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Unnatural Disaster : Social Impacts and Policy Choices after Katrina

Unnatürliche Katastrophen: soziale Auswirkungen und politische Folgen nach dem Hurrikan Katrina
[conference paper]

Logan, John R.

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Corporate Editor Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie (DGS)
Abstract "This presentation will analyze the future of post-Katrina New Orleans. It will discuss the pattern of impacts of the hurricane across neighborhoods and across racial and class categories, identifying 'whose New Orleans' is really at stake in the recovery. Early media reports about the wind damage and flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina focused especially on the people who had been unable to escape the city before it flooded. Images of poor and predominantly black people crowded into the Superdome and Convention Center supported the impression that Katrina had disproportionately affected poor, black neighborhoods. Analysis of FEMA storm damage data shows that this image is correct. Damaged areas had nearly twice the proportion of black residents as did undamaged areas. Closer inspection of neighborhoods within New Orleans shows that some affluent white neighborhoods were hard hit, while some poor minority neighborhoods were spared. Yet if the post-Katrina city were limited to the population previously living in areas that were undamaged by the storm - that is, if nobody were able to return to damaged neighborhoods - New Orleans is at risk of losing more than 80% of its black population. This means that policy choices affecting who can return, to which neighborhoods, and with what forms of public and private assistance, will greatly affect the future character of the city. Emphasis will be given to the role of local politics in creating the conditions for natural disaster, particularly in the urban development process that left black neighborhoods particularly exposed. He argues that decisions about the future are not technical questions about disaster prevention but political questions about whose interests will be protected. And the pattern of neighborhood mobilization in the first year after the hurricane and the diaspora from the city have greatly affected what voices are being heard in the political arena. New Orleans' first election after Hurricane Katrina was conducted under unusual conditions. A large share of the population remained displaced outside the city, and the majority of displaced persons were living outside the State of Louisiana. Those living away from home were disproportionately black residents and among blacks they were disproportionately low-income. Among displaced persons, blacks were considerably more likely than white to be living outside the metropolitan area and outside the state. Although Hurricane Katrina reshaped the political map of the city by suppressing the vote in the poorest and blackest neighborhoods, the dynamics of the mayoral campaign represent a more remarkable shift in the composition of support for the winning candidate, Mayor Ray Nagin. Having been elected in 2002 on the basis of his strong showing in white and more affluent neighborhoods, despite being black himself, the Mayor has been re-elected with his main edge among neighborhoods with predominantly black and low to middle income residents. A key question for the future is how development policy in his second term will respond to the needs of his new electoral constituency. At the moment it appears that city policy will instead follow the market, encouraging redevelopment in more affluent neighborhoods regardless of their vulnerability to flooding, actively reducing the supply of low-rent public housing, and using public funds to support homeowners rather than working class renters. In this case the 'natural disaster' of the hurricane will give way to an 'unnatural disaster' of public policy." (author's abstract)
Keywords United States of America; natural disaster; social effects; impact; population; city quarter; local politics; neighborhood; role; urban development; future; displaced person; metropolis; election; social policy; political impact; North America
Classification Sociology of Settlements and Housing, Urban Sociology; Political Process, Elections, Political Sociology, Political Culture; Ecology, Environment
Method documentation
Collection Title Die Natur der Gesellschaft: Verhandlungen des 33. Kongresses der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie in Kassel 2006. Teilbd. 1 u. 2
Editor Rehberg, Karl-Siegbert
Conference 33. Kongress "Die Natur der Gesellschaft". Kassel, 2006
Document language English
Publication Year 2008
Publisher Campus Verl.
City Frankfurt am Main
Page/Pages p. 459-474
ISBN 978-3-593-38440-5
Status Published Version; reviewed
Licence Deposit Licence - No Redistribution, No Modifications