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In the months since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, shock has given way to deep concern about what to do now, next, and down the road to bring back this unique city to social, cultural and economic health. Many of New Orleans' problems, which—to varying degrees—afflict other U.S. central cities, predated the storm. Widespread poverty, a failing public education system, low wages, and a weak tax base are just some.
The first challenge in bringing back the city is taking account of the unprecedented magnitude of the upheaval caused by the compounded pre-existing and storm-related problems. The second, feckless without the first, is seizing opportunities to make New Orleans more livable and equitable than it was before the disaster. This must involve applying useful knowledge and experience from other cities at other times. Because researchers at the Urban Institute are equipped to do both and eager
to help decisionmakers and citizens integrate and sort through their options, we have produced this essay collection.
In After Katrina: Rebuilding Opportunity and Equity into the New New Orleans, urbanists, health and labor economists, education and housing experts, and other Urban Institute researchers chart paths out of the immediate emergency situation with proposals for rebuilding the social infrastructure of New Orleans. That alone is a tall order. This collection is not a comprehensive blueprint for a comeback, and we don't assume that the issues we haven't covered except in passing—the city's changing economic base, engineering challenges, and environmental concerns, for instance—are less important than those we analyzed in depth. We have stuck to what we know
and do best and worked hard to make sure that the recommendations we have offered for discussion complement each other and strike a workable balance between road-tested ideas and much-needed innovation. Also, we feared that the social infrastructure issues—how to build equity as well as opportunity into education, housing, employment, health, and the safety net in the new New Orleans—would get short shrift in the face of overwhelming demands of rebuilding the physical cityscape.
Research institutes can't drop all their other commitments to analyze unexpected events, even those as momentous as Katrina. But occasionally—as the Institute also did when urban violence crested in Los Angeles after the Rodney King incident—we make such timely analyses a priority and bypass slow-paced research funding cycles. In the case of Katrina, it was the least and most we could do.
Robert D. Reischauer
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