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Cities Losing People, Not Brains

The population of New Orleans fell 7.3 percent after Hurricane Katrina, but guess what. NOLA now has 40,000 more college graduates than before the disaster.

From 2000 to 2013, Detroit lost over 160,000 residents but amazingly added nearly 167,000 college graduates.

It’s an urban myth that population loss and brain drain go hand in hand. On the contrary, of the 100 largest American metropolitan areas that lost population in this time period, every one gained in the percentage of college-educated residents. Such findings are contained in a report from the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that studies urban issues.

In some, cities with major population losses actually saw their college-educated head count rise to exceed the national average. “Buffalo and Cleveland went from less educated than America to more educated than America,” Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the institute, told me.

The Winston-Salem metro region, in North Carolina, lost jobs in this period (though not population), in good part because of a declining textile industry. But its number of college graduates grew by an astounding 66 percent.

This bright bit of news should not obscure the serious and enduring problem of poverty in New Orleans, Detroit, and other shrinking cities, especially among African-Americans. Their list of challenges remains long, Renn said, but “losing brains is yesterday’s problem.”

Why do so many think otherwise? The public tends to view a city’s talent pool like water in a bathtub. As population declines, educated people do leave; they go down the drain, so to speak. But this misses the running tap at the top of the tub. Educated people also arrive.

There are several reasons for this growth in educated urban residents. Obviously, the general rise in the number of Americans obtaining college degrees plays a part.

Still, why are they disproportionately living in cities once given up for dead?

It happens that many of these cities enjoy the added advantage of being anchored by venerable institutions. Cleveland, for example, has the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic medical complex. Pittsburgh is home to Carnegie Mellon University, a stronghold for science and technology.

Buffalo is an especially interesting case. It lacks big-name institutions but has a huge number of colleges. Many of their graduates stay in town.

Did you know that Buffalo last year had the lowest out-migration rate of any city in America? It also has the highest percentage of people living in the state where they were born; 81 percent were born in New York.

It may surprise many to learn that some cities with the most robust economies are actually experiencing a net out-migration of people with college degrees. New York and Boston are two examples. But that’s no cause for panic. No one is worrying about the future of New York or Boston.

And what about the “cool” factor, the great old architecture and downtowns so appealing to creative types? Renn downplays the importance of hipster enclaves. Cleveland, for example, added about 4,000 people to its downtown from 2000 to 2010. That’s good but not a huge number.

A more positive description would be “nascent repopulation.” That’s a great start.

Your author differs with the Manhattan Institute on a number of other fronts, but these market-oriented researchers have it straight on how hurting cities should direct their resources. They should spend money on improving the infrastructure they already have in place — the roads, pipes, housing. An advantage old urban cores have over new mushroom cities is they don’t have to build these expensive services from scratch.

Above all, turn the public schools into centers of educational excellence and bingo. The educated middle class will stay put, and the poor will move on up.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo via Brian Donovan/Flickr

Do You Know What It Means To Eat New Orleans?

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

In the time-honored tradition of returning schoolchildren everywhere, I’d like to tell you how I spent my summer vacation.

It was actually a September vacation because we were celebrating a nice, round-number anniversary of our wedding. For such a momentous occasion, we decided to go someplace we had never been to before.

We went to New Orleans. I know, I know. How can anyone who claims to be at all interested in food not have been to New Orleans? Especially when that person used to live relatively near in east Texas?

It was an omission that needed to be rectified, and rectify it we did. I realize everyone who goes there says the same thing, but we ate our way across New Orleans. For our actual anniversary meal we went to the famous Commander’s Palace, after being duly assured by friends that it is not just a tourist trap. The friends were right: This was one of the best meals of my life.

I started with an appetizer of foie gras coffeecake, an improbable but unbelievably sumptuous combination of seared foie gras and a decadently sweet coffee cake, topped off with a little glass of coffee frappé made with a hint of foie gras fat. It is the kind of food that would leave you happy if it were the last thing you ever ate.

But if it had been my last bite, I never would have had the turtle soup, which came next. It was the finest example of turtle soup I have ever had, and as I ate it I imagined a line of turtles happily sacrificing themselves by diving into great vats of veal stock for our pleasure. I think the veal stock made all the difference, along with the happiness of the turtles.

Barbecued New Orleans shrimp over brie grits was awfully good, but I think my wife’s mushroom risotto was better. And while my dessert of pecan pie was sublime, my wife’s creole bread pudding soufflé was even sublimer.

For lunch one day, we stumbled unknowingly onto Bon Ton Café. We were drawn first by the crowds of satisfied local residents who were leaving; then, when we peeked through the windows, the red-checkered tablecloth and cast-iron chandeliers made it seem irresistible.

This was a real find, an old-school restaurant with old-school service and exceptional food. I began with turtle soup (this was before I had the ne plus ultra soup at Commander’s Palace) and moved on to the fish of the day, a delicious grilled drum served with some truly amazing onion rings. I have no idea how they made the rings so crispy. Meanwhile, my wife had an extraordinary seafood salad piled high with lump crab meat, shrimp and asparagus.

The charbroiled oysters at Drago’s were everything they were reputed to be, and considerably more rich. Unfortunately, the shrimp etouffée consisted of six tiny shrimp, maybe a half-cup of rice and the roux/trinity sauce that is part of so many New Orleans dishes. I was still hungry after I ate it, so we stopped off for dinner at a Popeye’s fried chicken joint.

Don’t laugh. They’re based in New Orleans. Besides, it was cheap and good. At Dickie Brennan’s Tableau, I had Eggs Hussarde, which are ultra-sophisticated steak-and-eggs, served with a couple of fried oysters. It was the kind of meal I dream about, and I have been dreaming about it ever since. At Broussard’s bar (we went on a whim and were not dressed well enough for the dining room), we had a stellar appetizer of glazed shrimp — a little spicy, a little sweet — on toast. At Joey K’s, we had red beans and rice that finally revealed what all the other red beans and rice I’d ever had were trying to be.

And at Hermes’ Bar in the legendary Antoine’s, we soaked up the atmosphere and a couple of drinks. They even had Suntory Hibiki whiskey, a highly regarded — and for good reason — Japanese brand that can be difficult to find.

But not everything was paradise in the Crescent City. The town’s famous beignets, for instance, were a disappointment.

We first got them at Café Beignet, which you might expect to have pretty good beignets (and which did have a good blueberry-stuffed croissant). Perhaps because we were the last patrons of the night, the beignets were horrible; leaden and heavy and full of dough. Basically, they were the opposite of beignets.

We had somewhat more success at the famous Café du Monde, though we had to endure a long line for beignets that were, at best, indifferent. Our next stop was the nearby Presbytère museum to see their exhibit on Hurricane Katrina, and we asked the woman behind the desk if we could use their restroom to wash the powdered sugar off our hands.

“Oh, you had the beignets?” she asked.

“Yes, and frankly I have made better beignets myself,” I said.

“Me too,” she said.

Image via Wikimedia

Ten Years Later, Resilient New Orleans Reflects On Katrina

By Kathy Finn and Edward McAllister

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) — From the Lower Ninth Ward to the Super Dome, New Orleans launched a day of events on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, paying tribute to its victims and homage to the city’s resilience in the face of disaster.

Dignitaries made speeches to honor the 1,500 who died, brass bands marched through the streets and neighbors gathered for block parties across the city, where the mood shifted in turns from somber to reflective to celebratory.

“It is kind of bittersweet. We want to celebrate because we are still here, but a lot of people are not,” said Natasha Green, 36, a resident of the devastated Lower Ninth Ward at the time of the storm. “It is important to remember what we went through here.”

Saturday was the culmination of a week of reflection about a storm that left 80 percent of the city under water and displaced 130,000 residents. While residents and visitors alike said it was difficult to deny the rebound that New Orleans has made, there was also recognition that the poorest areas, like the Lower Ninth, have lagged.

The day began with Mayor Mitch Landrieu leading a somber tribute for the 83 “forgotten” victims whose unclaimed bodies lie in mausoleums at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, housed in one of the city’s historic above-ground cemeteries. A decade after Katrina, 30 of those bodies remain unidentified.

“Though they are unnamed, they are not unclaimed because we claim them,” Landrieu said on a clear morning reminiscent of the calm before storm’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.

“This has been 10 years of struggle,” said the mayor, who was joined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other dignitaries. “But New Orleans is unbowed and unbroken.”

Across town, hundreds gathered in the Lower Ninth Ward on a grass verge that abuts the Industrial Canal levee that was breached 10 years ago, causing some of the worst flooding.

Some locals wore traditional Mardi Gras parade dress including colorful headdresses. Vendors sold soft drinks and beer from large coolers.

The mood started out reflective but not downbeat. There was also an undercurrent of anger over the lagging redevelopment of the Lower Ninth, where empty lots and the shells of destroyed houses are still common sights.

“The people that have given this city its culture have been overlooked,” Willie Muhammad, a student minister at the Nation of Islam, said to the crowd. “We shouldn’t be surprised that the rebuild overlooked us.”

At noon, brass bands began marching, bringing a celebratory atmosphere. Hundreds of people danced behind the blaring trumpets, horns and drums. About a dozen marchers rode horses.

Chad Peterson, a 29-year-old trumpet player with one of the brass bands, was upbeat.

“This is about my city. This is about Katrina. I’m just enjoying it. This is more of a celebration.”

Other hard-hit parts of Louisiana were hosting memorials as well. At Shell Beach, in lower St. Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans, public officials and residents gathered along a waterway that burst through a levee in 2005 and killed 127 people. The ceremony will feature a reading of the names of victims, now etched into a monument there.

Similarly, Lakeview, Broadmoor, Mid-City and a host of other locales are looking back on 2005.

By mid-morning a crowd was gathering with cold drinks and food in a park along Harrison Avenue in Lakeview as kids played soccer nearby. Along a main street in the Mid-City neighborhood, colorful flags swayed in the breeze from 52 wooden poles arranged across a green space as a commemoration by sculptor Michael Manjarris. A block party is planned near the site later.

A march and hand-holding ceremony is scheduled at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the football arena that housed thousands of displaced people after the storm and became an emblem of the chaos and hardship that engulfed New Orleans after the flooding.

For several sweltering days, people were virtually trapped inside the Superdome without adequate food or water and little communication with the outside world. The scene became one of horror and despair, with some people who were already ill succumbing to the conditions and dying on the spot.

The scene was a political embarrassment for President George W. Bush and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, who were roundly criticized for a slow response to a crisis that mostly affected the poor and African Americans.

Later, crowds were expected at the Smoothie King Center, home of the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team, where former President Bill Clinton would deliver a speech.

In a show of solidarity with other coastal states damaged by Katrina, a group called Gulf South Rising set up shop in Louis Armstrong Park at the edge of the French Quarter.

“The seas are rising and so are we,” read banners hung on either side of the gateway to the park.

Speakers included representatives from Black Lives Matter, an advocacy group formed after a series of unarmed black men were killed by police officers over the past year.

The event will feature music, ceremonial drumming and dance performance on two stages, culminating in one of the city’s trademark second-line parade at midnight.

(Writing by Frank McGurty; editing by Andrew Roche, Editing by Franklin Paul)

Photo: A brass band performs in Jackson Square one day before the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Ten Years After Katrina, Resilient New Orleans Honors Its Victims

By Kathy Finn and Edward McAllister

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) — From the Lower Ninth Ward to the Super Dome, New Orleans launched a day of events on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, paying tribute to its victims and homage to the city’s resilience in the face of disaster.

The day began with a somber ceremony led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to remember the 83 “forgotten” victims whose unclaimed bodies now rest in mausoleums at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, housed in one of the city’s historic above-ground cemeteries.

Katrina killed more than 1,500 people, mostly in flooding that left 80 percent of New Orleans under water. Thirty of the bodies remain unidentified a decade later.

“Though they are unnamed, they are not unclaimed because we claim them,” Landrieu said on a clear morning reminiscent of the calm before storm’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.

“This has been 10 years of struggle,” said the mayor, who was joined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other dignitaries. “But New Orleans is unbowed and unbroken.”

Across town, about 300 people gathered in the Lower Ninth Ward on a grass verge that abuts the Industrial Canal levee that was breached 10 years ago, causing some of the worst floods in the city. The mood was reflective but not downbeat.

Some local residents were in traditional Mardi Gras parade dress, with colorful headdresses. Vendors sold soft drinks and beer from large coolers.

“It is kind of bittersweet. We want to celebrate because we are still here, but a lot of people are not,” said Natasha Green, 36, who lived in the Lower Ninth at the time of the storm. “It is important to remember what we went through here.”

Saturday was the culmination of a week when New Orleans paused to remember the devastation inflicted by the costliest storm in U.S. history. About 130,000 people were displaced by the storm.

“A celebration would not be the right gesture for those who will never be made whole,” said Kristian Sonnier, an official at the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is more taking stock and recognizing what we have accomplished and that we have a lot more work to do,” he said.

But the city also wants to give thanks for what many residents see as a remarkable rebound over the past 10 years.

As the day progresses, thousands are expected to turn out as the city’s trademark “second line” parades snake through the streets and New Orleans puts its famous musical traditions on display.

Other hard-hit parts of Louisiana will host memorials as well. At Shell Beach, in lower St. Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans, public officials and residents gathered along a waterway that burst through a levee in 2005 and killed 127 people. The ceremony will feature a reading of the names of victims, now etched into a monument there.

Similarly, Lakeview, Broadmoor, Mid-City, and a host of other areas are looking back on 2005 with mixed emotions.

A march and hand-holding ceremony is scheduled at the Super Dome, the football arena that housed thousands of displaced people after the storm and became an emblem of the chaos and hardship that engulfed New Orleans after the flooding.

Adding to the mix of emotions, there was an undercurrent of anger in the air, especially in the Lower Ninth, whose recovery has lagged the robust rebound enjoyed in more affluent parts of town.

“We have got to come together,” Malcolm Suber, a veteran city organizer, told the crowd at the Lower Ninth ceremony. “Ten years have gone by and we have not benefited at all.”

(Writing by Frank McGurty; editing by Andrew Roche)

Photo: A brass band performs in Jackson Square one day before the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman