From: Ecological Society of America
Published September 15, 2017 11:25 AM

New Orleans Greenery Post-Katrina Reflects Social Demographics More Than Storm Impact

Popular portrayals of “nature reclaiming civilization” in flood-damaged New Orleans, Louisianna, neighborhoods romanticize an urban ecology shaped by policy-driven socioecological disparities in redevelopment investment, ecologists argue in a new paper in the Ecological Society of America’s open access journal Ecosphere.

“Observers can be taken in by the post-apocalyptic image that some flood-damaged neighborhoods present over a decade after Katrina. It stimulates the imagination. But local people see it as a failure of public policy and a social problem,” said lead author Joshua Lewis, a research professor at the ByWater Institute at Tulane University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. “For a community that has had thousands of people come back and struggle to rebuild, to reopen schools and churches, it’s frustrating to see their neighborhoods portrayed as disintegrating or losing ground to nature.”

In a study of plant life across New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, the researchers were surprised to find that demographic factors of wealth, race, housing recovery, and land abandonment were better predictors of vegetation patterns than the degree of intensity of flooding and wind during the 2005 storm.

“A whole range of neighborhoods and demographics were hit by Katrina. They don’t all have equal access to private capital and ability to navigate housing recovery programs, and that is what we see driving the type of vegetation emerging on these abandoned properties,” said Lewis.

Read more at Ecological Society of America

Image: A contrast in post-disaster management: abandoned land in the Lower 9th Ward (top two images) and St. Bernard Parish (bottom image), in December 2016. State-managed lots overgrown with emergent vegetation have become popular sites for illegal dumping (top). Alternative land uses such neighborhood gardens have been implemented on a limited basis, often directly abutting state-managed properties and overgrown lots (middle). In St. Bernard Parish, officials have more intensively managed greenery on abandoned lands, producing lawn-like grasslands across large swaths of the community. (Credit: Joshua A. Lewis)

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