Opportunities and Tensions in a Post-Katrina “Brain Gain” Marla Nelson & Renia Ehrenfeucht Department of Planning & Urban Studies University of New Orleans New Orleans Political Economy Workshop | September 10, 2010 N.O. a beacon for young people Interviewees Women: 61%; Men: 39% men White: 77%; African American: 17%; Asian: 5% 28% were originally from New Orleans 31% were living in New Orleans pre-Katrina Median age: 29 The importance of making an impact My husband and I were really interested in coming down after Katrina and Rita hit. . . we just felt like it was a call to action. . . it was like ‘this is our civil rights struggle, this is our war’, in a sense, that we really should be engaged in. Before [Katrina] I was two-car garage, two little dogs [guy], running a small business … and now I want to do what’s best for the community. It’s a completely different line of work. Professional opportunities In New York or Washington, I think, you’re immediately replaceable. There are a million people, not a million, but scores of people, hundreds of people, just like you. And I think it’s hard to be – a little harder to be noticed or recognized there. And I think New Orleans is a smaller pond. It’s a little easier to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Looking at the job I have now, I am able to get a wider range of responsibilities that I would in a similar job in a bigger city…You have an opportunity to grow up a lot quicker. Professional opportunities I’d love to stay here. But I can’t imagine that I will be able to and still progress professionally the way that I want to. . . There’s no middle management here. I can't even get promoted at my own job, and so my only option, if I want to stay in what I'm doing, is to start my own company…I feel like DC is probably where I'm going to have to go back again if I want to continue to do policy work which I do. Work-life balance Part of [coming to New Orleans] was looking for somewhere where we could do productive work, but not have it consume who we were. It’s exciting in DC because everyone is very mission focused. And there was still plenty of that happening here in New Orleans, so it felt like a nice combination of people being there for the value of what they were doing, the mission they were doing, without having the same sort of attitude that if you weren’t at work, you weren’t, you know, doing your job somehow, you were slacking. Tensions I’m working with a coalition of young professionals … some young professionals …who aren't from here don't get …why everything ends up breaking down along racial lines and why … every discussion, discussion about master planning becomes about race, a discussion about transparency is about race, a discussion about public schools becomes about race and they don't understand … the tension behind a lot these issues and why people bring up race … but I also meet with a group of older civic and political African-American leaders and there’s a lack of trust of the white community that I can’t completely dismiss. Tensions What I learned in my ten years of doing development work … is that that’s how [residents] look at anyone…You don’t know what the history is in the neighborhood. You have to learn to work with people in order to overcome those barriers. That’s going to be a barrier anywhere you are…What I found is once you start answering phone calls and following through, they don’t care if you’re from Mars. They know that you care about doing the work in the community, and that’s the end of the story for them Tensions The shift in attitude to make this place some place that works a little better is actually a little troubling. I want it to work, but it’s part of the ethos of the place to have it not work quite so well. People always say it’s the northern most Caribbean city, and if you make it into a Seattle, it no longer has that character, and I don’t really know where we draw the line, and all these people coming in to fix the city, and how we fix it without just changing the character of the place. So I have thought about that a lot because I’m part of it. I’m part of the influx of people that doesn’t expect a city to run this way, expect it to run a little bit better.