Keeping Score

In the Shadows of the Super Bowl, New Orleans Struggles

On eve of Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says New Orleans is "bigger and better than ever." The facts say otherwise

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Patrick Semansky / AP

In this Jan. 31, 2013 photo, a front porch stands alone where a house once was in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, a neighborhood that was heavily damaged by floodwaters from a levee break after Hurricane Katrina.

The Super Bowl is, well, the Super Bowl of civic cheerleading. It’s a chance, we are told, for a host city to shine, to soak in the adulation of all the revelrous out-of-towners. They’ll spend lots of money on hotel rooms and drinks and merchandise, so the Super Bowl gives its host city an economic jolt.

In New Orleans, such boosterism is louder than the Mardi Gras parade. At some point on Super Bowl Sunday, you’re bound to hear breathless talk about how the Super Bowl is a surefire sign of the city’s rebound. On Friday, in his annual state-of-football press conference, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell played the role of cheerleader-in-chief. “It’s clear this city is back bigger and better than ever,” Goodell declared.

(MORE: Can Roger Goodell Save Football?)

This statement, unfortunately, is just not true.

That’s not to say that New Orleans’ return to the Super Bowl rotation for the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 isn’t an important step forward. It is, for reasons both psychological — more than seven years later, it’s still hard to forget the Katrina victims packed into the Superdome after the storm— and pecuniary. Although the economic impact of hosting mass sporting events is often overstated, having tens of thousands of people come to your city to spend money doesn’t hurt the bottom line.

But Super Bowl hype tends to obscure harsh truths about the host city. “Some things are markedly better,” says Allison Plyer, director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. “Some things are definitely not. We still have a lot of trends that are troubling.”

New Orleans has made real strides. The city has weathered the national recession better than most places. According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, the number of jobs in the New Orleans metro area rose 0.6% from October 2007 to October 2012, while the U.S. lost 3.0% of all jobs. School reforms have paid off: during the 2010-2011 school year, 68% of the city’s public-school students attended schools that passed state standards, up from 28% in the 2003-2004 school year. Blight is declining overall: the city had about 35,700 blighted residential addresses in March 2012, compared with 65,428 addresses in March 2008.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New Orleans was the fastest-growing large city in the country between 2010 and 2011.

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When Goodell says New Orleans is “bigger than ever,” however, he’s not staring at the facts. New Orleans lost 26% of its population since 2000. The city has 360,740 people: in 2000, it had 484,674 people. (Its population peaked, at 627,525, in 1960.) Is New Orleans “better than ever?” The city has a poverty rate of 29%, nearly twice the national average of  15%. In 2007, New Orleans had a 21% poverty rate. Child poverty is 42% in the city, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center; the U.S. rate is 23%. Unemployment in the metro area rose from 3% in October 2007 to 6.5% in 2012. Post-Katrina housing is less affordable, and violent crime is still twice the national rate.

Goodell couldn’t have been considering the area hit hardest by Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward, when he boasted that the city is bigger and better than ever. “Post-Katrina, New Orleans is in many ways a tale of two cities,” says Plyer. “For those at the lowest end of the socioeconomic scale, life is appreciatively worse.” Just take a drive east of the central business district and the French Quarter, where the NFL is holding most of its Super Bowl events. Cross the Claiborne Avenue bridge, over the Industrial Canal and into the Lower Ninth Ward, and it’s easy to see what Plyer is talking about. Houses are still boarded up and abandoned, cats dart in and out of empty lots, the area feels desolate and still devastated. “There ain’t no recovery here,” says Sherman Miller, who works for a non-profit organization that is growing a community garden in the neighborhood. “There’s a lot that needs to be done. There are no jobs here, honestly.”

The Lower Ninth Ward’s population has dropped 80% since the years between 2000-2010, from 14,008 residents to 2,842. “A lot of people here are getting ignored,” says Claude Mamon, 37, a truck driver who lives in the Lower Ninth Ward. He points to the abandoned house across the street. “I know a squirrel is living in there,” Mamon says. “I’ve also seen a couple of cats, and an opossum. They need to fix that.”

And what does having the Super Bowl in the area mean to the Lower Ninth Ward? “Not a freaking thing,” says Wyquila Kent, 35, who was sitting with a friend, Lynell Lewis, 25, on a porch off North Rampart Avenue on Friday afternoon. “Sure, some people are pumped about it. But as you can see, we don’t get too happy about things down here.” Across the street are two abandoned homes, each still marked with  “X” that rescue workers spay-painted on empty, condemned New Orleans properties after the storm. On one of them, the graffiti says “T-Mark,” and “Luckie.”

(MORE: Five Ways To Seem Smart About The Super Bowl)

A car speeds by at over 50 miles per hour, down a local street; Lewis’ son is playing a few yards away. “That’s a perfect example,” says Lewis. “Lawless. If my son had been crossing the street when that car came, he’d be dead.” Almost on cue, Lewis’ son darts across the intersection, chasing a big wheel. “Just a few seconds later,” she says.

Lewis, who like Kent is unemployed but says she wants to work, doesn’t see any Super Bowl benefits spilling over the Lower Ninth Ward, which is about five miles east of the Superdome. “All we might get is a blimp,” says Lewis. “That’s it.”

For years, Lower Ninth Ward residents have been clamoring for a full-service grocery store. Instead, they get a community garden. “We can’t go over there and get groceries” says Lewis. “We’re not vegetarians. I don’t see how that’s going to help my son eat.” Lewis looks away, her expression tired, sad. “The cats can eat from the garden,” Lewis says. “The cats have it better than us.”

How’s that for a Super Bowl slogan?

12 comments
JohannaGarsenstein
JohannaGarsenstein

I just spent two months in NOLA, living in the Lower Garden and working in the Lower Ninth....so I got a taste of both side of the city.  As a northerner, I'm glad I got to see both sides and think that not showing the "real" place does a disservice to the entire place.  I live in Chicago and we have the same issue here.  Officials, celebrities and other power brokers only like to show the pretty parts of the city.  What is it about American culture that we cannot embrace both the good and the bad at the same time, despite the fact that it's the world that we live in.  Regardless, the entire place is fabulous and I hope the SuperBowl brought lots and lots of $$ to NOLA.

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TinaHiggs3

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RyanLindauer
RyanLindauer

i agree with 99% of this article. but i don't think "Lewis" was a good example of ninth ward suffering. she wants us to feel bad for her because she refuses to raise her kids to eat healthy...the 9th ward has a self-sustaining urban farm, and it's managers are more than happy to give lessons, teaching locals to use things from the garden to eat healthier. i've seen first hand the labor that goes into that garden, and if she wants to work, they can always use volunteers...unless what she means when she says "i want to work" is "i want to get paid" (i hope not, for the 9th ward's sake)

ZacRitchie
ZacRitchie

Unfortunately, these are the types of articles I expected from people not from New Orleans.  The "truth" is that every major American city has areas like the Lower Ninth Ward.  It's tragic and upsetting that this area is the only one that gets attention.  DevilDog504 mentioned Chalmette, which along with the rest of St. Bernard parish is struggling just as badly.  New Orleans East may actually be worse than the Lower Nine.  So, give me a break with this sanctimonious bull, because you have severely missed the point!  I have personally witnessed this city change from a place on the verge of never coming back, to a thriving cultural mecca. But this is exactly the kind of drivel I expected from the National Media...smh.



willr.physics
willr.physics

That’s not to say that New Orleans’ return to the Super Bowl rotation for the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 isn’t an important step forward. It is, for reasons both psychic — more than seven years later, it’s still hard to forget the Katrina victims packed into the Superdome after the storm— and pecuniary. Although the economic impact of hosting mass sporting events is often overstated, having tens of thousands of people come to your city to spend money doesn’t hurt the bottom line.

He corrected the other part. Pretty sure he meant psychological unless the people of New Orleans were expected to predict Katrina.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Once again, we have an American public that continues to ignore obvious realities, and instead chooses to embrace sentimentalism. 

As a note to readers, much of New Orleans is below sea level.  Due to its geographical and geological location, the city is technically sinking every year (due to the compacting of sediments upon which the city structures are built).  

In other words, resistance is futile against Mother Nature.  New Orleans is just as risk-prone to storms which could wreak terrible effect on the barely-recovering city.  To delude people into believing their city is safe in the long-run is immoral, and borderline criminal.  Those residents should be moved to cities with 1) higher elevation and 2) sturdier foundations.

Yet, instead of doing what is practical, New Orleans - and America at-large - will yield to sentimentality, and continue to rebuild the city every time it's ravaged by a storm.  

How many more storms will it take until someone wakes up, and smells the coffee?

devildog504
devildog504

This article is ridiculous. Just because one area that was already struggling before the storm has not come back does not mean that the entire city is doing bad. 

There are some many things that I want to say about this article but everyone please know that the government has invested billions in folld protection for this area. The government has also built state of the art police stations, fire stations, schools, community centers, and government facilities. Roads were rebuilt(still some improvement needed here.) The local army base was restored and Brad Pit plus many other non profit groups rebuilt 100s of homes.  


The issue here is that people did not come back. The reason there is no local grocery it is because there is not enough local demand. Go less than two miles down the road and there is a Walmart in nearby Chalmette. Chalmette has a Walmart because there was enough people that made it a point to rebuild in there. 


Maybe Wyquila Kent should be upset that none of her old neighbors rebuilt and not be upset about the fact that the rest of New Orleans is excited about the many positives strides it is making

danielthompson529
danielthompson529

At some point, Americans need to accept that the "tale of two cities" dynamic is not unique to New Orleans, it's true about almost every city in the country. There are rich and poor everywhere, and I guarantee that the plight of the poor across the country would shock you even more than this. New Orleans comes across as an alien town to most Americans, it's the "other" that Euro-Caribbean city that has been grandfathered into the United States but isn't like "us". It's easier to point out its flaws that way and appear superior. However, although New Orleans has an astronomical per capita murder rate, the absolute murder rate is higher in bigger cities, especially Chicago. I love and live in New Orleans despite its flaws, but how many articles do we get about the poverty in other cities when they are the Super Bowl hosts? When do we take poverty seriously in this country as something other than a sideshow attraction or as something that only a certain group of people talk about to show off how "progressive" they are. 

Also, as an earlier poster pointed out, New Orleans is doing better now than it has since its population peak in the early 1960's just before white flight really took its toll. This is the spirit that Roger Goodell was commenting on. Sure the city is not literally bigger than ever, but figuratively it is better than it has been in quite some time. If you spent some time in the city beyond the French Quarter and Lower Ninth Ward maybe you would find that out to. Sometimes I really think that some reporters believe those two areas are the only ones in the city.

ChrisDendy
ChrisDendy

The city is doing better than it has in decades- our current unemployment rate is lower than all large metros other than OKC. And it's growing, quickly.

willr.physics
willr.physics

You really should proof read or have an editor.

"The Super Bowl gives its host city an economic jolt, as visitors They’ll spend lots of money on hotel rooms and drinks and merchandise, so the Super Bowl gives its host city an economic jolt."

 " It is, for reasons both psychic" Really, psychic reasons huh?

danielthompson529
danielthompson529

@mrbomb13

I would direct you to the following article from The Guardian:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/02/new-orleans-hurricane-katrina-super-bowl

Since Katrina, New Orleans has had upgrades to the levee system that greatly enhance its safety. Sure it's still at risk, but no more so than cities in the Netherlands or on the East Coast when it comes to sea level rise and climate change. Also, would you say the same thing about San Francisco which could any day be eaten by a fault line opening? Indeed any city in the country could at any time be wiped out by an Earthquake, Tornado or catastrophic flood. When things go wrong in America we fix them, or at least we used to. Modern America is disposable, just throw something away and build it somewhere else without regard for history or culture. The reason people live in New Orleans is to get away from this attitude which is prevalent in most every other corner of the country. And before you lecture us on how to live, the USA as a whole isn't really doing too well at the moment. Maybe you should get your own backyard straight first before telling other people what is and isn't worth saving

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@willr.physics 

Would you please Copy/Paste that portion of text directly from the article?  I especially cannot find the "psychic" portion which you called out.

Thank you.


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