|The apartment on Dublin St., 2005|
When I came back it was like entering a strange yet familiar dream world. Landmarks were missing, askew, or burned to the ground. The stop lights didn't work. The population shrank from 500,000 to 20,000 overnight, resulting in large swaths of abandoned neighborhoods, areas crowded with memories but containing no one. Escaped dogs who had survived the storm formed packs and lived in piles of rubble in the neutral ground. Periodically you would walk down the street and encounter a pack of them trotting past you like they were on their way to an important dog convention now that they had officially taken over the city.
|Wreckage. debris 3 months later in the Lakefront neighhborhood|
|Abandoned home, with previous water levels visible|
|The remains of a building, Carrolton St., Uptown|
My great-aunt Billye and her sister, both widows in their eighties who had lived next door to each other for their entire adult lives had to move into a small 2 bedroom rental that they shared, and hated sharing. Before their homes were eventually demolished I went to see if there was anything left to salvage. The strata of the receding water levels started well above my head and mold bloomed on the walls in an astonishing rainbow of disgusting, putrid colors. The refrigerator had floated into the living room. Every conceivable item of value, including a fur coat, was covered in black mold. There was nothing left.
|My Great Aunt Billye's home after Katrina|
|Debris from Katrina cleanup and demolished homes (St. Bernard Ave??)|
|One of the "dollhouses" after Katrina|
|Months later, cars grown into the jungle|
10 years later. New Orleans is arguably, quantifiably better off than it was before the storm. There are more restaurants. The population is finally, at long last, 94% of what it was before Katrina. It's been called the fastest growing city in the U.S. by Forbes. Everything is good, or as good as it can be in a place that still prides itself on being a little bit third world. When I visit (because I am just a visitor now, as I maybe and probably always have been) I'm continually struck by how much newness there is in the city. New restaurants, new roads, new construction, new residents.
And yes, the inevitable conversation about change being 'good' or 'bad' is coming up as well. When asked whether he's concerned about New Orleans losing some of its authenticity in the face of rapid development and demographic changes (see: whiter, richer), mayor Mitch Landrieu proclaimed he's not worried about outsiders coming in and changing the culture of the city because "there's no way you can change this city before it changes you." I guess if that statement could be true for any city, it would have to be true for New Orleans. But of course change is always a 2-way street, whether there are still alligator tours and voodoo gift shops and live music being played on the streets or not. The New Orleans of today is the same, and completely different from the city it was in August of 2005. And that in itself is both an inevitable tragedy and a cause for celebration.