Thank you once again America for your help in the recovery of one of America’s most resilient and culturally unique cities, New Orleans. During my final term as Mayor of New Orleans I had the humbling experience of witnessing and participating in an amazing comeback. August 29, 2010 will mark the five year anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina and failed federally-built levees combined to flood and devastate 80 percent of our city.
Since those dramatic days five years ago, we have withstood many challenges and obstacles. But we stand today to say to the world that there is a rainbow shining over New Orleans. Our incredibly resilient citizens, recovered their balances and came together in an environment of unprecedented empowerment. We had great debates on possibly shrinking the city’s footprint and how to rebuild in an equitable manner where all citizens could benefit. Our journey at times was both frustrating and supremely rewarding.
We will never forget when many Americans were moved with real compassion for us throughout our time of need. You prayed for us, volunteered, donated money and came to visit to boost our weakened economy. We could not have come so far and done so much in our recovery without you.
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As a result, federal dollars are finally flowing and New Orleans is experiencing a major construction boom. We have billions of recovery related construction in progress all over the city. Our local economy and job outlook is solid. This past April the U.S. Department of Labor said New Orleans posted the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. Our population now exceeds 80 percent of its original size as we continue to grow faster than any other city. Our film industry is strong, tourism is good and our beloved Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.
As we observe this anniversary and assess our direction, two recent studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Brookings Institute are very instructive. Both have been tracking the mood of our city since the storms.
Kaiser’s poll highlight that 74 percent of our citizens are positive about our city’s future. The Brookings Institute’s report states, “The city has been recovering from Katrina and, in fact, may even be on the path to transformation.” They highlighted that our average wages are up significantly and we have more middle class families with better school choices. The African-American population has rebounded back to 62 percent, entrepreneurship is up, the poverty rate is down and blighted properties have been reduced.
The trends are good, but we still have a ways to go and we still have some nagging challenges. Many federal recovery dollars are still stuck in bureaucratic webs; homeowner grants are often unfairly calculated; and we continue to fight hard to lower crime and provide more affordable housing for renters.
I have learned that there is no force as powerful as the determination of a people to rise. New Orleanians refused to let our city die. We are rebuilding together and better.
We thank everyone who helped to put New Orleans on this path of recovery and renewal. Our message to our supporters is clear: Whatever your personal Katrina may be, you can overcome it — just as we in New Orleans overcame devastation, and now a rainbow shines brightly.
C. Ray Nagin