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5 years after Katrina, YURPs move in

24 year-old Brian Bordainick holds up plans for the Ninth Ward Field of Dreams, a $2 million project he oversees.

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Tess Vigland: Next weekend marks the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Residents along the Gulf Coast are still rebuilding their communities. The key is that they came back at all after so many said they wouldn't. The population of New Orleans has grown faster than anybody expected. It's at about 80 percent of what it was pre-storm. But some current residents were not there when the storm hit. They showed up to help bring the city back, and they stayed. They've even got a nickname: YURPs - Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh has our story.


Eve Troeh: In 2005, Brian Bordainick came to New Orleans from the University of Georgia for a fraternity party. He saw devastation from Hurricane Katrina, had a long talk with a cop working security at the event. Then he went home and signed up for two years with Teach for America in New Orleans. Now...

Brian Bordainick: This will be my 4th year. Can you see I have grey hairs to show. How old are you? 24, almost 25.

Bordainick is a history teacher and athletic director at George Washington Carver High. It's in an area that flooded - the classrooms are still all trailers. Today's supposed to be the first day of school, but a tropical storm warning cancelled class. Which is ok, because Bordainick has plenty to do. He's in charge of a two-million dollar stadium that will replace the flooded school building.

Bordainick: Basically when this gets demolished, the field, the tip of the track will actually come right in front of this building right here.

Bordainick wrote the proposal, recruited the architects, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. In other places at his age, he'd only be interning on projects like this. Granted, he's not earning a high salary. Some of Bordainick's friends and family are not keen on him committing to the city.

Bordainick: Lot of people have a perception of New Orleans that it's a great place to visit, but not a great place to live. But once people were coming to visit, it turned doubters into believers really quick.

And he loves to plan elaborate weekends for guests.

Bordainick: Soul Rebels, live brass band experience lunch at Domilise's, happy hour in the Quarter

Leslie Jacobs: They tend to move in herds.

That's Leslie Jacobs, self-appointed muse of the YURPs - or young urban rebuilding professionals. She says ambassadors like Brian Bordainick do lure more people to the city. Her group 504ward - named for New Orleans' area code - studies why thousands of 23 to 35 year-olds have flocked to New Orleans since Katrina.

Jacobs: Part of what our research showed is they want to be in cities where there's lots of them, and so it becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jacobs says they're drawn by a purpose: to help rebuild a major American city. They're also needed. The storm drove out a generation of mid-career workers, who would have been next in line to run things.

Jacobs: A lot of people evacuated and didn't come back. It's created opportunities for positions of leadership for younger people. When I was evacuated and watching the devastation on TV, I remember turning to my husband and saying, "It's our kids' generation that's going to rebuild the city. We're gonna stabilize it, but we're gonna be worn out from that."

But it's one thing to attract young people. It's another thing to get them to stay.

Jacobs: Many of the young talent coming to New Orleans came here with the perception that they would work two to three years, in a nonprofit, be part of rebuilding, and then go on and do something else. And our charge is that when they reach that point, they still stay in New Orleans..

Some aren't sure they want to be part of New Orleans' future. Twenty-eight-year-old John Moore grew up in New Orleans. He was eager to get out.

John Moore: The entire time I was growing up here I was a one foot out the door sort of a thing.

Moore went to college in Atlanta, and stayed to work in architecture. His mom and brother came to live with him after Hurricane Katrina. Flooding destroyed their house. Much to Moore's surprise, they went back to rebuild. He didn't want to go with them. Until he attended a conference on "green building."

Moore: The entire conference just seemed to have this New Orleans focus. And inevitably I'd go to these meetings and be the only New Orleanian in the room. I was at the seat of power, with a voice.

John Moore is now an environmental policy advisor for the City of New Orleans. He feels like he's shot forward decades in his career. And while he loves the occasional street parade or live concert...

Moore: I still sort of even four years later consider New Orleans a job. I think we're still dating. I can't see myself married to New Orleans just yet.

Moore wants to try life in New York, California, maybe Seattle. Leslie Jacobs at 504ward meets a lot of people with this "city sampler" life plan.

Jacobs: They're going to get restless, and they're going to move on. But for a broad group of other people, New Orleans can be their home.

She says to get this group to call the Crescent City home, you have to change their mindset - from short-term adventurers to long-term leaders.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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