A reader named Shana sent me the following query:
i’ve been reading your blog for awhile. i adore new orleans and about two weeks before katrina my husband and i decided to move down. katrina (and my grandma) put a damper on those plans. (we have however come down to volunteer a few times and plan on coming again.) but some like-minded friends are going through with their plans. he got a great job teaching and she’s got a few things lined up. they’re there now looking for a place to live, opening a bank account, getting cell phones, and she’s having SERIOUS second thoughts. i just got off the phone with her and tried to chill her out, reminding her of all the amazing and wonderful things that she fell in love with in the first place. that the crime of the past weekend was not normal. that indeed new orleans is still a city with all the problems of a city, exacerbated by katrina but its still a wonderful place. am i wrong? is she wrong? i realize this is odd but…
Here’s my answer:
Shana, I wish I could lay to rest your fears, and those of your friends. I wish I could say, “Come on down!”
But I can’t.
Yes, New Orleans is still a wonderful place. It is also a strange and sometimes frightening place to be. Living here is a difficult proposition, no question.
Crime is on the upswing, and that is a very serious concern for all of us, but personally Xy and I haven’t felt threatened. Two years ago a teenage boy was shot in broad daylight a block from our home. We did not feel particularly frightened then — sad and alarmed, yes, but not frightened. If you play it smart and don’t go looking for trouble, your chances of getting shot or knifed are less than, say, getting in a car accident or any of the other risks we all take for granted.
But crime is only one of many worries. There are so many other challenges to living here now. Trash piles up on the street. Mail delivery is spotty. There are abandoned buildings rotting everywhere. We have a real rodent problem. Medical services are few and far between. On top of all that, it’s hurricane season, and our flood control systems are not really ready.
On the other hand, we need good people to rebuild this city. One of the greatest things about New Orleans right now is that, for the most part, it’s a city of people who really want to be here. How many cities can say the same?
So, sure, come to New Orleans if you really want to. We will help you in any way we can. But I’m afraid I can’t encourage the ambivalent. You must be passionate about New Orleans to move here. Otherwise, the aggravations will drive you crazy.