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A year later, 'New Orleans is rotting away' Add to ...

The father of five was relatively well insured, and received $250,000 for the flooding and $30,000 for the contents. In a tight construction market, where prices have soared and tradesmen are in high demand, Mr. Newman, who owns an overhead door company, drew on his extensive contacts.

Today, the renovation is almost finished. Just a few tasks remain: a marble countertop in the main-floor bathroom, furniture for the dining room and office, Venetian blinds and light fixtures. "Trimming this, adjusting that," he says. "You know, just minor stuff."

Earlier this week, he and his wife held a party and served Mexican food to friends as they watched the New Orleans Saints get pummelled by the Dallas Cowboys.

With the recovery so slow and uneven one year later, the future of New Orleans is still very much in question. But observers are certain of one thing: Many residents will simply never return, a reality that will forever change the face of the city.

"The longer people have to wait to make decisions, the more likely it is that they'll choose a more clear course of investing elsewhere," Prof. Logan said.

A smaller New Orleans is likely to be richer and whiter. While construction is spotty no matter the area and there are stark differences from street to street, there is more activity in middle-class districts like Mr. Newman's than in poorer places like the Lower Ninth Ward. If that trend continues, it is unlikely that disadvantaged neighbourhoods will fully recover.

In a study of randomly chosen streets in neighbourhoods in April and May for the Army Corps of Engineers (which recently finished repairing New Orleans' levees), Louisiana State University sociologist John Beggs found strong links between income and reconstruction.

At the time of Prof. Beggs' study, work had started on about half the homes surveyed in Lakeview, which borders the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. In the Lower Ninth, it was closer to zero.

"The more uncertain a neighbourhood's future is, the more difficult it will be for people to go back and try and do something with it," he said. "No one has any clear picture of what New Orleans is going to look like."

While New Orleans was two-thirds African-American before the storm, experts figure it is now about evenly split between blacks and whites. Though Mayor Nagin, who is black, said he wants New Orleans to return to its majority African-American status, the lack of a rebuilding plan means there are still more questions about the future of poor black neighbourhoods than prosperous white ones.

"When it becomes clear that some parts of the city will not be rebuilt, then the question's going to have to be faced: What to do with these people? Is there a place in New Orleans for the kind of people that are going to be displaced?" Prof. Logan asked.

So far, the answer is: Not really.

The damage

Recovery has been slow since New Orleans was flooded last year:

100,000

Number of residents who have applied for federal grants to rebuild through the Louisiana Recovery Authority

0

Number of residents who have received the grant

14

Percentage point increase in the proportion of white residents

17

Percentage point decrease in the proportion of black residents

24%

Decrease in the number of housing units

5

Percentage point decrease in the proportion of impoverished residents

9%

Increase in the median household income

39%

Increase in the price of rental housing

50%

Percentage of hospitals open

18%

Percentage of public schools open

17%

Percentage of city buses running

60%

Percentage of homes with electricity

Sources: Brookings Institution; U.S. Census Bureau

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