April 13, 2017

5 photos that show renewal in New Orleans

More than a decade after Hurricane Katrina, The Big Easy emerges as a beacon for social innovation

New Orleans entrepreneur Andrea Chen started Propeller, a hub for local entrepreneurs, to harness “the momentum of social and environmental progress in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” Photo courtesy of Propeller

New Orleans is a town that loves to celebrate. Last month, the city celebrated one of its rising assets—its entrepreneurs. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week hosted its ninth annual gathering March 19-24 with workshops, panels, and pitch competitions. But, writes the Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ rise as a hot spot for entrepreneurs is not happenstance: “There has been a concerted effort since 2000 to nurture an entrepreneurial spirit here.”

I visited The Big Easy recently and met with some of the entrepreneurs who are helping to make the city a hub for social innovation. I also met with nonprofit leaders who are dedicated to ensuring that all youth, especially those who come from the most challenging neighborhoods, have the opportunity to learn and thrive in their community. Along the way I photographed some of the newer installations that have gone up since Hurricane Katrina, like libraries and a medical center, that showcase the city’s resilience and its commitment to serving its residents.

This is by no means an exhaustive list! Only the second installment in our “5 photos” series—the first being on Detroit—these stories are meant to spark a conversation about the growth, renewal, and potential in America’s greatest cities.

Photos by Margaret Myers

Innovation hub

“Post-Katrina New Orleans has seen an entrepreneurial renaissance,” writes Propeller founder and Executive Director Andrea Chen. Founded in 2009, the nonprofit grows and supports a diverse community of social entrepreneurs. And they are by no means alone. In February, we also introduced you to Aaron Walker, whose Camelback Ventures is also contributing to New Orleans’ emerging community of entrepreneurs and innovators. “We envision New Orleans as a city not only known for its entrepreneurship and its comeback in the wake of disaster, but also for social justice to right our country’s greatest wrongs, and for economic empowerment that creates equitable and inclusive growth,” Chen writes. Read her full essay here.

Empowering the next generation

The Youth Empowerment Project, or YEP, has been serving young people in New Orleans since before Hurricane Katrina. Founded in 2004 as a response to violence affecting so many of the city’s youth, the nonprofit serves mainly “opportunity youth”—commonly referred to as “at-risk” youth—ages 16-24. But they don’t turn anyone away, said Tania Dall, Director of Communications. YEP serves all ages of residents with education and job training programs. One of those programs is Thrift Works, a resale clothing store run by YEP and its volunteers and YEP youth. I stopped by on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon and met YEP participants Alaycia Brown, 17, at left, and Alece Doyle, 18. The young women were learning job skills like customer service and entrepreneurship. “We’re trying to give these young people a toolbox that they can use for the long-term,” Dall said. “We empower young people to hopefully be able to dream a little bigger.”

Birthplace of Jazz

Built on the site of an abandoned discount store, the sparkling New Orleans Jazz Market is just a block away from the Youth Empowerment Project’s Thrift Works. The building itself is remarkable. Take a look at what it looked like before its transformation, in this Times-Picayune photo. Home of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, the site includes a 360-seat performance space, an interactive community learning area, and a bar. “The reason we named it the Jazz Market is so we could have a very marketplace feeling, where it’s open to all,” orchestra trumpeter Irvin Mayfield told the Times-Picayune.

Old is new

Founded in 2007, the Mid-City branch of the New Orleans Public Library is one of its newest, but it’s only just recently found a permanent home. Opened to serve a community that had lost two branches in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Mid-City’s new location is now along the central thoroughfare of Canal Street. With a public meeting space and a large Spanish-language collection, the library is a true community anchor. It’s also a historical landmark. The mid-century modern structure, built in 1963, was designed by the same firm that designed the iconic Superdome, and has been recognized as a historic landmark by the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission.

Medical village

The newly opened University Medical Center sprawls nearly 40 acres just a short streetcar ride from downtown. The $1.1 billion project, which opened last summer, took three years to build. The center employs 2,000 people, provides more than 400 beds, with 60 of those serving mental health patients. The construction of this massive campus spurred discussion of New Orleans becoming a biomedical hub for the region. The opening of this state-of-the-art facility is certainly central to that argument.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.