Jun 242014
 

jewel bush

“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.

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  • Mark Smith

    Very good piece Ms, bush. I had much the same reaction upon reading that. “Who cooked the books on that one?”. Mitch had to have had incriminating photos or the like to get the mayors to vote his way.That sound you hear is credulity being strained.

  • Deux amours

    I believe you were misled by the newspaper article. New Orleans won one of two city livability awards. It was not declared most livable.

  • WHODAT!

    The City of New Orleans also has statistics saying that the homeless population is down 80% in the past 10 years. The shanty town under the interstate would disagree.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

    First, a well written piece. And might I ask the lower 9th ward that same question, “Livable for who??” That is, why the need to offer lots for $100 dollars get people to live there if it was so livable?

  • G in Uptown

    ” 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.”

    I mean…….

    Could you be any more vague… any more broad… anymore platitude-driven… anymore non-sensical?

    Re-read that sentence over and over… what are you even saying? Things like this don’t just “happen”.

    Broadly speaking some platitude like “We need more Education!!” is not solving a problem. You know what is? You know how to tangibly, rationally, and factually solve a problem?

    Take responsibility for the children you have and don’t have children you can’t afford to educate.

    And if you read that sentence and immediately think “Here we go, another naive conservative, privileged guy who doesn’t care, just spouting about lifting yourself up by the bootstraps, etc….”

    If you really think that, I challenge you. Because I don’t care how it makes one *feel*. Because I know… rationally, tangibly, that if you behave in your life with this set of principles you have the greatest chance of being able to provide for yourself.

    Constantly just calling for society/government to fix these things through platitudes like “holistic improvements” and “liveable wages” and “affordable housing” DOESN’T DO IT. And if you are intellectually honest with yourself you’d agree and know this….

    How many decades of history and experience do we have to go through to prove the trillions spent by bureaucrats doesn’t do it?

  • Woobniggurath

    On point. Hizzoner has been in denial about, at least denying to the public, the severity of the NOPD understaffing and attrition since his election. He chose to prioritize other budget necessities over the difficult and essential task of filling the ranks of the police. I think he was glad to accept the cost savings of a 30% smaller NOPD payroll.

    Most of us remember the last time the violence was truly rampant, in the early nineties, when a federal grant eventually was received to

    fund new police hiring, and after a tortuously long process, when the force added 300 something new officers, there was a drastic improvement.

    The problem then, as it will be now, is that hiring the officers takes a very very very long time. There is not an adequate supply of well qualified applicants. Each applicant has a months long screening process (and you don’t want to know how many of the would-be recruits have charges of battery, stalking, assault, kidnapping, you name it in their history.) And then there is the academy, which not all of them pass.

    In the nineties the public was clamoring to understand why the new cops were not hitting the streets. Marc Morial blamed the “civil service bottleneck.” It so happens that I am close to the individual who was the civil service bottleneck – that is, the one individual budgeted to process the 10-12 week application process for each and every NOPD applicant, as well as to recruit new applicants when the well dried up. (He got a lifelong nickname from that press conference: “Hey, bottleneck, you coming out for beers?”)

    I have no notion that Hizzoner will have done anything to expedite this process – for the most part it cannot and should not be expedited.

    This current wave of unrestrained violence will be with us for quite a while. There have been so many incidents within a few blocks of my home since January that for the first time in my life I am considering vacating New Orleans for cause. I am a new Orleans partisan and champion,but if rapes continue to happen on Bourbon Street, kidnappings in the Garden District, home invasions everywhere, it will quickly overwhelm me. How much more easily will it overwhelm the newcomer wave of entrepreneurs, creatives, and lifestyle immigrants which we are currently benefiting from?

  • Craig

    A recent article (I believe it was in The Lens) addressed the questionable murder rate claims coming from Landrieu/Serpas. One interesting implication is that it isn’t that attempts at murder have declined, it’s that the technology for medical care and rehabilitation has improved.