Advantage in the Aftermath


In 2005, Hurricane Katrina shattered the coast of Louisiana. The immediate facts are easy to find: 1,200 deaths, $108 billion in property damage. Over 400,000 people were permanently displaced, almost the whole population of New Orleans at the time.

It takes more digging to find the long-term impacts on the population. Researchers Kyle Aune, Dean Gesch, and Genee Smith analyzed demographic shifts in New Orleans’ parishes as the city rebuilt. They found that gentrification accompanied rebuilding. In the wake of natural disasters, high levels of displacement and the need for redevelopment opens the door for a widespread shift in neighborhood economic status.

Between 2000 and 2015, Black, low-income neighborhoods had a significant shift towards a white, educated, and higher-income population. The researchers looked for variation in gentrification levels between median flood depth and median elevation. The red lines above show much higher rates of gentrification in areas of higher elevation within the city. High flood depths discouraged gentrification. This contradicts previous studies that found higher rates of gentrification in areas of more damage and therefore more redevelopment.

The pattern of increased gentrification in areas of higher elevation is becoming more common in coastal cities. Developers are encroaching on Little Haiti, a neighborhood in Miami. In Boston, resiliency measures to control for flooding in coastal parks are threatening to displace residents by increasing the cost of living. This trend will continue to grow once banks stop backing mortgages in flood zones.

Increased gentrification in high elevation areas pre- and post-disaster, as seen in New Orleans and Miami, has led to the term climate gentrification. Solutions exist to stop climate gentrification, but it takes a proactive and equity-focused mindset on the part of policymakers and ongoing, open input from affected communities. Positive efforts have been made by community-led organizations in San Francisco to secure livable housing.

Databyte via Aune KT, Gesch D, Smith GS. A spatial analysis of climate gentrification in Orleans Parish, Louisiana post-Hurricane Katrina. Environ. Res., 185.