Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the federal levees failed, and, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.
More than 1,800 of our brothers and sisters were killed. One million people were displaced with one million homes damaged and 250,000 completely destroyed. Families were torn apart, and communities were forever changed.
In New Orleans, the federal levees broke and floodwaters surged over the rooftops of our homes and business. More than 80 percent of our city was under water, causing $150 billion in damages.
New Orleans faced a tragedy that threatened our very existence. But, thankfully, we didn’t face it alone.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of Katrina, we are not only remembering the lives we lost and counting our blessings, but we are also giving thanks to those who helped us survive, recover and rebuild. In particular, I want to thank our fellow Louisianians, from Baton Rouge to Shreveport and from Lake Charles to Monroe, who did not hesitate to help us during our time of need. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a state with residents who are so willing to offer prayers and lend a hand when tragedy strikes. Simply put, our recovery would not have been possible without neighbors like you, and we are eternally grateful.
This anniversary is also a moment for us to look to the future to ensure that we are not leaving anyone behind as our city progresses. Katrina taught us that we could not continue to do the same thing and expect a different outcome. So, 10 years ago, New Orleans made the tough decision to change and to rebuild not as we were, but as we always should have been. What has emerged has been the premier example of urban innovation in America — proving there are new solutions to age-old problems.
Our goal is to make our community — and our residents — more resilient; to make us better prepared for what may come our way so that we not only weather the storm better, but we bounce back quicker.
That’s why we released a new resilience strategy this week, in partnership with the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, powered by the Rockefeller Foundation.
If our city is to be truly resilient, however, then we just can’t build up levees against storms or just change how we live with water or protect our wetlands.
To be truly resilient, we must go deeper and create a city that can adapt and thrive no matter what might happen.
That means a government with a regional mindset that can not only respond to a shock like a hurricane, but also address more chronic stresses like poverty, inequality and violence.
Resilience means broad-based economic growth so there is a pathway to prosperity anyone can follow and an economy that works for everyone.
Resilience means ensuring every child has the opportunity to get the education, skills and training he or she needs to succeed and find long-term prosperity.
Resilience means empowering families to do more than live paycheck to paycheck, but to create generational wealth; to break that seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty in our community.
Resilience means every citizen taking the responsibility to become more involved in your community and in your child’s life so that we can change this city’s culture of violence that is robbing too many young people of their futures.
Resilience means tackling head on inequities in our society, particularly in education, employment, housing and opportunity, that close too many doors for too many people.
And, perhaps most importantly, resilience means being inclusive of everyone in the community; breaking down the walls that divide us and coming together in unity.
When we connect all of these things together, like we are doing on providing workforce training to unemployed, young African-American men to work in the water management industry that will make us strong, we are charting a path to a brighter future for all.
Make no mistake, we are seeing remarkable progress all around us. New Orleans is, without question, on a roll. In fact, a recent poll found that 75 percent of New Orleanians feel the recovery is going in the right direction and 78 percent are optimistic about the future of our region — the highest percentages since the storm. But, we still have a lot of work to do. Our progress over the last 10 years has been anything but a straight line. There have been fits and starts, ups and downs. We must keep pressing on.
As mayor, I will keep tackling the tough issues head on and continue making progress. It will be hard, frustrating and painful at times, but, more often than not, it will also be comforting, rewarding and inspiring.
Together, we can and will build a stronger, more resilient New Orleans so that our city’s unique culture, traditions, heritage and way of life are preserved for generations to come. But, the only way we can do that, is united as one team, one fight, one voice, one city.
So, as we commemorate this 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and then look toward New Orleans’ 300th anniversary as a city in 2018, our shared goal is to create a city of peace, prosperity, opportunity and responsibility for all its people — and to create a truly resilient city for the ages.
Mitch Landrieu is mayor of New Orleans.