Mar 272017
Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

It was reported this week that New Orleans hit a milestone: In 2016, for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that New Orleans suffered a deficit in terms of domestic migration. Put more simply, this means that more people moved out of the city to other parts of the United States than the reverse.

Meanwhile, another story reported that New Orleans hosted a record-breaking 10.45 million visitors in 2016, more than any year since before Hurricane Katrina. Those visitors also spent more than ever before – a whopping $7.41 billion dollars, to be precise.

These two stories dovetail with what I wrote a few weeks ago, that despite Mayor Landrieu’s public relations scheme designed to convince everyone that he’s worked some grand economic miracle New Orleans, the fact is that our fair city is an “economic basket case.” It should surprise no one that people are beginning to jump ship.

Tourism, unfortunately, is a bad way of paying the bills. It is low-hanging fruit in terms of generating economic activity, but is doesn’t create enough good-paying jobs to keep pace with a rising cost-of-living. Those cost-of-living increases, it should be noted, have actually been abetted by local policies that elevate stringent zoning and other insular regulation above economic growth.

We know that solutions exist. New Orleanians needs a more diversified economy, and we need to bolster existing industries (not just the sexy ones) that generate high-wage positions. More than that, we need a mayor who cares.

Alas, instead of dealing with these obvious economic problems, city government is focused on distractions. Mayor Landrieu has been consumed with a wide variety of needless crusades, including the following noteworthy examples:

  • An abortive attempt to pass a new, stringent noise ordinance to clamp down on crowded clubs and street music.
  • The passing of new gun laws requiring the reporting of stolen firearms and barring possession of firearms on NORDC properties, laws that are unenforceable under state preemption law.
  • The installation of new, expensive streetcar lines that service limited areas and primarily benefit tourists (in contrast to bus service, has not been fully restored since Hurricane Katrina).
  • The so-called “monuments controversy” driven by Mayor Landrieu’s singular desire to purge select monuments to Confederate figures.
  • The French Quarter security plan, including a scheme to shut off Bourbon Street to vehicular traffic and keep patrons inside bars.
  • Pursuing creative revenue schemes, like traffic cameras and taxing the “air rights” of balconies that carry over public sidewalks.

A more comprehensive list could be made, but the point is made. Landrieu has not lacked the opportunity to pursue programs and policies that would provide a more solid footing for the New Orleans economy. Rather, he simply seems to lack the inclination.

Mayor Landrieu’s entire legacy seems to be that of the unapologetic gentrifier – a mayor who sees and understands the problems of crushing poverty, but views the solution in terms of forcing poor residents out and attracting wealthier ones. He doesn’t want to generate wealth among the existing residents of this city. That’s too hard. Instead, he wants to import it.

There is some silver lining to all of this. We’re falling, but we haven’t hit rock bottom. New Orleans is still growing slightly due to international migration and domestic births. To wit, Orleans Parish grew to 391,495 residents as of July 2016, compared to 389,738 the previous year.

However, the deficit of domestic migration should be regarded as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. It’s the first unequivocal sign that something is wrong. Despite Mayor Landrieu’s ridiculous PR, our economic situation is dire and getting worse.

Landrieu’s plan has failed. Even if it were desirable to replace existing residents with more well-heeled outsiders, we aren’t accomplishing that. Instead, we’ve been left with a population that increasingly can’t afford to live here and is increasingly deciding to leave. As Landrieu’s administration winds to a close, it will leave his successor a grand debacle to contend with.

If trends continue, New Orleans will begin shrinking again, as it was before Hurricane Katrina. Our next mayor needs to change direction, because that’s the next milestone on our present road.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  28 Responses to “Owen Courreges: More people want to visit New Orleans, and fewer want to live here. Coincidence?”

  1. Owen,

    While you are on point regarding Landrieu and some of his distractions, you fail to mention the state’s economic climate and how that has affected New Orleans.

    Louisiana is in a recession and the state budget is a mess. This ugly reality certainly trickles down to the local economy and it is something you should account for.

    I’m puzzled that Landrieu and Edwards so far haven’t been able to capitalize more on the VA hospital and University coming on-line. Both the city and state should be trying their damndest to bring in health science related businesses along the biomedical corridor and with these fantastic anchor tenants, they should be able to.

    New Orleans has a great opportunity to entice businesses here that have higher-than-average salaries and it seems that there have not been many successes. This should include private-public partnerships with LSU and Tulane hospitals.

    • Ronald,

      The poor state of Louisiana’s economy overall is certainly an a factor, although New Orleans has been doing significantly worse than most major cities in the state. I don’t think Landrieu can credibly shift the blame to Baton Rouge for this, even if he could claim a handicap.

      As for healthcare, my understanding is that hospitals provides a poor basis for economic growth because they simply service existing residents. Health research could be a better basis, and perhaps it will be in the future, but I don’t think we’ve done a great job capitalizing on that (as you note).

  2. No, it is not a coincidence. Great place to visit, hard place to live.

  3. I would not be too upset with the loss of some natives. We have lots of residents I would trade two for one for strangers. You give the mayor too much credit for gentrification, which is occurring despite his efforts to keep us poor and uneducated.

    • Deux,

      I don’t disagree entirely, but the goal of city government should not be to shift populations around. Existing residents — the people of this city — need to be the primary consideration. Otherwise economic health is just a zero sum game where we try to snag rich folks while dumping our poor elsewhere (i.e., the “San Francisco Model”).

      I do think Landrieu is pushing gentrification in a big way. He seems to be pushing a higher cost-of-living and urban revitalization schemes (on display in Oretha Castle Haley) that emphasize drawing in the wealthy to poor neighborhoods while existing residents feel economic pressure to move to, say, New Orleans East. It’s a classic ploy, and I think he knows what he’s doing. Things like the monuments controversy were intended to distract from his real agenda.

  4. Apparently the author of this article has no alternative solutions for any of this. Anyone can point fingers and not have an alternative solution or plan. We just saw this with the Republicans blasting Obamacare for eight years…Yet totally unable to come up with anything better. I’ve see this city grow and prosper since Katrina. Population is but one yardstick by which to measure. Basically this sounds like another uptown Republican cry baby who has lost his objectivity and who has no solutions whatsoever.

    • The author is no Republican. His complaint about replacing the poor via gentrification is definitely a liberal complaint. There were great Republican replacement plans for Obamacare, but Trump, who I consider 50/50 (Republican/Democrat), was opposed. The fact that your media doesn’t broadcast Republican ideas is not the same as Republicans having no ideas. If anything, we have too many ideas, and in the worst case scenario, that diversity of thought can lead to failure to come to an agreement. The Soviet groupthink mentality of the Democratic party allows for much faster agreement due to the scarcity of competing ideas and the punishment which will result from disagreement.

      • Gentrification was not a central platform to the authors article. For the record, how exactly is gentrification either a Republican or Liberal philosophy? It occurs in all cities regardless of party.

        The media doesn’t broadcast Republican ideas because they have none other then tax cuts for the super rich, dismantling social programs, pilfering the environment, and providing additional corporate welfare.

        Where do you develop terminology such as ” Soviet groupthink” and apply it to Democrats? Is that some Kellyanne Conway alternative fact? It would seem to me and the vast majority of Americans that anything having to do with Soviet philosophical agendas clearly belongs to Trump who was put in office by colluding with Russia.

        You labeling Trump as half Republican and half Democrat is another interesting altenitive fact. Trump more clearly is half Republican and half fascist…And enjoys the support of the KKK and the American Nazi party, and embraces that.

        • I mentioned gentrification as a rebuttal to your claim of the author being a Republican crybaby. Republicans normally believe in the free market and capitalism, and see gentrification as supply and demand at work (although it could also occur due to distortion of the market by government regulation). The prosperity you saw was the distortion of billions of dollars of federal money gifted to New Orleans, rather than a healthy economy with industry and growth.

          Your characterization of Republican ideas is divorced from our actual ideas, except for dismantling social programs. There is a best-seller on Amazon right now titled Reasons To Vote For Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide. The pages are blank.

          I have yet to see the evidence that Trump is in league with the Russians, but ideologically today the Left (which has subsumed the Democratic Party) advocates and demonstrates a lot of Marxist ideas and behavior. The original industrial worker proletariat of Marx, who became farmers under Mao Zedong, are now people holding special characteristics (race, gender, sexuality, and so forth).

          Ideologically, we could call Trump half-fascist due to his nationalism and economic ideas. Politically, however, a good number of his ideas are Democratic ones, which is why his solution to replace Obamacare failed. He is not right-wing enough for the right wing.

          The KKK and the Nazis? We are talking about less than 10,000 people in a nation of 325 million, and he publicly rejected them. Here is a true statement instead. The Democratic Party enjoys the support of the American Communist Party and Black Lives Matter, and embraces that. Except now we are talking about millions of people.

          • Obviously, you’re full up on the Kellyanne Conway alternate fact Kool aide. Honestly now, we have a president under investigation for Treason by the FBI….Who has the lowest approval rating in modern American history. He was elected by a minority and he was helped Into office by a murdering thug named Putin.

            New Orleans is doing better then ever. Businesses are prospering, amenities are increasing, and now with a great Democrat as governor, it will only continue to get better.

            We got rid of Bobby Jindal….Trump will soon be impeached, and the natural order of our democracy will be back in place.

          • Somehow we are both Americans, yet it seems like we are from two different countries, or planets.

          • Sounds like you’re from the planet Uranus..

          • That was a good one, Chilly . But I want to make sure you see the question. You are a big-time advocate for sanctuary cities. I want to know what federal laws that I, as a US citizen, am allowed to violate in perpetuity?

      • Turlet,

        I actually am a Republican, so I don’t mind being identified as one. My complaints about gentrification are not left-wing; they do not relate to a belief that neighborhood demographics should not change, or that it is morally blameworthy for wealthier people to move into poor neighborhoods. Rather, my complaint is that local governments should not try to force gentrification by pursuing policies that seek to draw wealthier citizens in and push poorer residents out. Government shouldn’t have its thumb on the scale; it shouldn’t be meddling to force certain demographic outcomes. Instead, it should be left to the market.

        • Fair enough. Welcome to the team. Regardless of whether the mayor is intentionally forcing the poor out or not, being Defender of the Poor may be a useful appeal to emotion given the liberal readership here.

    • Oh, were you under the impression that journalist can only write articles if they offer solutions? That’s new.

    • Chilly,

      I did offer solutions. To wit:

      “We know that solutions exist. New Orleanians needs a more diversified economy, and we need to bolster existing industries (not just the sexy ones) that generate high-wage positions.”

      I also wrote another column a few weeks ago (referenced within) that discusses solutions in more detail. Specifically, I referenced a Brookings piece that “recommended that New Orleans leverage its competitive advantages, particularly in water management, but also that it bolster existing industries such as metal manufacturing, insurance, and finance. Finally, a regional effort needs to be mounted.”

      Here’s a link to that column:

      You talk about yardsticks? Read that piece. New Orleans’ economy is not doing well at all. Things are bad and getting worse, objectively.

      • You did not in fact offer any solutions. You sound like Donald Trump. We need jobs, big, beautiful, wonderful jobs.

        • Brad,

          That’s nonsense. I provided all the detail that Brookings did, and if you think Brookings is right-wing, you’re nuts. Obviously there are more specific efforts needed to draw in and keep businesses (mostly tax and regulatory incentives, and maintaining a general environment friendly to business) as well as simple lobbying. The question is, where are we going to focus our efforts? It’s clear that Landrieu’s focus has been misplaced.

      • This city has grown and prospered under our current Mayor. Having our growth level off in terms of local population growth means nothing. Things you champion like leaving the Confederate monuments in place smack of blatent racism. The new streetcar lines benefit locals as much as tourists…Actually considering the growth to the local businesses now covered the expansion is of tremendous benefit. Do you just create alternative facts…Or totally make things up like our president? I ride the streetcars every day…How about you? Go talk to merchants on North Rampart and ask them how the expansion helped their businesses.

        Our current Mayor got us a state of the art Veterans Hospital, the University hospital, a new airport terminal. Old historic properties are being restored at a record pace, and new progressive businesses open daily. Twelve new hotels in the last two years. Major projects are moving forward in a way never seen in our city before.

        Our mayor also has the courage to keep New Orleans a sanctuary City, and to defy the racist/ fascist who is temporarily president till such time as our intelligence community proves collusion in his partnering up with Putin to win the election .

        • “Our mayor also has the courage to keep New Orleans a sanctuary City”

          Can you let me know, as a U.S. citizen, what federal laws I’m able to violate in perpetuity?

        • Chilly,

          We are barely growing and not prospering. In terms of economic prosperity, we weren’t doing well in 2010 when Landrieu took office. We are now doing even worse — dead last out of the 100 largest cities in the nation. That’s not “leveling off.” That’s simply terrible. There’s no way to put a good shine on the current economic state of New Orleans.

          Calling me racist for not supporting the removal of Confederate monuments is inflammatory and absurd. If you can’t see the preservation issues that involves, and you believe that the Monumental Task Committee is essentially a hate group, you’re off your rocker.

          As for the streetcar lines benefiting locals, you’re wrong. The Loyola line, a.k.a. the “streetcar to nowhere,” caused the RTA to butcher multiple bus routes to boost ridership. It actually made transit worse for locals. The Rampart line, on the other hand, is of minimal utility at best for locals (buses were already adequate) and the opportunity costs involved were massive. The bottom line is that Landrieu could have invested in restoring bus service, which is still down severely since Katrina, but instead focused on streetcars in the inner tourist areas. People who need transit to get to and from work are suffering. They need better bus service, not more streetcars.

          Likewise, your attempt to credit Landrieu with the new VA Hospital and University Medical Center is simply ridiculous. The city didn’t build either of those hospitals, and they were planned before Landrieu entered office. The groundbreaking for the VA Hospital occurred just two months after Landrieu entered office. The University Medical Center groundbreaking occurred when Landrieu had been in office less than a year. How in the heck do you give him credit?

          Finally, with respect to New Orleans being a sanctuary city, that wasn’t even Landrieu’s idea. It was imposed by the consent decree with the Obama Justice Department. And it’s a bad policy because it imposes a universal rule on law enforcement to deny cooperation with ICE agents, even in cases where police could either use the threat of deportation as leverage when dealing with certain suspects, or request that ICE deport illegal immigrants who police believe to be involved in criminal activity (but cannot prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). In any event, if that’s the only good thing that can be said of Landrieu, it doesn’t say much.

          • I’m not about to take a civics lesson based on your severely distorted, and unsubstantiated alternative facts. You’re funny dude.. really, you just invent shit. Actually, for more enlightened souls we are enjoying a modern Renaissance here in New Orleans.

            I’m sorry, but that distorted perception which comes from an ambulance chasing personal injury lawyer somehow doesn’t ring true.

            I suggest you go speak to the merchants who benefit from the streetcar expansion. Ask them if business is better. Travel outside your Ivory tower and locate some reality.

            Major hotels like the Ace and the Troubadour didn’t come to downtown because New Orleans is the cesspool you profess it to be. Just today Hilton along with HRI properties just opened a residence hotel right directly on the Rampart streetcar extension…

            Major expansion projects are going in at the convention center and at one Canal Street…Hundreds of millions of dollars.

            A one billion dollar airport terminal is under construction for the record breaking influx of tourists.

            Really, our city is just fine. Now only if we can get rid of those Confederate war hero statues….That nasty throwback to racism and slavery….You do realize the South lost that war over 150 years ago right?

          • Hey Chilly,

            Answer the question. You said our mayor is courageous by keeping New Orleans a sanctuary city.

            I asked you a simple question.

            What federal laws am I (as a U.S. Citizen) allowed to violate in perpetuity?

  5. We have been down this Rd, since the oil bust of the 1980’s. We are far better off now, believe me. People come and people go, but New Orleans, may not be here in the next Century, so enjoy.

    • martine,

      We’re better off with a stagnant economy and shrinking population? That’s a new one on me.

  6. Although I generally agree here, I think it’s wrong to point the finger only at the mayor. The council mostly rubberstamps his policies. The bigger issue is that both the council and mayor are beholden to a small group of wealthy citizens, who would prefer their neighborhoods stagnate rather than deal with a little traffic and are fine with increasing costs that force the poor out. They enforce these through zoning and a myriad of special districts and boards. That’s the root of many of our problems involving housing and affordability. I think we’d have much more population growth if people only had places to live and that is the limiting factor for new businesses as well – no point in opening an office here if your employees can’t find a place to live.

    I think it’s a crime that they’ve been able to get away with the notion that any new construction or development makes housing less affordable. Their solution is to limit supply and get the government involved in deciding who gets affordable housing, which only raises prices for everyone.

  7. Couldn’t agree more about the reliance upon an expanded tourist sector to drive the local economy. I call it ‘killing the goose that laid the golden egg’. Tourism is good, but too much of a good thing will destroy the very qualities of place that draw the tourists in the first place. Here’s a link to a story on this very issue as it effects the Spanish city of Barcelona, and that city’s efforts to control the damage:

    I must say, however, that simply blaming the mayor for over-reliance on tourism as an economic generator ignores the wider issue. Virtually every city in the U.S. has has to deal with the economic fallout from the de-insustrialization of the country resulting from federal government policies of the past 30 years, which no mayor, however focused, can be expected to undo.

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