Easter is, of course, a good time to talk about redemption and resurrections. Allow me, then, to get a head start on the gazillions of articles that will be written this August commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by noting just what a marvelous resurrection New Orleans has enjoyed since that horrid, devastating storm.
Now, this won’t be one of those columns full of statistics. The stories this summer will analyze the population size before and after Katrina, the unemployment and poverty rates, the crime rates and all the other measurable indices of civic health. Instead, this is a column about what we see with our own eyes, what we hear on the streets, what we intuit from our own experiences and what we sense from the general vibe of the place: the buzz, the bustle, the attitudes, the facial expressions and all the other intangibles that combine into an overall community “atmosphere.”
The short summation of all those considerations is this: The state of the city is good, and its resurrection has been remarkable.
By now, this isn’t a revelation. We all know it. We know all the restaurants are full. We know housing is tight because demand for it is so high. We know the merchant corridors are full of pedestrians. We know that a new sprightliness (and sightlyness) has emerged in neighborhoods, too numerous to count, that once were run-down, unsafe eyesores.
Speaking of safety, we know that crime, especially in certain enclaves, is still far too high, and that its tragic tentacles can reach anywhere in the city. But we also know that many more neighborhoods are safer now than they’ve been in decades. Pre-Katrina, would you have seen college girls fearlessly riding their bikes through Bywater? Or pedestrians perambulating, day or night, the farthest reaches of the Irish Channel, without channeling tremendous trepidation?
We all know that the economy of New Orleans has been bolstered by young entrepreneurs aplenty, that the film industry is in love with us, that the port is thriving — and that our schools, mirabile dictu, are closer to being beacons of hope than dungeons of despair.
And, although the traffic disruptions have been at times almost too much to bear, we know that the vast projects to improve the city’s drainage system should make our streets and homes far less prone to flooding from every 5-inch rainstorm.
Finally, of course, we know in a way beyond most outsiders’ understanding the deep satisfaction of no longer being lovable losers. When even the Saints, the long-suffering Saints, have won a Super Bowl, it puts an exclamation point on what New Orleans already by then was well on its way to proving: A community with character can use tragedy to grow stronger and to create success where failure had always held sway.
Tulane graduate Nicole Gelinas explained it well in the City Journal (New York) back in the autumn of 2010: “The shock of Katrina, it turns out, produced a surprising renaissance in citizen initiative. … They have taught the rest of the country, still reeling from the financial and economic crisis, a lesson: how to do recovery right. … It turns out that instead of looking for a heroic potentate to work miracles from on high, New Orleanians were making smaller-scale, bottom-up changes that would truly help their city.”
Most natives knew New Orleans wasn’t dead after Katrina. As I wrote (in the Mobile Register) just three weeks after the storm, “Yes, New Orleans will recover, because that is what is always done by its stubborn, world-weary, hopeful, crazy denizens — in other words, by most New Orleanians. They believe, with (author) Walker Percy’s fictional character (Dr. Thomas More), that ‘if you want and wait and work, you can have.’ ”
What we have right now is a city still with many problems to solve but one whose vibrancy is the envy of almost every other city in America. What we have right now, as those gazillions of stories in August will tell the rest of the world, is a renaissance, a rebirth, a new life.
In the secular civic realm, that’s the best equivalent there is to a happy Easter.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is email@example.com, and he blogs at blogs. theadvocate.com/quin-essential.