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New Orleans, nine years later

Out in the Great Elsewhere, people ask me all the time: “How is New Orleans doing? Is it back?”

Friday marks the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the answer is: yes and no.

Yes, we are back in many ways; you can visit the city, have a great time, and never see evidence of the storm. And no, we are not “back,” in a couple of ways. For one thing, we have plenty of rebuilding left to do (can you say “blight”?), and for another, we have actually moved forward, not back, in some important ways. And back, and not forward, in others.

This week, we are remembering where we were, where we went, what we lost nine years ago. In honor of the anniversary, here are a few strictly personal takes on what has changed and what hasn’t in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

Source: White House photo by Paul Morse

Source: White House photo by Paul Morse

CITY STREETS

What has changed: A gazillion dollars seems to be in the offing for street repair. Barricades, bulldozers, creeping trenches, and orange-vested work crews are moving through the city like a ponderous and ill-choreographed ballet.

What has not changed: The potholes on my street. And yours, probably. And the feeling that, despite all those signs of repair, not much is getting done. Do you notice the way the barricades shift almost daily, snarling traffic in capricious ways?

POLITICIANS

What has changed: Well, our current mayor doesn’t curse or cry on public TV, and most people would say that more is getting done in the upper echelons of City Hall these days.

What has not: Our skepticism of public officials, who keep disappointing us by winding up in the courtroom – on the wrong side of the bench. And the lines/bureaucracy in the lower echelons of City Hall.

COMMUNITY

What has changed: We’re a smaller city – at about 83 percent of pre-K figures in Orleans Parish. But the people who have returned (and are returning) have deep investment in New Orleans, and the many young professionals who have descended upon us since the storm constitute a meaningful and welcome brain gain.

What has not: That intense feeling of community and camaraderie. New Orleans has always had it, and always will.

BUSINESS

What has changed: We’ve gained lots of entrepreneurial enterprises, with local startups leading the national rate by 56 percent.

What has not: The city’s entrepreneurial spirit, rooted in 19th-century street vendors and mom-and-pop stores.

SPORTS

What has changed: Say it together: Super Bowl champions. Hornets to Pelicans.

What has not: Who Dat!

MEDIA

What has changed: Print to digital, largely precipitated by Katrina reporting.

What has not: We still have a daily paper. Only not the same one.

EDUCATION

What has changed: We’re the petri dish for a lot of urban renewal experimentation, including charter schools. Katrina gave us an education do-over. We’re seeing innovation in the classroom in a myriad of ways.

What has not: Poor performance in too many schools. Let’s not waste that do-over.

TRANSPORTATION

What has changed: Bikes. Everywhere.

What has not changed: An inadequate public transit system. And though the St. Charles streetcar is finally running along the complete line, it seems to move on its own very quirky schedule.

THE LEVEES

What has changed: They’re better now.

What has not: We’re afraid they’re not better now.

URBAN SERVICES

What has changed: We no longer have to go to some random warehouse to collect our mail. Or drive miles to a grocery store or dry cleaner to do our daily errands. My local bank is no longer housed in a mobile home.

What has not: We still have food deserts and neighborhood lack of services out there.

REBUILDING

What has changed: Houses on stilts, McMansions, Brad Pitt houses, LEEDS building, spray-foam insulation.

What has not: Blight. Empty lots. Road Home snafus.

LANGUAGE:

What has changed: A new vocabulary with terms such as evacucation and Katrinkets. Spirited conversations about flood zones, elevation requirements and FEMA. Pre-K does not refer to pre-kindergarten here.

What has not: Laissez les bons temps rouler.

WEATHER AWARENESS

What has changed: We no longer get hives when hurricane season begins or panic when a depression forms in the Atlantic.

What has not: Our grab-and-go bags are packed and ready. We know exactly where we will go next time.

CRIME

What has changed: Not much. Except there are a lot fewer police officers.

What has not: Crime.

What do you think has changed -- or not -- since Hurricane Katrina? Add your comments below, or email them to [email protected] and we will continue the conversation.

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]