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Before Hurricane Katrina, the population of New Orleans was nearly half a million. A decade later, 110,000 fewer people live there. The recovery is a story that varies by neighborhood. NPR's Greg Allen reports on the new city that's emerging.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: A different mix of people now calls the city home than before the storm. Proportionately, the number of whites has risen while the number of black residents has gone down. There are 100,000 fewer black residents in New Orleans than before Katrina, and Stan Norwood says that's changed the culture of the city.
STAN NORWOOD: You can't even hear the same dialect that you used to hear. You don't hear it. You go down to Ninth Ward - oh, yeah, where you at, babe? You know, the drag - the New Orleans drag - it's hard to find.
ALLEN: Norwood cuts hair in a barbershop in the Freret neighborhood. He also lives there. After the storm, he says many elderly were unable to return to flooded homes. Because the schools were in disarray, some families with children moved to other cities and decided to stay. And now, Norwood says, those who still want to return to the old neighborhood find houses have been priced out of reach.
NORWOOD: Put it like this. If you don't own a property by now and you're originally from this city and you're from Uptown and you haven't had one by now, your chances of getting one are slim to none.
ALLEN: Housing prices in Freret have more than doubled in recent years, and new businesses have transformed the main drag.
Freret is just a stone's throw from two universities - Tulane and Loyola. In the years before Katrina, crime was a problem, and many storefronts stood vacant. Now the area is a prime example of New Orleans' revitalization post-Katrina. Kellie Grengs lives a few blocks from where Stan Norwood cuts hair.
KELLIE GRENGS: This was just a storage building, and now it's a mint, modern Vietnamese bistro. They've just opened in the past year. We have a coffee shop down on the corner that was an abandoned bank.
ALLEN: Grengs and her husband, Andy Brott, are both artists who bought a building in the neighborhood before Katrina. The storm turned their investment into a teardown. In its place, they built a three-story townhome and studio, and they turned their attention to the neighborhood.
GRENGS: So after Katrina, we had probably 30 to 35 percent of our housing stock vacant, blighted, trashed and ruined. So we kept just telling everybody please come back to our neighborhood.
ALLEN: To encourage development along the neighborhood's business quarter, the city eased restrictions and streamlined the regulation process. New businesses began opening, including restaurants and a high-end cocktail bar by that drew new people to the neighborhood. Business owners branded it the New Freret. That didn't sit well with some longtime residents who feel that changes were leaving them out. Dennis Sigur has owned a barbershop on Freret Street for more than 40 years.
DENNIS SIGUR: Well, they forgot about the old Freret. That's what happens, you know?
ALLEN: As for the changes in the neighborhood...
SIGUR: You know, it's OK, as long as they don't come in and try to take over the neighborhoods, you know?
ALLEN: Stan Norwood works at Sigur's barbershop. He's also president of Neighbors United, a group that tries to bridge the gap between the newcomers and longtime residents. Norwood welcomes the growth but worries many of the changes are leaving the old neighborhood behind. Few who grew up in Freret, he says, can afford to eat in the new restaurants. He recently led a petition drive fighting a proposal to assess households $300 to improve security.
NORWOOD: I want what's fair for everybody. If it helps with new folks, I want it to also be helpful towards the people that were originally here. Respect them because they made this community what it was. They made it what it is, And now we have this thing that says forget about them. Don't worry about them. We're just going to do what we want to do.
ALLEN: Allison Plyer is with The Data Center, a research group in New Orleans. She says gentrification and the high cost of housing have become issues now for a simple reason. New Orleans is growing.
ALLISON PLYER: You know, cities have two choices. We can either grow jobs and population, and then we're going to have newcomers, or we're going to lose jobs and population. And we know what losing jobs and population looks like, and I don't think anyone liked that very much.
ALLEN: The white population in New Orleans is still lower than before the storm. But the percentage of whites in the city has risen, bolstered in recent years by new arrivals, many young and educated. One of the industries attracting them to the city is a small but growing tech sector.
At a trendy downtown bar, there's a weekly meet-up called Hack Night. Homegrown and transplanted programmers come to drink craft beers and talk shop.
ALYSON KILDAY: I moved to New Orleans about six years ago.
ALLEN: With her partner, Alyson Kilday started a graphics and design business. She sees something special going on in New Orleans. Young people want to be part of the city's comeback.
KILDAY: I guess every city had a time and place where people talk about it. And I think I was pretty privileged to be in a place and time where I think in 20 years, we're going to look back at the last five, six years and say, we were there; we were part of that.
ALLEN: But another group of newcomers began arriving immediately after the storm. The Hispanic population in New Orleans has grown by almost a quarter following Katrina and even in surrounding parishes. Many of the Hispanics who live and work in the area came here from other parts of the U.S. Jorge Giron is originally from Honduras.
JORGE GIRON: Before, I live in California. I'm coming to here after Katrina. I'm coming to here for job, and it's more better.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Number three - Jorge.
ALLEN: Giron has been attending English classes given by the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.
GIRON: Jason needs to use the inventory sheet to order supply.
ALLEN: Giron says he's working to improve his English so he can get a better job. Estimating the number of Hispanics who live in New Orleans and surrounding parishes is difficult in part because so many are undocumented. Carolina Hernandez is with Puentes New Orleans, a nonprofit that works with the community. What many seem to have forgotten, she says, is that after Katrina, Hispanics literally rebuilt the city.
CAROLINA HERNANDEZ: Latinos were everywhere. They were picking up trash. They were fixing the streets. They were putting roofs on, putting blue tarps on roofs. And so for anyone to say that New Orleans would be anywhere where it is today without Latino community, they don't understand what really happened.
ALLEN: Many of those workers stayed and opened their own businesses. The town of Kenner, in the suburbs, and the Mid-City neighborhood in New Orleans have become known for the Latino restaurants and markets. Jose Castillo manages Norma's Bakery, which opened here in Mid-City after Katrina to serve the growing Hispanic community. One of the bakeries big sellers is a Latino take on a New Orleans' Mardi Gras classic - the king cake.
JOSE CASTILLO: I think we have a, you know, a king cake that's unique because it's guava, cream cheese king cake instead of, like, other flavors and stuff. We've had a lot of success with the king cake. There was one year that we actually stopped doing it just because we couldn't keep up with the king cake.
ALLEN: New Orleans has always been a place that blended cultures. Now, as the city grows, newcomers are adding to the gumbo. Greg Allen, NPR News.
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