Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Sudden Versus Slow Death of Cities: New Orleans and Detroit


School of Public, Nonprofit & Health Administration


College of Community and Public Service

Date Range





This paper focuses on the economic and social impacts of natural, as opposed to economic, disasters. It constitutes a follow-up to an article written during the late fall of 2005 and published in Economic Development (Reese 2006) that argued that many of the approaches and responses to sudden natural disasters might be effectively applied to areas experiencing more chronic economic decay. The original article suggested that critical aspects of responses to sudden natural disasters could be applied to cities experiencing slow death: media attention; a sense of urgency coupled with long-range vision; coordinated federal, state, and foundation assistance; an emphasis on community hope; and a focus on the public sector, public investment, public infrastructure, and public pride. This paper continues the theme of uncovering the underlying impacts of economic and natural disasters and explores the political and policy ramifications of the sudden versus slow death of cities. More specifically, it compares the slow economic death of Detroit as the rhetorical opposite of the sudden death of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Using census, budgetary, and political data and 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 do the sudden disaster in New Orleans and slow death in Detroit compare what are their similarities and differences? “How did the responses to the hurricane impact New Orleans; would such efforts have helped Detroit?” How do effective responses to sudden and slow economic and social disasters differ?

Conference Name

Urban Affairs Annual Meeting

Conference Location

San Antonio

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