No one questions that New Orleans proper has lost a major percentage of its pre-Katrina population, but the debate continues as to exact numbers. Now comes the first official U.S. Census Bureau numbers. Before the hurricane, the city showed 484,674 residents. The July 2006 number is 223,388–down by 54 percent. To no one’s surprise, some are questioning the accuracy of this report.
The problem in counting population is that people are distributed so unevenly, which prevents pollsters from counting a few blocks in a neighborhood and then making assumptions for the entire area.
Anyway, here are some more numbers. The western half of metro New Orleans–Jefferson Parish–counts 431,361 residents, making it the most populous parish in the state. That’s a 5 percent drop from the 2000 census. East Baton Rouge Parish comes in second now, with 429,073, up by 3.9 percent from 2000. To no one’s surprise, the Baton Rouge folks are raising serious doubts about that. It would appear that that city’s population has exploded, judging by two infallible barometers: the traffic and the cost of housing.
The folks on “New Orleans’ Northshore”–that would be the Interstate 12 corridor from Hammond east to Covington and on to Slidell–are likewise arguing that their numbers are much higher than the census shows. Again, it’s the traffic and the skyrocketing price for housing that convinces them the numbers are high.
Columnist Stephanie Grace writes that over a year ago she predicted that even though Governor Kathleen Blanco’s popularity index was abysmally low, once she starts handing out billions of federal dollars to local homeowners that situation will reverse itself. She wrote, “There aren’t too many politicians who can manage to look bad in those shoes.”
On Thursday Grace wrote, “Who knew that Blanco would be that rare politician who could pull it off?” She attributes the Governor’s withdrawal from the race for re-election to the snafus associated with the “road home” program. With perhaps 100,000 homeowners applying for the money, only a few thousand have received their checks, even after many months and miles of red-tape.
A bombshell of medium proportions was dropped by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this week. HUD officials announced that Louisiana is not handing out the money the way they had ordered and the way they had agreed. It should be doled out in full, they said, and not in the piecemeal way the LRA is doing. The state officials said they were trying to be responsible and to guarantee that the homes were going to be rebuilt, so they were awarding homeowners money, then escrowing it and granting them access a little at the time. The LRA has been requiring recipients of the money to live in the rebuilt home for a certain number of years. HUD said, “We meant for them to have the money! Where they live and for how long is their business!”
The governor protested that HUD was changing the rules in mid-stream and went public with her criticism. Instead of buying her line, the public jumped all over her. No wonder the process has been so cumbersome, people said. Give us the money; trust us to make our own decisions what to do with it.
This week when the governor spoke before a congressional subcommittee meeting at a local college, she insisted she’s on the phone every day trying to work things out. The audience showed no patience for her excuses, however, and subjected her to jeers and boos. When she finished her testimony, Blanco headed for a side door and left town. Then this week, she threw in the towel and decided not to run for re-election. If anyone other than she is crying, I’ve not seen it.
The question right now is whether anyone can beat Bobby Jindal, the U.S.Congressman representing Jefferson Parish and Blanco’s run-off opponent four years ago. Jindal is one of the smartest young men on the planet, I.Q.-wise, we’re told. But those who rank the effectiveness of congressmen and congresswomen have put him near the bottom. I have no idea what he might have done had he been governor and no idea what he will do if he becomes one next time, but personally I’d like to have seen him accomplish something important during his brief stint in the nation’s capital.
The mayor’s recovery czar, Dr. Blakely, spoke to a ministers’ group recently and one of our guys said Wednesday how impressed everyone was with him. “Finally, we have someone in leadership who knows what to do,” he said. Then, this week the mayor has another planning group meeting with Blakely. When asked why it has taken so long to get this process started, Hizzoner replied something about how everyone had to work through his own agency’s problems to get to the point where each could now focus on the city as a whole.
The city as a hole, seems more like it. Sorry. Just feeling a little pessimistic about the process. It’s so slow, so much talk and so little action.
The question is not how many displaced New Orleanians are coming back, I’m hearing. The question rather is of those who have come back, how many will stay. Many who did return are now deciding the road back to normalcy is too steep, the encouragements too few, and life too short. Even in the “normal” parts of the metro area–Jefferson Parish, for example–there are still too many stores boarded up, too many businesses closing, and too much uncertainty about what to do.
Perseverance and persistence toward the distant goal of a healthy city are what we need most these days. We need patience, and of course, the continued support and encouragement of our friends across this nation. I shudder to think what might have happened to us without our brothers and sisters from outside this area.
Write about perseverance and a great illustration of it occurs. Saturday morning, making my daily phone call to Mom on the Alabama farm, I heard the report of some great-nephews who recently drove to DisneyWorld in Florida. One of their cousins invited them, said he has a good job and has saved his money, he’s paying for most of everything, and all they should bring is themselves and spending money. These boys are all single and in their 20s and that sounded mighty good to them. Then….
They ran into a problem in Orlando. Turns out the tickets and paid reservations they have are for DisneyLAND, not Disney World. Disneyland is in Southern California. So, being guys, they said, “Okay. Let’s drive to California.” Thirty-six hours later, they arrived in Anaheim. Straight through, no stopping. (And no NASA diapers, either, I’ll wager.)
I suppose we could make that an illustration of a lot of things–the importance of planning, for example, or insights into single young men. But we’ll be kind and let it demonstrate the type of perseverance that meets setbacks and plows ahead to the final goal.
Which is what this city is trying to do every day of its post-Katrina existence.