Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Joel Garreau on New Orleans

Joel Garreau, who in my experience is often given to optimistic happy talk, can’t bring himself to be upbeat about New Orleans. Here’s a sample:

New Orleans’s economy is vividly illustrated by its supply of white-collar jobs. Its Central Business District has not added a new office building since 1989, according to Southeast Real Estate Business. It has 13.5 million square feet of leasable office space -- not much bigger than Bethesda/Chevy Chase, where rents are twice as high. The office vacancy rate in New Orleans is an unhealthy 16 percent and the only reason it isn’t worse is that 3 million square feet have been remade as hotels, apartments and condominiums.

There are no national corporations with their headquarters in New Orleans. There are regional headquarters of oil companies such as Chevron and ConocoPhillips, but their primary needs are an airport, a heliport and air conditioning. Not much tying them down. In the Central Business District you will also find the offices of the utilities you’d expect, such as the electricity company Entergy. But if you look for major employers in New Orleans, you quickly get down to the local operations of the casino Harrah’s, and Popeye’s Fried Chicken.

Hardly a crying demand for a commercial entrepot.

Discussions - 4 Comments

I heard someone compare New Orleans to a Carribean resort community where the primary business is the selling of its history and charm and a huge segment of the population is engaged in the service end of this trade. Nothing is created there, in other words. There is nothing new there.

It’s interesting that the devastation outside New Orleans--wide swaths of MS and AL that got hammered, for instance--is practically being forgotten in all the commentary. Then again, those states seem to have weathered the crisis better: they had the bad weather but not the chaos. Louisiana is America’s version of a banana republic--has been for a long time--and John Barry’s book "Rising Tide" reports that a lot of NOLA’s vitality disappeared as a consequence of the 1927 Mississippi Valley flood (which didn’t directly overwhelm NOLA but did devastate its hinterland upriver in the Delta Region). As was noted on another thread, there are towns (Harper’s Ferry, WV, being one example) that have essentially been shoved into the archives by flooding. NOLA may be headed for a similar fate. There may be big spending on lots of fancy redevelopment, but that kind of thing tends to be superficial and can’t save a rotting urban core (just look at Baltimore and Detroit). NOLA as a historic tourist attraction will most likely endure, but so does Harper’s Ferry.

Whatever may be the case with the news media, others haven’t forgotten Mississippi. There’s a great deal of volunteer activity, aimed at the more mundane task of helping folks get back on their feet after a major hurricane. Thus, for example, my pastor, who went to seminary in Jackson, MS and has lots of colleagues in southern Mississippi, has driven a church bus full of provisions to Hattiesburg and plans another trip this coming week. There will also be at least one work crew going out from our church when they finally figure out how they can use us. This is "normal" compassionate outreach in the wake of a storm. We--I mean we Americans--do it every time there’s a natural disaster that overwhelms our neighbors.

Since Biloxi, Pass Christian, and other places "just" face rebuilding--most likely bigger and better than before--their fate isn’t a matter of speculation. They’ll be back on their feet, and most residents haven’t gone all that far, if they’ve gone anywhere else at all.

Given the toxicity of its inundation, the challenges of rebuilding, and the neediness of many of the hardest-hit residents (who may well not return), the future status of New Orleans poses a very different set of questions.

I went to undergrad at Loyola University of New Orleans. In addition, it is corrupt through and through.

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