City Journal has a great in-depth story about the differences, similarities and challenges of integrating New Orleans and Houston cultures.
Houston’s Noble Experiment
— reported by the City Journal
To escape Katrina, about half of New Orleans’s population, or about 240,000 people, fled 350 miles west on Interstate 10 to Houston, whose increasing population and expanding economy have been the inverse of New Orleans’s over the past five decades. More than seven months after the storm, Houston remains home to about 150,000 New Orleans evacuees.
Houston isn’t just showing its guests some Texas hospitality; it’s showing displaced New Orleanians what a difference it makes to live in a city that strives, if imperfectly, to operate upon sound urban-governance precepts—leadership in a crisis, competent policing, a functioning judicial system, accountable urban schools, and a culture of private-sector entrepreneurship.
Since multiple surveys of Katrina evacuees in Houston indicate that between half and two-thirds plan to stay, the challenge for post-Katrina Houston is to ensure that the worst elements of New Orleans’s crime-ravaged underclass don’t perpetuate their dysfunctional habits in Houston. Houston’s success would show the rest of the nation how much good government matters, even—or especially—to the toughest population.
Houston wouldn’t be the setting for this unprecedented experiment if it hadn’t risen to the occasion as no other government—federal, state, or local—did after Katrina. How did it mobilize so quickly? A social-services expert might think that, being such a small-government town, it would have been overwhelmed by the influx: recently branded one of America’s “meanest cities” by a homeless-advocacy group, Houston spent less than $1,500 per person in city funds last year, compared with New York’s $5,000. It has one public-sector worker to serve every 130 citizens, compared with one for every 22 in New York. About 6 percent of New Yorkers live in public housing; less than 1 percent of Houstonians do. Houston has no income tax, and nearly everyone you meet there boasts that the city is a “business city” with “business interests.”
But that’s no measure of Houston’s generosity. All it proves is that Houston never entwined its budget with radical entitlement politics in the sixties and seventies. Yet when Houston saw a crisis of humanity, it acted.