February 8, 2011 5:43 AM
If there has been one overarching and unanswered question hanging over New Orleans and southeast Louisiana since their populations were dispersed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it is this: How many people are now living here? Data from the 2010 census finally answers that question with only a few surprises, says Tulane geographer and author Richard Campanella.
The 2010 census results, released on Thursday (Feb. 3), showed 343,829 people living in the city of New Orleans, a decrease of 24 percent from an estimated 455,188 people living in the city just before Katrina. Importantly, says Campanella, the newly released figure is only 3 percent less than the 2009 estimate of 354,850 and does not deliver the kind of negative national media narrative about the recovery that some feared.
“If you would have asked me a week ago, I would have been expecting around 350,000,” says Campanella. “Three hundred forty-three thousand rings true and it’s not a disappointingly low number. I think we would have had bad news on our hands if it was something like 320,000.”
While a figure that is slightly lower than officials had hoped for will likely mean less federal money coming to the city, the census data will be a useful resource for civic planning going forward.
“It gives the city a solid, defendable denominator by which to calculate things such as crime rate,” says Campanella, who is a research assistant professor in earth and environmental sciences and associate director of the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research. “There was a long-stirring controversy of exactly what the crime rate was because when you have a very divergent potential range of denominators, the rate goes all over the place.”
Campanella says he’s looking forward to the next wave of census data, which will enumerate population details block by block. “City planning decisions, allocation decisions, school decisions and political redistricting decisions will be based on these numbers,” he says.
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