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Conclusions

Our research helped to confirm hypothesized indicators for higher recovery rates such as:

A heavily damaged physical environment (higher % of damage to home value) cannot foster social structures that aid in recovery

% Damage to Home Value to % households able to Initially Return

% Damage to Home Value to % Households able to Initially Return

% of Damage to Home Value to % of Business able to Initially Return

% of Damage to Home Value to % of Business able to Initially Return

Construction in older sections of the city was built with flooding in mind (reducing damage) (Colton, 2005)

% of Units built 1939 or earlier to % of Damage to Housing Value

% of Units built 1939 or earlier to % of Damage to Housing Value

Apartment dwellers and renters have a harder time recovering (Comerio, 1998)

The presence of more social institutions supports recovery efforts (this research)

…and dismissed other hypothesized indicators including: all measures of density to increased damage (suggested by Mileti, 1999), that modern building codes should have protected against losses (suggested by Colton, 2005), higher densities of human population increases ability to recover (suggested by Wallace and Wallace, 2008), the more healthy productive adults per household, the greater chance for recovery (suggested by Morrow, 1999), the older and more “stable” a neighborhood is, the greater chance for recovery (suggested by Wallace and Wallace, 2008), minimal infrastructure damage allows victims to remain employed and focus on recovery (suggested by Comerio, 1998), and that a higher quality of physical condition of  neighborhood homes should reduce damage (this research, 2009) which were all found to have NO relationship with measures of damage and/or recovery from available data.

Specifically we believe the trail of statistical relationships suggests that recovery of households and commercial business in New Orleans was dependent upon a recently settled population(10 years or less pre-storm) characterized by higher percentages of renter occupied housing units, higher percentages living in buildings of mid to high density, higher percentages with commutes no more than 15 minutes, higher percentages living in units built prior to 1939, and higher commercial business establishments per sq. mile existing pre-disaster. However, our data’s indicators of physical form or type that mitigated against, or saw lesser values for, damage actually points to elevation being the overwhelming influential  factor. This suggests land use planning and smart growth policies may actually be the most beneficial strategies for mitigating against future damage from Hurricanes in the New Orleans metropolitan area. When water level (elevation) was controlled for, data suggested recovery efforts (federal, state and local capital, construction resources or volunteer labor) should be focused specifically to what low income, long term residents remain in the city and areas that have remaining housing units that are historically significant to New Orleans unique architectural style. These residents and building typologies were identified as those needing recovery support the most.

Our results add a strong foundation to Masten and Obradovic’s (2008) argument that “all disasters are local” and that specific local characteristics of the built environment in New Orleans are needed to measure damage and recovery effectively. In the future, localized indicators for damage and recovery should be used to refine our knowledge of disasters so that the body of literature can be further developed to understand disasters as local events – meaning that generalized hypotheses about vulnerability and resilience are not specific enough to develop  either mitigation strategies or recovery plans by local governments. This type of research is, of course, limited by the available data, as already mentioned, and challenges practitioners in the field to collect more applicable data sources and develop better quality local indicators for damage and recovery.

Reconstruction Volunteers

Reconstruction Volunteers

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