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New Orleans Makes Small Sustainability Gains since Katrina, Data Center Says

From NOLA.com , Published on 31 July 2015

Since Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans region has undergone monumental change, improving economically while still fighting many of its historical woes such as crime, a struggling educational system and working to lift up its low-income population.

Just as important is the health and well-being of a city, otherwise known as sustainability, and in that regard New Orleans has made small but significant improvements, the Data Center finds. It's part of "The New Orleans Index at 10," a research report the nonprofit has published to mark the anniversary of the 2005 storm.

New Orleans extended its bike lines from 10.7 miles in 2004 to 92.4 in 2014. This trend creates a more "affordable, healthy and environmentally friendly transportation option," the report stated.

Yet its public transportation system remains a work in progress.

The percentage of people using public transportation increased from 5.3 percent in 2006 to 7.8 percent in 2011 and has remained relatively flat since, dropping slightly to 7.1 percent in 2013. Those percentages are well below pre-Katrina numbers as 13.2 percent of the population used public transportation in 2000.

An efficient public transportation system is key to a healthy and growing economy, according to the Data Center.

"The use of public transportation to get to work reduces congestion and harmful emissions, and in many cases saves workers money relative to commuting via car. Moreover, a high-quality public transit network can increase labor market flexibility across a metro area and support the clustering of businesses, which in turn enhances innovation and ultimately, productivity."

In terms of environmental quality, the percentage of unhealthy air days in a year increased significantly after the storm hitting 23.3 percent between 2009 and 2011 compared with 5.8 percent in 2003 and 11.5 percent in 2000. To compare, Houston in 2008 experienced an unhealthy air quality percentage of 10.7.

Things started to improve though, as New Orleans' rate dropped to 7.3 percent in 2013.

"This improvement in air quality can be linked to recent efforts by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which has been putting pressure on companies that operate along the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans to curb emissions, particularly (carbon dioxide) and (sulfur dioxide) emissions, in order to comply with more stringent EPA air quality standards on ozone that were passed in 2008," according to the report.

But the key statistic underscoring everything -- from the economy to quality of life and the inclusion of all races in the post-storm recovery -- is the state of the region's coastal wetlands, the main line of defense against hurricanes. And the data is discouraging, the report states.

But the key statistic underscoring everything -- from the economy to quality of life and the inclusion of all races in the post-storm recovery -- is the state of the region's coastal wetlands, the main line of defense against hurricanes. And the data is discouraging, the report states.

"Not only has the metro lost 29 percent of the coastal wetlands that protect it from storm surge since 1932, but measurements within the levee walls since 1951 demonstrate that saltwater is encroaching, with eight of nine groundwater sample sites registering increasing salinity," according to the report. "Looking forward, Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. that has a master plan for stemming the loss of coastal wetlands. The plan aims to invest $50 billion to restore wetlands, utilizing new and emerging science and techniques."

The success of this effort is vital as the future of the metro New Orleans area, its livelihood and economic survival depend on the preservation of its coastal wetlands, according to the Data Center.

"Water management could not only fortify the regions' defenses against hurricanes, but also boost economic diversification, and provide employment for a diversity of workers," the report stated. "With the right innovation ecosystem and a well-trained and well-educated workforce, New Orleans could lead the way in managing and living with water, challenging Dutch dominance in this field, just as sea level rise threatens coastal economies around the globe."

For additional reading regarding sustainability management, please refer to the following links:
Collaborating to Meet Global Sustainability Needs
Lessons from 2014’s Sustainability Initiatives
From Lima to Paris: The UN Climate Change Conference Paves the Way for a Sustainable Future

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