By Jenna Lorin
Within the past few decades, gentrification has become a particularly controversial topic in politics and urban planning. The mass amount of gentrifiers moving to New Orleans can partly be attributed to the destruction that was left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the years since Katrina, thousands of people have poured into the city, drawn by economic opportunity and the city’s unique music and food scenes, as well as the laid-back, European lifestyle. Similarly, an influx of people flocked to New Orleans as volunteers in the post-hurricane cleanup process, and loved it so much that they never left. Many also decided to purchase homes as an investment opportunity. They brought with them new small businesses and lots of private capital which have begun to transform many sections of the city into what we know as New Orleans today.
Molly Lynn is a Michigan local who moved to New Orleans in 2011 in hopes of finding a more affordable place to reside. After graduating from the University of San Francisco, Lynn attempted to make a living for herself in the Bay Area, but never seemed to be able to break-even. She was frustrated with the constant struggle to make ends meet living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Eventually, Lynn had had enough and seeked out another city that possessed the same hipster factor, yet provided her with the chance to actually make some money rather than spend every penny she earned on rent. She had a few friends who had moved south the year prior and were raving about the 8th Ward, and thus she made the decision to move to the checkerboard of dilapidated houses that had been refurbished post Hurricane Katrina. Lynn says, “I was thrilled because the rent was relatively cheap compared to San Francisco and I loved the proximity to the French Quarter.” Lynn recounts that she did have some reservations about moving due to the negative press surrounding the safety of the area, but her friends assured her that it’s an “up-and-coming” neighborhood and that they felt safe residing there so she would as well.
Lynn says that she is extremely content with her decision to move to the Bywater. She loves the people, the environment, and the overall vibe of the neighborhood. She remembers when “St. Roch Market opened and thus changed the face of the community. I had only been living in New Orleans for three years at the time and I recall that there were hardly any tourists venturing past the French Quarter into the Bywater area. It was almost exclusively a black neighborhood when I moved in with the exception of a few gentrifiers, but the opening of a gourmet food hall drew in a more affluent crowd to the St. Roch neighborhood. I think that’s when developers began to take note of the success of a hipster commodity and when I really noticed how St. Claude began to transform.” Lynn benefitted from the opening of the St. Roch Market, but not all of the population was on board with this decision. St. Roch Market has become a metaphor for gentrification in the greater New Orleans area. Prior to Katrina, the market was an un-airconditioned seafood and meat market which was expected to become an affordable butcher, bakery, and fish market for residents rather than a gourmet food hall that very few of the locals could afford. The juxtaposition is strange to say the least.
Lynn explained that her neighbors were initially quite aggravated with the refurbished property itself due to the ruckus and inconvenience it caused on their street, and thus were not friendly to her. She recounts how she used to have some friends over at night while a lot of her neighbors had young children, so they definitely had a distaste for her lifestyle. Eventually, Lynn said that she made an effort to become an active participant of her street rather than living there dissociated from her community. “Over time they began to accept me, but as more and more people like myself moved to the neighborhood, I’ve noticed long-time residents have continually become unhappier. Throughout my time in New Orleans, I’ve seen many long-term residents become replaced with gentrified individuals like myself. I believe that the gentrification of neighborhoods can be beneficial as long as the newcomers are respectful of the history and culture of what is already there upon moving in. Overall though, I do believe that the St. Roch Market does a good job of integrating itself into the residing community.”
Although Lynn did not reside in the Bywater during Hurricane Katrina, she recognizes it as a catalyst for gentrification in New Orleans. She says, “I think the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods in particular had a re-establishment of identity after the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. What I mean by this is that the artistic community saw this as an opportunity to move in and make it their own.” She said that her neighbors explained to her that many artists’ lofts and creative spaces emerged from empty warehouses which were abandoned.
“I feel that it’s a unique time to live in this area because throughout these eight years I’ve seen it progress to the point where it’s almost as expensive as San Francisco which I never expected to happen.”