it meant for 80% of a city to flood, and for FEMA trailers to dominate the residential landscape over a year after the deluge.

What’s going on? I don’t have a deep grasp of the dynamics here, but one narrative kept repeating: the chicken & egg dynamic of residents not wanting to come back until businesses returned and businesses not wanting to re-open until residents returned. I stayed in a middle class enclave near the University of New Orleans, which apparently had cafes, fitness clubs, restaurants, and grocery stores before the storm—but all were still boarded up. The only food I passed was a mobile cart labeled “Pizza Milano.” So it’s no wonder many houses are abandoned, or fronted by the ubiquitous (and quite small) FEMA trailers.

In this way, Nola resembles many inner-cities that seem trapped in cycles of middle-class flight and declining amenities. I imagine there might be some good lessons for reconstruction from other cities that managed to revitalize.


Obviously government has a lot to do here, as a boatload of gallows humor reveals. Hartman & Squires’s collection “There is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster” suggests the depth of local government dysfunction and malign federal neglect. Apparently hundreds of doctors are likely to leave Louisiana by the end of the year, due to a lack of hospitals and general uncertainty about Nola’s economic future.

I also noted a number of charities active, including ACORN and Catholic Charities in the Lower Ninth Ward. But when all’s said and done, the city has to get back on its feet economically. I think it’s important for people to have a sense of just how much would be lost if Nola fails to recover. I doubt I’ve ever been in a place with as much good live music, friendly people, and fantastic food. The architecture of the French Quarter is striking, and most of its streets free of the cookie-cutter corporate banality that makes so many other locales pale replicas of one another. (But for those of you who like that kind of stuff, there is a Hard Rock Café and an Urban Outfitters tucked away by the Mississippi River.)

The whole situation poses some of the same dilemmas that bothered me when I lived in some pretty marginal neighborhoods in Washington, DC. On one level, I wanted the Washington Post to cover the the social problems that plagued neighborhoods like Petworth and Shaw, in order to get the city government to respond. On the other hand, I also cringed when they did so, fearing that property values would take a hit and small businesses would get scared away. It seems to me that Nola has a similar problem–stories of just how dire the reconstruction situation are could drown out the more helpful (and equally true) positive message: that it’s still an amazing place to live in and visit.

Anyway, I’ll try to think a bit more about what law can do for Nola during the week. I’ve got to read the series of posts on the topic at Jurisdynamics to get my bearings…

You may also like...