New Orleans: “Dying City” or “Brain Magnet”? Saturday, Feb 19 2011 

A couple of weeks ago (“The Incredible Shrinking City”), I reported on the fact that according to the 2010 Census the population of New Orleans dropped 29% during the decade. And while the city’s population has been in decline since the 1960s, clearly Hurricane Katrina was the primary ingredient in such a drop.

Of course, this reality did not stop Newsweek from putting New Orleans atop of the list of “America’s Dying Cities.” They used census data to document significant drops in both overall population and the population of those under the age of 18. New Orleans finds itself in the not-so-good company of Vallejo, CA, Detroit, MI, Rochester, NY, and Cleveland, OH. And the folks in New Orleans are not happy.

At the same time, a lesser known online magazine, newgeography, has used census data to show that New Orleans is first in attracting college-educated migrants, although many might just be former residents finding their way back. And while that is good news, it shows, as civic leaders have pointed out, the danger of using census data out of context . And it’s pretty obvious that the bad news from Newsweek will carry further than anything from newgeography (although it’s possible that newgeography is in better financial shape than its more august rival).

For one, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has come out swinging. Citing low unemployment, a high rate of investment in infrastructure, and steady population growth, the Mayor is fighting the claim that New Orleans is a “dying city.” He points out in today’s Times-Picayune that New Orleans is coming back from the point of nearly being emptied of its population in September 2005; and as the century enters its second decade, the population is steadily rising.

And while Mitch has vociferously made his case, the Newsweek column clearly stuck in his craw.  I don’t think we’ve heard the last word on this one.

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The Incredible Shrinking City Friday, Feb 4 2011 

The Census Bureau has confirmed what everyone already knew: New Orleans is a smaller city that it was in 2000. An article in today’s New York Times points out that while the city was losing residents prior to Katrina, the 2005 storm contributed to the greatest loss of population.

And while somewhat understandable, the numbers are pretty staggering. From 2000 to 2010, New Orleans lost 29% of its population, down from 484,674 to 343,829. It was the 31st largest city in 2000 (down from 24th in 1990) and has now dropped out of the top 50. Over the past decade, New Orleans shed some 24,000 white residents and 118,000 black residents, which means the percentage of white residents has risen to 30%. The black population has dropped from 66% to under 60%. By contrast, the Hispanic population in the city and surrounding parishes has grown significantly.

So where did everyone go and why? St. Tammany Parish to the north and Jefferson Parish to the west have experienced gains in population, while flood-prone St. Bernard Parish, to the east, has lost half of its pre-Katrina population. And clearly, the city’s population loss can be tied to the loss of low cost housing. And while areas near the river, which are higher, have experienced growth, the population of many neighborhoods has shrunk. This is particularly true in poorer neighborhoods, such as the Lower Ninth Ward and parts of New Orleans east. And many fear that until affordable housing is available, many who wish to return will be kept in exile.

And in a budget-conscious climate, the numbers will have an impact. Lower numbers will mean lower Federal dollars for education, housing, transportation projects, etc. And fewer residents will mean legislative redistricting and reduced New Orleans influence in both Baton Rouge and Washington.

So stay tuned. While much of New Orleans appears back to normal, the impact of Hurricane Katrina will be felt for years to come.