New Orleans lost about half its population in 2005 as a result of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the failure of the levees built to protect the city from flooding. As of the 2010 census, the population had recovered to 75 percent of its pre-Katrina level.
Most of us know of the tragic failure of multiple levels of government to respond adequately to the disaster, compounding the losses caused by nature and the failure of engineering. But, as David Simon noted in an interview reported in Part 1 of this 3-part blog series, the city’s resilient population has been slowly but surely coming back anyway, in no small part because of the strong sense of belonging that New Orleanians feel for their community.
One of the ways in which this has been manifested is in the rebuilding and re-inhabiting of severely damaged homes. To say the least, this has not been a large-scale and highly coordinated effort, and certainly not a quick one. But it is perhaps even more impressive that it has been happening in small increments, a house at a time, occasionally an enclave at a time, because of determined residents, often with the assistance of grassroots charities and volunteers. I want to stress the “grassroots” part of this: the more locally based the effort, the more likely the product will be true to the character of the city and the people who make it special.