Thursday, January 12, 2006

The New Orleans

The loss of an entire major American city.  It’s still hard to fathom, but on August 29th, one of the oldest and most unique cities in this country was wiped nearly clean away.  So what happens now with New Orleans?

First, some perspective.  New Orleans had two major problems before the hurricane hit, neither having to do with the levees.  The city was relatively small in population despite its stature (less than 500 thousand) and had one of the worst poverty and crime issues in the country, both tied to an increasingly corrupt city and state government.  Its economy had become more dependent on tourism and gambling in recent years despite having one of the most active ports in the world.  

The state and the New Orleans Saints had engaged in an escalating back-and-forth over the Superdome, with the Saints threatening a move if a new stadium wasn’t built for them.  The city had been struggling to support this team, let alone the newcomer NBA Hornets.  The Hornets sat near the bottom of the NBA attendance with reports flying out that the team office was engaged in Enron-like bookkeeping to fluff up the numbers.  

Now, a reported 100 thousand are in the city.  Many corporations have pulled their satellite offices permanently.  Rosier forecasts in the fall have given way to predictions of a population of 250 thousand by September of 2008.  This is not a city that can sustain local professional sports in the foreseeable future.  The Hornets, relocated to Oklahoma City, are now among the league leaders in attendance and ticket revenue.  It’s just not reasonable to think that they could return.  

There is a precident to be considered.  In 1965, New Orleans had a population of over 700 thousand and was hit with hurricane and massive subsequent flooding.  The population has been in continual decline since then.  It’s fair to wonder if New Orleans will ever become a major populace again.  

I expect to see a few things, and they can mostly all be summed in one word: consolidation.  I foresee New Orleans pulling in and concentrating its strengths in its rebirth.  Tourism, gambling, and the port will be the sun the city must revolve around.  Rather than attempt to sustain half-empty parishes, the city will likely look to centralize the residential neighborhoods and abandon harder-hit and further-out ones.  

There is a ring of promise here, however.  With a chance at a clean slate, the city could really make itself better than before and become a rival to Las Vegas as a popular weekend destination.  The locals may not be able to support a permanent team, but New Orleans is established as one of the best hosts for major sporting events.  Mardi Gras is well known, and all of the music festivals also are great lightning rods for tourism.  This city will come out alright in the end, I believe.  


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