TWO STREETS, TWO FUTURES Katrina's Disparate Impact

A City's Changing Face

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 17, 2006

NEW ORLEANS -- Block by block, this city is springing back to life. Block by block, it is receding into the past tense.

With Hurricane Katrina nearly nine months gone and about 60 percent of New Orleans's pre-storm population still somewhere else, the rebirth and the wasting away are closely tracking neighborhood patterns of race and poverty.

Disparities in wealth and in the distance of evacuees from their ruined houses are dictating, in many cases, which neighborhoods will be part of the city's future and which will be consigned to its history. For a city that was two-thirds black and nearly one-third poor before the storm, the uneven pilgrimage back to New Orleans has already changed voter turnout and seems certain to transform the culture and character of the city, making it substantially whiter, richer and less populous than before.

This article, part of an occasional series about two severely flooded streets in the city, examines an affluent white and a poor black neighborhood that appear to have reached their tipping points.

That point has clearly arrived for the 6500 block of Memphis Street in Lakeview, a white neighborhood hit hard by Katrina. It is roaring back to middle-class life, and most owners on the block have committed to coming home.

Landscapers are rolling out sod for new lawns. Granite countertops and commercial-grade stainless-steel stoves are being installed in rebuilt kitchens. There is electricity, water, gas, mail service, newspaper delivery and garbage pickup. Two neighborhood banks are up and lending. A post-Katrina restaurant, Touché, serves breakfast and lunch. Two blocks away, St. Dominic Catholic church has been refurbished and is open each morning for Mass.

"Every day and every week is better, and people need to know that," said Bea Quaintance. With the help of a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that is parked in her front yard, she and her husband, Gary, and their son, Steven, were the first family back on Memphis Street. "I think this country has done a wonderful job of providing for us."

Across town, in a 98-percent-black, mostly working-class neighborhood that was also wrecked by the storm, the 2500 block of Delery Street has tipped the other way.

Like much of the Lower Ninth Ward, the block is empty and silent, with no electricity, no drinkable water, no gas, no FEMA trailers and no signs of rebuilding on a street where many families owned their homes for generations.

No nearby churches, banks or restaurants are open, and no one, not even organizers from groups demanding the reconstruction of the Lower Ninth, seems to have a list of residents with firm plans to come home. Throughout the spring, bodies were found in neighborhood houses.

A sign in the window of Daphne Jones's brick house at 2531 Delery declares: "No Bulldozing. We Are Coming Home." But Jones concedes that the sign is more wish than pledge.

College students on spring break gutted her house free of charge in April, but she says she does not have enough money to rebuild. She has been trying for months to contact and mobilize her neighbors, dropping "Rebuilding Our Own Neighborhood" fliers in their abandoned houses. But such fervent, low-tech efforts have not worked.


CONTINUED     1              >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company