In Context

Carolyn Parker's concern that the city would claim her damaged home was not unfounded. Shortly after Katrina, Dennis Hastert, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time, declared that rebuilding the city didn't make sense, saying "It's a question that certainly we should be asking. It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." Professor of Natural Sciences at St. Louis University Timothy M. Kusky writes that New Orleans has long been sinking and that it very well may be 18 feet below sea level by the end of the century. He notes, "New Orleans is one of America's great historic cities, and our emotional response to the disaster is to rebuild it grander and greater than before. However, this may not be the most rational or scientifically sound response and could lead to even greater human catastrophe and financial loss in the future."

In 2005, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin commissioned a panel that recommended converting the hardest hit areas of the city (including the Lower Ninth Ward) into "green space." As depicted in I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful, many members of the local community saw this as an attempt to change the makeup of the city by eradicating the poorest neighborhoods with the largest African-American populations. Nagin ultimately rejected the recommendation and allowed residents to return.

Since Mitch Landrieu took office as mayor of New Orleans in 2010, funding for construction projects has surged. The first neighborhood to receive new funds was the Lower Ninth Ward. These funds included $60 million for street repairs, $50 million for rebuilding schools and $14.5 million for a new community center. But as of 2012 there was little sign of new construction.

Much abandoned space remains in the Lower Ninth Ward and clearing or developing these lots is still a priority for the city. In the area, 739 homeowners sold their properties to the state after Katrina. The idea was that the state would resell them, but about 570 of those properties remain unsold, with entire blocks undeveloped. Hundreds of other homeowners retained their properties but have been unable to rebuild. On many streets, there is only a single occupied house.

In total, more than 3,000 flooded lots in the city were bought with federal money in an emergency bailout, and it is costing city and state governments an enormous amount of money to maintain these properties. According to the Louisiana Land Trust--the federal agency managing the properties until federal funding runs out in 2012--$34 million have been spent on maintenance, $4.5 million on security and $9.1 million on overhead costs since the homes were acquired in 2007.

According to a 2012 city-sponsored analysis of U.S. postal service data, it is estimated that 43,000 blighted properties still exist in the city.

Despite these challenges, people continue to return to New Orleans and the city is growing. From 2010 to 2012, nearly every neighborhood experienced gains, with overall city population growth reaching nearly 5 percent from April 2010 to July 2011--more than six times the national average of 0.73 percent. Aggressive tax incentives and low cost of living have been cited as factors in luring new businesses to the city. A Kaiser Family Foundation report found that one in nine current New Orleans residents was not living in the area prior to Hurricane Katrina, a trend that is expected to contribute further to the city's recovery and reform.

According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, New Orleans is now the fastest growing city in America.

Caption: Carolyn Parker's house after construction completed
Credit: Courtesy of I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful

» Burdeau, Cain. "Millions spent on upkeep of empty Katrina lots." Bloomberg Businessweek/AP News, July 16, 2012
» Bureau of Governmental Research. "Mending the Urban Fabric: Part I."
» CNN "Report: Criticism of FEMA's Katrina response deserved."
» Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.
» Kusky, Timothy, M. "Time to move to higher ground." The Boston Globe, September 25, 2005.
» Lopez, Adriana. "A Look into America's Fastest Growing City." Forbes, July 26, 2012.
» Louisiana Land Trust.
» New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.
» PBS NewsHour. "FEMA Faces Intense Scrutiny."
» Yoo, Audrey. "America's Fastest Growing City Is...." Time, July 23, 2012.