John Hockenberry for The Takeaway: Shantrelle Lewis, joining us from the McKenna Museum of African American Art there in New Orleans. Good morning, Shantrelle.
Shantrelle Lewis: Good morning, how are you?
John Hockenberry: Just great. You've seen it all in the city of New Orleans. How long have you been there?
Shantrelle Lewis: I was actually born and raised in New Orleans. I left for college and graduate school and I returned to the city after Katrina.
John Hockenberry: What do you think of this new census report, just out this morning, that the city of New Orleans is the fastest growing city in the United States?
Shantrelle Lewis: Well, as the prodigal daughter returns to New Orleans after Katrina, I'm not surprised at all. There's been lots of buzz about New Orleans since Katrina. Lots of young people move into the city. So many other professionals move into the city and I can probably say haven't really seen the worst of the recession as some of the other states and cities because of those reasons.
John Hockenberry: That's great. Well you watched them go and you watched them return. The population of New Orleans, according to the census, grew 8.2 percent faster than any other city, and while the population has not yet reached the levels it was before Katrina, as you were mentioning Shantrelle, they're well on their way. Also here to talk about this is Allison Plyer, co-director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. She happens to be in Pensacola, Florida, this morning. Good morning, Allison.
Allison Plyer: Good morning.
John Hockenberry: What are the numbers here?
Allison Plyer: Well, as you said, New Orleans is the fastest growing city, and really the primary reason is because we still have a lot of folks who were displaced in August, 2005, and are continuing to return. So you remember we lost our entire population in August, 2005, and we're still recovering that population. And as Shantrelle points out, we've had a large number of new young professionals and other workers coming to the city for work opportunities sine the storm.
John Hockenberry: So we're talking about people returning, but we're also talking about fundamentally new folks coming to the city to seek opportunity in a place that's rebuilding in a time when a lot of the country is in the middle of a recession. Is that what you're saying Allison?
Allison Plyer: Exactly. It's very exciting. Before the storm, New Orleans really suffered from brain drain. It wasn't really a strong economy. There weren't very many opportunities for young professionals. After the storm, suddenly we've had a gigantic influx of federal dollars to help rebuild the city, which of course is going to take many years. So there are wonderful career opportunities for architects, engineers, artists, various managers, lawyers, teachers, etc. And we've seen a lot of young professionals come to town looking for new opportunities.
John Hockenberry: So Shantrelle, you've been spending the Katrina stimulus money for quite a while now. Do you think that the spirit in New Orleans right now is something akin to cities that rebuilt after, say, World War II and after the dark times and the horrors of the devastation, that really it becomes an opportunity for people to start fresh and a lot of people are finding that in New Orleans.
Shantrelle Lewis: Absolutely. I think there's a resiliency that exists among the people in New Orleans, and we've probably seen the community come together in ways we would have never seen prior to Katrina. You have to think about pre-Katrina New Orleans that was plagued, and still is plagued, with very horrible public education system, with crime, with racism and other issues that have affected our city. But we've seen white and black people coming together. We see people of different classes coming together, even within the black community in New Orleans. Individuals from different parts of town are interacting now. And I'm definitely not trying to create some type of rosy Kumbaya- type of picture, but you definitely see a lot of cooperation now post-Katrina than you ever would have seen before. And you also see an opportunity again for individuals outside of that small circle of people who had control over politics and opportunities in the city, having an opportunity to come in and climb the social ladder.
John Hockenberry: Changing of the guards.
Shantrelle Lewis: Pretty much.
Todd Zwillich for The Takeaway: So, Shantrelle, what do you think needs to be happening to prevent this from becoming another boom and bust? So that during this boom, instead of just going back to the age of crime and poor education and a debilitated healthcare system in New Orleans, to make this boom really transform New Orleans for the long-term. As everyone's cooperating now and you said Kumbaya moments, what really needs to happen do you think?
Shantrelle Lewis: Well I think there definitely needs to be some programs in place for the residents that were displaced who are returning to the city. I know I still have family who is outside of New Orleans, some who will come back and some who won't come back, but I've mentioned before in conversations with other individuals that we, meaning people from New Orleans, are still suffering from post-traumatic stress and many psychological emotional issues relating to Katrina. And some of those things need to be addressed.
John Hockenberry: It's great to feel as though the recession isn't affecting you, which is what you talked about a moment ago, Shantrelle. Allison Plyer, before we go, what lessons do people in New Orleans have to deliver to the rest of America that is down in the crater of this recession right now.
Allison Plyer: That's a good question. We've really been down in the dumps. We've certainly seen the worst of the worst. As Shantrelle said, it really requires seeing the opportunity that's there and stepping forward and really making a contribution to your community and making it a better place. We've seen something that I hope no other city ever sees, and we've had a lot of help from the outside and we're so grateful for that. We also know that it took all of us coming together and stepping forward and working harder than we ever have in our lives to help rebuild our city.
John Hockenberry: No mushy Kumbayas down there Shantrelle and Allison. But it sounds like some real solid coming together. And that's lesson enough for the rest of America.
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