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A ‘new normal’ in New Orleans

Marketplace Staff Aug 27, 2010

A ‘new normal’ in New Orleans

Marketplace Staff Aug 27, 2010


Tess Vigeland: A couple of years ago, I visited New Orleans to report on the rebuilding effort. I met a local resident, Ian McNulty, sipping a beer at a local pub. He lived in the Mid-City neighborhood, and he’d written about his Katrina experience in a book called “A Season of Night.”

We wanted to check in for an update on how life’s been, so he joins us once again. Welcome back, Ian

Ian McNulty: Thanks very much.

Vigeland: Still livin’ in New Orleans?

McNulty: Absolutely. Yep. Still in Mid-City, in the same house, same neighborhood where I was before the storm and through the aftermath.

Vigeland: Well, so we talked to you a couple years ago, and now, we’re five years since Katrina. Tell us a little bit about what your life is like.

McNulty: Well, in a way, things have returned to normal. But, a great big reset button has been pushed on what “normal” is on New Orleans. You know, after a while of dealing with the recovery issues — you know, they’re starting to get ironed out — the city services are starting to come back, the private services are coming back, there’s more people around. But I say that normal has been reset, because what is the shared experience of everybody here is pretty incredible, what we all went through.

Vigeland: What about some of the more practical elements of a new normal? You know, when I was there two years ago, I was astonished at how few grocery stores there were in the neighborhoods that had been underwater, gas stations, drug stores — you know, the elements of normal life were not there. Has that gotten better in the last two years?

McNulty: Right, yes. What you were describing a few years ago, that was a very transitional time. Because the recovery here was not planned, it was, very basically, individuals making decisions to come back on their own terms. And just as that played out with homes, coming back one at a time, that played out with businesses coming back, one at a time. And so it all comes down to the vagaries of who gets insurance money and who has the resources to float themselves through these periods.

Vigeland: But is there an infrastructure there now?

McNulty: Yes, compared to 2008, things are much better. Of course, still based neighborhood by neighborhoods. In the portions of the city that didn’t flood at all, things have boomed. And in some parts of the city, where it did flood, it’s also booming now. Mid-City, where I live, was almost 100 percent destroyed — every building, every church, business, school, everything. And now when you drive around there, yeah, the discerning eye can still see the flood mark here, the X’s from the rescue crews still lingering here and there on different buildings. But overall, when you look at it, it looks like a completely different neighborhood.

Vigeland: Is there a new normal financially for residents there in New Orleans as well? Do you have a sense of how people’s finances have fared?

McNulty: Just speaking strictly on household finances, for people who were back, there was a lot of spending. You had to buy everything new again, right? You had to buy every stick of furniture again, in many cases, you had to buy every piece of clothing again. That has certainly slowed down. But also, it seemed like when people were coming back, they were so eager to participate in the New Orleans lifestyle, they thought, perhaps was going to be gone forever. If they had the money to spend, they were spending it. You know, people going out to restaurants four or five nights a week. Just because of the joy that these restaurants are back, you know?

Vigeland: Did the experience five years ago and the recovery since then change how you manage your finances, whether it be preparation for another emergency or you deciding to change your life?

McNulty: Yes, I always do put more money away now, especially in the summer time. Anytime there’s more than a wind out there, you get a report on the news, people start perking up and they watch that very carefully. So, now, yes, I always do try to put aside a little cash to put away in savings in case I do have to pay for a hotel for a month, in case I do have to support myself for a month without any regular income for a time as the city recovers again.

Vigeland: Ian McNulty is a resident of New Orleans and author of the book “Season of Night.” And we’ve been talking to him a couple years after speaking with him in 2008 during a visit there. Ian, congratulations on lasting five years post-Katrina and thanks so much for talking with us.

McNulty: Thanks so much for having me.

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