I’m in New Orleans for a meeting of non-profit recovery advocates.  Yesterday, I spent about 45 minutes talking to a local photographer, Christopher Porche-West, about the changes in the city since Hurricane Katrina and his particular challenges rebuilding his life.

Porche-West talked about how social boundaries and networks have really changed in the city since the storm.  Prior to Katrina, neighborhood identification and boundaries were primary; the city had about 450,000 people prior to the storm, but 73 formally designated neighborhoods.  In reality, New Orleanians tell me, there were about 200 neighborhoods in this sprawling city on the Mississippi River.  The appropriate question to ask New Orleanians to categorize them is what high school they attended.

Porche-West says now that given the disparity of the physical damage, and the displacement, dislocation and relocation of so many people to new neighborhoods, that neighborhood boundaries and identification just isnt’ accurate anymore.  This is particularly acute for African-Americans, as middle-class blacks and Creoles from Gentilly and New Orleans East have relocated en mass to other black neighborhoods that sustained far less damage; lower-income and former public housing residents are most likely to remain displaced, as rents are more than 50% higher than they were pre-Katrina.

The other major demographic change in the city is the influx of outsiders, who have flocked here to participate in the recovery.  (Non-profits are leading the way in housing redevelopment.)  There is even a social network bubbling up – Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals, or YURPs.  As you might imagine, the city is becoming whiter and more affluent.  Due to the extent of the physical damage, the average median housing value has risen 45%; the white population has grown by 5% and the African-American population has fallen by 7%.  In 2007, more than 1 in 10 New Orleanians were not living in Louisiana in 2006.  Transplants now make up 20% of a city that has lost at least 150,000 residents since Katrina.

Porche-West says the new dichotomy is whether you were living here when Katrina hit.  Go figure.  I put all this out here as you check out Gambit Weekly’s 11th annual “40 Under 40,” their “annual look at some of the young people who are making remarkable contributions to the New Orleans metropolitan region,” submitted via nominations.  I just want to point out that of the 40, 5 are African-American.  What I find particularly striking is that 4 of them are in the music industry (though in a variety of capacities).  I realize that Afro-American music, art, culture and history defines New Orleans and is a thriving business sector (and is also exploited by an extractive tourism industry), but really…does this strike anyone else as problematic?  Whites, Asian-Americans, and Jews are the social entrepreneurs, the do-gooders and the brain trust of the rebirth of the city?  While African-Americans are its cultural foundation and…its entertainers?

Not that I was wondering why tensions often abound in my network of recovery advocates where more than 6 in 10 of us are not only not from New Orleans, but about half of us are from coastal, liberal, elite, latte-loving, high-“capacity” cities.  (Mostly women and about even white and African-American/Creole, with small Latin@ and SE Asian participation.  Not that I’m keeping track or anything, in our post-partisan, post-racial world!)


4 Responses to “gentrification”

  1. November 18, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Hi, Redstar –

    I’m Kevin, the editor of Gambit (actually, the new editor – I’ve been here about 6 weeks).

    All your observations are right on. There wasn’t anybody on that 40 Under 40 list who shouldn’t have been there, but there were a lot that should’ve been as well, if that makes sense.

    A big part of the equation is that alt-newsweeklies have traditionally done a really sad-ass job of covering certain segments of their communities. It’s not just black folks, but also (and maybe even more) the poor, the disabled, and in general anyone whose life experiences don’t neatly dovetail with the interests of artsy thirtysomethings. It’s a systemic problem across the network of alternative newsweeklies (in my opinion), and that does not exclude Gambit.

    I hope to be changing that as time goes by, but in the meantime I wanted to let you know that I read you, I hear you, and I agree with you. And I’ve added you to my blog reader.

    Please rattle my email any time if you think there’s a story out there that we should be covering.

    best wishes
    Kevin Allman

  2. November 18, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    The post-8-29 social landscape has been rearranged, to be sure, and I don’t know how much difference it makes to folks participating in the recovery if you were here pre-8-29, during, or post – except that it does entitle you to expound on a greater fount of firsthand experience, maybe, or perhaps a much clearer analysis of the recovery’s progress. You are marked as a veteran of sorts, if you were here the whole time and are still fighting to be here. Sorry for those cynical assessments there, but this is what one sees amongst some of the younger folks here.

    As for the Gambit’s 40 under 40, their readership hasn’t branched out much beyond the white community here. I’d trust a somewhat more diverse assessment under those criteria in a publication such as the Louisiana Weekly. Plus, one of the criteria under which people can make their nominations for this group is that the nominees can NOT be elected officials. Perhaps if the YURPs were working more with groups like NENA ( http://www.9thwardnena.org/home/ ), things would be different.

    Welcome back, by the way! I wish I could add your new address to my blogroll, but blogrolling.com is still recovering from being hacked into. Glad to have found you through the NO News Ladder.

  3. 3 grahamad
    November 18, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    Kevin – thanks for your thoughtful reply. I confess, I’m not a regular reader of the Gambit, but I know one of the 40 under 40, which led me to the list (and undoubtedly influenced my response). That said, it’s great to hear directly from the editor and know that you are listening!

    Hi Leigh! Love our reunion! I can’t get into my old site for some mysterious reason, so I couldn’t update it that I’d moved URLs and started blogging again. I am adding you to my blogroll.

    I just spent a day and a half at a conference with folks involved in housing recovery, and as mentioned, we’re half from the Gulf Coast and half transplants or visitors, give or take. This is my first meeting with this group since last fall, and the tensions that I mentioned in my post seemed to have lessened considerably – there was a stronger sense of a united front among the group, though they’ve also been working towards that for a year. That said, this was also a formal, relatively public meeting versus some of the more behind the scenes stuff I’ve seen in my past work. Power struggles are common in coalition building, so some of what I’m describing is not unique to post-Katrina New Orleans. However, I do feel strongly that there is considerable effort among local professionals to build their careers in the post-Katrina environment (rightfully so) and that they face competition from outsiders who either move down here or parachute in and out. The tensions arise when tapping into networks and resources comes into play, and the DC/NY/Boston set is the one with the mouthpiece in DC or the ones with the foundations’ ears, talking about and making decisions about New Orleanians and Gulf Coast resident-activists.

  4. November 18, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    “The tensions arise when tapping into networks and resources comes into play, and the DC/NY/Boston set is the one with the mouthpiece in DC or the ones with the foundations’ ears, talking about and making decisions about New Orleanians and Gulf Coast resident-activists. ”

    Both sides need each other, it’s true. The folks who can tap into the national foundations more readily and easily need to share those networks and skills in building those connections with the locals here. Likewise, the locals need to be more open to this kind of assistance and school themselves in how best they can work it all to their advantage. It’s a wobbly tightrope that everybody is walking, for certain.

    And I’m glad Kevin’s given you some direct feedback! He’s been a boon to the blogging community here, and a great asset to the Gambit as its newly appointed editor.

    Keep on writing!

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