Four Years

This weekend marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s assault on my original home town.

My recent visit to New Orleans showed me two things: 1) residents are resilient and stubborn and 2) the city is still a shadow of its former self.

My sister’s house, the one we grew up in, has been rehabbed and looks great. The structure survived the flooding in Lakeview and the changes she was able to make have truly turned the house into hers.

But there is now a vacant lot on either side of her and I counted at least a dozen houses within two blocks of hers that are still boarded up, still look like they did when we first went back to access damage six weeks after the storm. Those houses have been gutted, as required by law, but remain unoccupied and unlivable.

October 2005 with water-logged belongings awaiting removal

July 2009 after elevation and much rehabbing

Many neighborhoods are worse off. The poorer sections of town have blocks and blocks of vacant lots, with the occasional partially rehabbed house sitting in the middle looking like an island. There is ongoing local debate about whether or not those neighborhoods should be resettled or gentrified by developers who have swooped in to cash in on that possibility.

If you’ve ever visited New Orleans, you know it is unique, unusual, funky … the food, the music, the architecture, the accent. It is a cultural icon and unlike any other city. But most estimates say only half the pre-Katrina population has returned and the rest will never go back. People, not structures, make a place unique.

July 2009 view of the levee break

Tourism was always one of the two biggest industries there, but every time I visit, I see more evidence that New Orleans will one day be a commercial reproduction of a historic site, with buildings mimicking the originals and re-enactors playing the part of the original citizens.

Right now it is still the real thing, still funky, still authentic. Visit while you can.