In September 1965, forty years before Katrina, Hurricane Betsy ravaged New Orleans to the point where the Army Corps of Engineers was inspired to form the Hurricane Protection Program, which built the levees that Katrina destroyed last year. The Wikipedia article on Betsy reports that it took “ten days or more before the water level in New Orleans went down enough for people to return to their homes. It took even longer than that to restore their flooded houses to a livable condition…In all, 164,000 homes were flooded at the second landfall.” Betsy’s damage was mostly limited to the upper and lower 9th Ward and parts of St. Bernard Parish; the French Quarter and the Garden District, which attract the most tourists and therefore drive the economy, were left unscathed. Katrina was not so kind. In addition to the ghastly death toll, Katrina caused over 80 billion dollars in damage, more than any storm in US history. Nearly every historical structure in the city was wiped out. The rebuilding process will be long and hard, but looking at the city’s tourism website, one would think New Orleans was back to normal already. Drawing tourists back to the city will be the key to a successful rebound, and this cannot happen unless the historic architecture is restored as completely as possible.
Tourism has long been the number one industry in New Orleans, so it follows that it is seen as the city’s ticket to economic recovery. A significant part of its allure has always been the unique architecture, and certainly it will be difficult to enjoy what the city has to offer without its traditional setting intact. Since most people would not want to spend their vacations in a disaster zone, there has been a massive effort to bring back tourist attractions and to finesse public perception, projecting an air of uninterrupted stability and substance. The tourism sites stress that the local cultural heritage can still be experienced, and that now is as good a time as ever to visit.
One of the first buildings on the restoration agenda was the Superdome. While work is not completely done at this point, the stadium’s website proclaims it “football-ready,” and it is still referred to as the “crown jewel of the New Orleans Skyline”. This sort of optimistic view is exactly what the tourism industry as a whole is going for. It remains to be seen whether the city’s restoration efforts will actually live up to the hype, but if it does then perhaps the economy will recover fairly soon. At this point, the industry is still losing money, but not nearly as quickly as it was a year ago, and it continues to provide tens of thousands of jobs for residents.
It seems that New Orleans is trying to move forward with new building projects at the same time as repairing old structures. It is at the beginning of “what could become a large downtown residential building boom, with multiple high-rise towers already planned for the city,” according to the Wikipedia article on the city. This will include a new 67 story Trump Tower,which will be the tallest building in Louisiana once completed, and it is expected to include twelve floors of parking as well as ground-level retail space. These new ventures should do a lot to revitalize New Orleans. It would be a mistake to let them take over completely, though; the city could very well end up razing important parts of its history that could still be preserved if it is too hasty to make room for new high-rises.