“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” according to the century-old adage. Demonstrating the premise that numbers and data can still be manipulated to suit any argument, New Orleans was named one of two “most livable” cities in the country last week — based on, of all things, our crime rates.
The award, given by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, is based on the Mayor’s murder reduction program NOLA for Life. The other city to be honored is West Sacramento, Calif. for its work to expand early childhood education.
The New Orleans murder rate fell 20 percent from 2012 to 2013, and was down nearly another 30 percent in the first quarter of 2014, according to the city. No one would doubt that less killing is good news, but the same statistics show that violent crimes such as armed robberies and rape are on the rise.
Soaring crime rates in the French Quarter had concerned residents recently considering creating a militia. That plan, however, was foiled when it was discovered that the vigilante group organizer had a warrant out for his arrest. In the growing Latino community, a reluctance to go to the police results in crimes largely going unreported. And even with the decline in murders, our murder rate per capita will stay firmly in the Top 10 in the country.
Citizens are not necessarily safer because of the reported decline in murders. So how is New Orleans one of the “most livable” places in the United Sates?
Crime aside, when I consider many other factors that make a place livable — education, living wages, affordable housing, access to grocery stores, health care — New Orleans falls short there too.
“Livable for who?” is the question.
Louisiana CEOS? Their pay rose in 2013, according to a story posted a few days ago on The New Orleans Advocate site.
Singles over 50? New Orleans was named in the top six cities for singles over 50 by Grandparents.com. I get the logic here. They typically aren’t raising young children and tend to be retired and/or settled into their careers so they aren’t likely to be looking for work.
Families? Not hardly.
WalletHub, a personal finance website, says New Orleans is one of the worst cities for families. Out of 150 cities, New Orleans ranked 118. Shreveport came in at 120 and our state capitol, Baton Rouge listed as 123. By this report, most of the metropolitan areas in Louisiana overall suck for families.
Quality of schools, recreation and jobs as well as the cost of housing figure into the “family livability” quotient. Rents have nearly doubled across the city. Lack of affordable housing is an escalating concern for the working class.
Children? Nope. New Orleans has the country’s first all-charter, public school system, which can be great for some, but exclusionary for others including students with special needs and disabilities. School choice has become a dirty term; and then there’s the flip-flopping of support for the Common Core program at the top level of state leadership.
Here’s what I found on a recent perusal of Internet headlines for the metro area:
- 15-year-old Ponchatoula cheerleader injured in New Orleans shooting;
- 10-year-old boy injured in I-10 road rage shooting, Kenner police say;
- Man slain in eastern New Orleans Saturday identified by coroner’s office.
The mixed messages are maddening. It’s going to take more than the addition of bike lanes, late-night basketball games and community clean up days before New Orleans can earn an award for quality of life. It’s going to take equity, access and input from lifelong New Orleanians and transplants working in tandem. Deep, structural change and holistic improvements are needed.
NOLA for Life may be doing some of that work, but the city is not there – yet. Claiming a false victory may make some feel good, though it does nothing for the persisting problems. Presenting the city with the “most livable” award based on a program that’s fairly new is perhaps alienating or even invalidating of the efforts of the longtime organizations and groups who have been on the frontlines and know just how hard it is to impact change.
There are good qualities of the city that can’t be quantified necessarily by statistics or studies. Those things that fall below the radar, largely the cultural core of the northern most Caribbean city that keep people here; not in a stuck kind of way, but by their choosing; a shared delusion that despite murder markers and infrastructural shortcomings New Orleans is a good place to be.
Does New Orleans deserve the “most livable” award? You decide.
jewel bush, a New Orleans native, is a writer whose work has appeared in The (Houma) Courier, The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles Magazine, and El Tiempo, a bilingual Spanish newspaper. In 2010, she founded MelaNated Writers Collective, a multi-genre group for writers of color in New Orleans dedicated to cultivating the literary, artistic and professional growth of emerging writers. Her three favorite books are Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Catcher in the Rye, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.