Hurricane Katrina as a Lens for Assessing Socio-Spatial Change in New Orleans

Article excerpt

Disasters are acute events that affect populated landscapes at discrete points in their history. In many locations, these discrete events occur repeatedly over time. This chronology has chorological implications in that one generation's disaster reconstruction zone could be the next generation's disaster site. This build-disaster-rebuild approach also occurs within the context of changing social and environmental conditions, the interactions of which have direct implications to the outcome of a specific disaster event. This research focuses on the changing social geography of a large urban disaster site (New Orleans, Louisiana) by employing the U.S. Census, digital inundation data, and a GIS to conduct a spatial analysis of flood patterns during Hurricane Katrina. Following the initial analysis, we replicate our methodology across the three decennial census periods prior to 2000. While the initial analysis discerns the statistical relationship among race, income, and Katrina's deluge, the subsequent temporal analysis illuminates the changing social patterns that preceded the Katrina-era landscape. In this manner, we use hurricane inundation as a lens to view 35 years of sociospatial change in New Orleans.

Los desastres son eventos agudos que afectan paisajes poblados en puntos discretos de su historia. En muchos lugares estos eventos discretos se producen repetidamente en el tiempo. Esta cronologia tiene implicaciones corologicas en esa zona de reconstruccion de desastres de esa generacion que podria ser el lugar de catastrofe de la proxima generacion. Este enfoque de construccion-reconstruccion de desastres tambien se produce en el contexto de las cambiantes condiciones sociales y ambientales, de las cuales interacciones tienen implicaciones directas para el resultado de un desastre especifico. Esta investigacion se enfoca en la cambiante geografia social de un lugar de gran catastrofe urbana (Nueva Orleans, Louisiana), utilizando el Censo de los EE.UU., los datos digitales de inundacion, y un SIG para llevar a cabo un analisis espacial de los patrones de las inundaciones durante el huracan Katrina. Siguiendo el analisis inicial, replicamos nuestra metodologia en los tres periodos censales decenales anteriores al 2000. Si bien el analisis inicial discierne la relacion estadistica entre raza, ingreso, y el fenomeno de Katrina, el analisis temporal posterior acentua los cambiantes patrones sociales que precedieron el paisaje de la era de Katrina. De esta manera, utilizamos las inundaciones del huracan como un lente para ver 35 arias de cambio socio-espacial en Nueva Orleans.

KEY WORDS: Hurricane Katrina; New Orleans; Historical Geography; Socio-Spatial Change


To date, Hurricane Katrina ranks as the largest (in terms of human displacement), most expensive, and third most fatal disaster in US history (Knabb et al. 2005; Federal Emergency Management Agency 2006; United States Department of Commerce 2006). Beginning in August 2005, coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath dominated popular media. Journalists speculated on the roles that race and socioeconomic status played in numerous aspects of the storm and the federal response (Broder et al. 2005; Bumiller 2005; Duke and Wiltz 2005; Fletcher 2005; Fletcher and Morin 2005; Hurricane 2005; Johnson 2005; Milloy 2005; Page and Puente 2005; Race 2005; Weisman 2005; Wickham 2005; Young 2006). Polemic contentions concerning race and class reinforced popular perception, sides were drawn, and the nation became embroiled in a heated discussion of race, poverty, government, and disaster (Dyson 2006; White et al. 2007). While this dialogue provided a compelling avenue for the discussion of race relations and poverty in the United States, it failed to engage the fundamental relationship between Katrina's floodwaters and the social and racial geographies of New Orleans at the time of the storm or in the decades leading up to the disaster. …