What Will Become of New Orleans?

Nearly all of New Orleans’ 480,000 residents are now living elsewhere. Many of them will continue to live elsewhere for months. Many of them have already started renting apartments or even buying houses elsewhere. Many or most will begin looking for jobs in the towns in which they’ve temporarily relocated, and start sending their kids to school there. New Orleans-based firms are relocating their personnel and offices to Houston, Dallas, and elsewhere, and shippers that used to rely on New Orleans as an entrepot are developing alternate ways to get their products to market.

Some of these moves could well be permanent. New Orleans has been an exceptional southern city over the past 30 years because it has been shrinking in population, not growing like many large southern cities. Katrina seems likely to exacerbate that trend.

What will the population of New Orleans be when the 2010 Census is taken? I find it easy to imagine a population of perhaps just 350,000. This is not necessarily bad – the city that is rebuilt over the next few years may well be a wonderful place, even if it’s less populous. But it will definitely be a very different city, and almost certainly a substantially smaller city, from the one that existed on August 27 of 2005.