10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans’ Spirit Inspires

The disaster permanently altered lives, but the city continues to find innovative ways to rebuild.
September 1, 2015 AT 11:00 AM
New Orlean's unique culture and unyielding spirit endure 10 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. AP/Gerald Herbert
By Ron Littlefield  |  Senior Fellow
Ron Littlefield, a former mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., is a senior fellow with the Governing Institute and its lead analyst on the City Accelerator initiative. A city planner by career, he also consults to government through Littlefield Associates.

On August 29, New Orleans hosted dignitaries, residents and visiting members of the Louisiana diaspora for a special wreath-laying at the Katrina memorial at the foot of the Claiborne Avenue Bridge. True to its unique tradition, a second line, led by a brass band, set aside dirges for celebratory tunes as the city anticipated its future a decade after the devastating storm.

As the official 10th anniversary commemorations of Hurricane Katrina conclude, I want to pause and reflect on the resounding effects that terrible disaster had on New Orleans and other communities throughout the United States. In spite of remarkable rebuilding, the lasting changes -- both positive and negative -- cannot be denied or underestimated. Katrina permanently altered the lives of individuals and, to some degree, the culture of places far beyond New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

I was in China when the storm came ashore. Watching television reports on the other side of the world, the news at first seemed encouraging. The winds had not been as strong as expected and perhaps the damage would not be all that bad. Then, of course, the storm surge came and the levees collapsed. By the time I returned to Chattanooga, emergency measures were in full operation and we were rapidly receiving evacuees.

An article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press describes how the storm impacted lives and how certain individuals came to be new permanent citizens of my city. As I have told a succession of New Orleans mayors -- including the current Mayor Mitch Landrieu -- we welcomed their displaced residents with open arms and have benefitted greatly from the special culture they brought with them, even if some only stayed with us for a little while.

As New Orleans continues to rise from the devastation and replace lost resources, the City Accelerator is playing a role by supporting the city in improving health services for those individuals living in poverty. In short, New Orleans is working to replace the loss of the city's main hospital serving the underprivileged -- known locally as "Big Charity" -- with more effective and efficient clinics and programs. The storm lasted only a few hours, but the rebuilding continues.

On this anniversary, I join with others throughout the United States and the world in a global second line --  saluting the unique culture and unyielding spirit for the special place that we all in some sense claim as our own: the city of New Orleans.

Be part of the campaign for civic innovation at the City Accelerator, presented by Citi Foundation.