New Orleans, La. — “Slowly.”
That’s how locals here describe how the Crescent City is recovering from August 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. While it has miles to go, however, New Orleans noticeably has advanced since I visited a year ago. It has improved vastly since November 2005, when I witnessed how badly The Storm had socked this southern belle.
First, the bad news.
After devouring duck po’boys and onion rings at Crabby Jack’s last Monday, my friend Randy Boudreaux gave me a magical misery tour of blighted neighborhoods. Major thoroughfares like Central City’s Claiborne Avenue still feature shuttered businesses. Entire commercial buildings stand vacant. Some have gutted, open-air lobbies. Others are encased in plywood rather than plate glass.
The Lakeview neighborhood — where affluent whites were washed out like the Lower Ninth Ward’s poor blacks — is “hit or miss,” Boudreaux says. Approaching Lake Pontchartrain, Canal Boulevard contains many damaged, empty houses, although the debris that clogged front lawns and sidewalks is long gone.
On a side street just west of Canal, Boudreaux stops his car.
“This is typical Lakeview,” he says. He points to an attractively appointed home with elegant woodwork, lush grass, and palm trees that flutter in the sunny breeze. On either side sit forlorn relics of former dwellings.
Boudreaux, a local attorney whose family arrived around 1760, believes that newly planted trees, repaired potholes, and improved municipal lighting around town “have boosted local government’s performance from an F to a C+.”
Now, the good news.
New Orleans remains a non-stop laugh attack. From street corners to nightclubs to Jazz Fest, local guitars, clarinets, and tubas never rest. The continuous music, constant cocktails, and crawfish, oysters, and crabs begging to be devoured keep residents and visitors endlessly blissful. As much as Katrina physically battered New Orleans, its spirit of boundless revelry emerged unscathed.
It also looks brighter. Thanks to new street lamps and repaired neon signs, a certain post-Katrina dimness that gripped New Orleans nightly now has lifted. In well-visited areas, at least, active storefronts, fresh paint, and foot traffic all suggest a growing vibrancy.
Whatever City Hall’s faults, state government seems in good hands under Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s 36-year-old, pro-market Republican governor. Since his January 14 inauguration, he has proposed and signed stringent ethics reforms in a state where corruption grows likes Spanish moss. Pelican State officials, for instance, no longer may benefit personally from public contracts.