GNO Views – Katrina Anniversary: Reaching New Heights, Staying Grounded

Nine years ago the levees failed and Greater New Orleans was inundated. Yet from the depths of Katrina – more than a storm, a human catastrophe – Greater New Orleans has not only come back, but has, by many measures, come back better than ever.

As we recognize the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it is appropriate that we pause and reflect on how far we have come.

We are #1 for: population growth; school reform; “brain-gain”; in-migration of workers; tech growth; export growth; airport growth; business climate; and, economic development wins over the past decade. Travel + Leisure named us “America’s Favorite City” and a “Top 10 Global Destination.”

What makes these rankings so impressive is not only that they come so soon following Katrina, when mere survival was in question, but that they would have been unimaginable before the storm. We have not only recovered – in many cases, we have transcended.

This does not exculpate Katrina. But it does mean that through smarts, spirit and extraordinary effort, we are honoring those who lost all or part of their lives by creating something better out of the loss, and now reaching new heights as a region.

Even so, challenges remain. Our rapid business expansion is causing growing pains in workforce and infrastructure. Our quality-of-life improvements are real, but fragile. Not all of our citizens are yet fully participating in the recovery. And long term, stabilizing the coast is a binary imperative.

So, upon the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, let’s be proud of our progress – and redouble our effort. Let’s be encouraged but not excused; let’s feel rewarded but not relaxed. To the contrary, let’s continue to aggressively press for improvements, and to honestly confront problems. In short, let’s never confuse encouraging “progress” with enduring “success.”

As the memory of Katrina fades, the need for discipline grows. Each of us has a responsibility to lead in our own way, and to be part of the greater team. Nine years after Katrina, we can be happy, but not on cloud nine. There is hard work to be done, right here on the ground.