Gulf Coast Communities Mark Ten Years Since Katrina

Grand Isle, Louisiana. “NOAAGrandIslePostK48” by NOAA photo via [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On August 29, communities across the Gulf Coast stopped to mark the ten-year anniversary of the storm that changed the landscape of Louisiana, Mississippi, and coastal Alabama. President Obama paid the region a visit, acknowledging that “we came to realize that what started out as a natural disaster became a manmade disaster — a failure of government to look out for its own citizens” in the speech he delivered from a new community center in the Lower Ninth Ward.  

Debates continue about the lessons revealed as a result of Katrina, which killed 1,800 people.  Some of the documented planning lessons learned from the storm and its recovery include:

  • Plans that suggests that some communities should not be allowed to rebuild will be met with outrage by residents of those communities;
  • Neighborhoods with strong social ties, even those with few financial resources, were more able to organize their own rebuilding in the absence of public support;
  • Flood insurance policies that favored owner-occupied homes over income properties resulted in shortage of rebuilt rentals in the post-Katrina years, which caused rental prices to jump significantly;
  • Residents suffered from major psychological trauma during and after the storm, and the recovery effort struggled to manage mental health impacts;
  • Racial disparities were laid clear and exacerbated by the storm.  Ten years later, race plays a major role in perceptions of the recovery.  A fascinating recent LSU study found that four out of five white New Orleans residents say that Louisiana has “mostly recovered,” while three in five African-American residents say it has “mostly not recovered.”  The study documents differences in recovery perceptions along gender, race, age, and region of the state; and
  • Loss of wetlands from the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (“MR-GO”) contributed to the rush of stormwater into the city of New Orleans.

Even ten years later, it is clear that the recovery is far from over.  You can learn more and listen to residents’ memories and commemorations at a site created by Bridge the Gulf, an organization that uses media to amplify community voices in the Gulf Coast.

Amanda Martin, AICP, is a city planner and PhD student at UNC Chapel Hill.  Originally from Boston, she has lived and worked in Washington, D.C., northern Nevada, New Orleans, and Providence, Rhode Island.  Most recently, she was a Principal Planner with the State of Rhode Island’s Statewide Planning Program, where she managed social equity initiatives, climate change projects, and demographic analysis.  Amanda’s doctoral research explores how regions or neighborhoods that receive major private or public investment can share that prosperity with low-income communities and communities of color.  She is working on answering this question in the context of coastal communities’ recovery from major storms.  Amanda holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and a Master in City Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.