August, 2010; Source: The Brookings Institution and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center | Based on data analysis and several research papers by scholars, this Brookings Institutions report takes stock of New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina and reaches four conclusions:

  1. “Despite sustaining three “shocks” in the last five years, greater New Orleans is rebounding and, in some ways, doing so better than before.” The metro area has recovered 90 percent of its pre-Katrina population (though New Orleans only 78 percent) and 85 percent of its pre-Katrina job base.  The region wasn’t hit hard by the recession in terms of job losses, “cushioned” as it was by rebuilding activities and by the strength of the oil and gas industry.  The city has less poverty than it used to, though still high (23 percent of the population compared to 14 percent nationally), growing median incomes, and growing wage levels.
  2. “Greater New Orleans has become more ‘resilient,’ with increased civic capacity and new systemic reforms, better positioning the metro area to adapt and transform its future.” As evidence for this, the researchers cite “an unprecedented rise in community engagement . . . strengthening (the city’s) reserve of social capital” and a newfound “community competence in problem solving” shown in an “overhaul of public school management,” a new system of “quality community-based health care . . . sweeping changes in criminal justice,” and “new capacities and commitments to holistic approaches to creating neighborhoods of opportunity.”
  3. “Key economic, social, and environmental trends in the New Orleans metro area remain troubling, testing the region’s path to prosperity” due to economic dependence on “a few lagging industries” (read: oil and gas, tourism, shipping), “stark social and economic disparities” (read: very low African-American and Latino income and education levels), housing un-affordability especially for renters, and increasing levels of violent crime.
  4. “New Orleanians, and their partners, must use the latest oil spill crisis as an opportunity to continue the goal of transformation and further the progress made since Hurricane Katrina, moving the region toward prosperity.”  How?  By “embrac[ing] new opportunities presented by the oil spill crisis and the Great Recession,” and by strengthening the city’s and the region’s assets and capacities for community resilience.

There are obvious opportunities in this agenda for the nonprofit and foundation sectors in this retrospective.  How nonprofits organize themselves for this is going to be key.—Rick Cohen