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  • Davia C. Downey (a1) and Laura A. Reese (a2)

This paper constitutes a follow-up to an argument made during the late fall of 2005 that posited that many of the approaches and responses to sudden natural disasters might be effectively applied to areas experiencing more chronic economic decay. Using census, budgetary, and political data, including an analysis of planning and development documents, the paper addresses the following research questions:

What were the economic and social trajectories of Detroit and New Orleans prior to their respective disasters?

How did the responses to the hurricane impact New Orleans?

Despite the attention given to New Orleans, why do current conditions differ little from Detroit?

The findings suggest that Detroit and New Orleans were clearly both highly distressed cities, with large minority populations and significant inequality prior to Katrina, although Detroit’s situation was arguably more severe. Significant media attention and investment in New Orleans appeared to follow in the wake of the hurricane. However, looking at federal and state investment in context suggests that it was not as high as might have been expected and implementation delays may well have lessened its impact. It is not at all clear that the response in New Orleans changed its economic trajectory much beyond that of Detroit, suggesting that the response to sudden disaster might not have aided the slow death of Detroit.

Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Professor Laura A. Reese, Global Urban Studies and Political Science, Michigan State University, 447 Berkey Hall, East Lansing, MI 48202. E-mail:
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