Seldom are people able to glimpse the true spirit of a city. I don’t mean in the sense of enthusiasm for a specific municipality, but rather spirit in the absolute meaning of the word: the soul lay bare. I feel fortunate in that I have seen glimpses of the work underway in New Orleans as it heals from Hurricane Katrina. And I believe what’s revealed in the process of taking in the view one year later is the city’s deepest essence. Whether a visitor or a citizen, one cannot help but be curious about how the raw areas that were smack in the corridor of peak destruction are faring after the passage of time. There, the scars of Katrina are readily evident.

I like the analogy of scars forming over the wounds of a city that faced annihilation just a year ago. Scars focus the viewer’s attention on the recovery of the city, not the initial devastation. I believe the revival-in-progress deserves the world’s attention as much as the tragedy did twelve months earlier. And more than a cursory glance is justified. Like any scars, those of the people and parishes of Louisiana need to be studied for signs of returning health, because the wounds go deep. Many outsiders questioned, especially in the beginning, whether or not the city would even survive. Some evidence suggests it will, while limited funding and slight progress in the hardest hit parishes might indicate the chances of total recuperation are slim. The viewer is given pictures that suggest the situation can go either way, but one thing is sure: the final determination is apt to be made under the surface, deep into the first layers of the scaring. And it is in the first year the deepest scabs are formed over the wounds. If they are clean and well healed what forms in the months and years to come will follow suit. On the other hand, if grime and infection pock the under layers, then a weak foundation for healing is imminent and the growth ahead cannot help but be stunted and deformed. We need to look at the scars of New Orleans and judge its potential for a vigorous return to well being.

The time for clearing away the debris left in Katrina’s wake is coming to a close. One year later, 35,000 tons of refuse has been cleared from the city. The wound has been pretty much scraped clean. Now we can look with fresh eyes at the vulnerable pockets of urban landscape that one day soon will be hidden by new buildings, or close to the weakest levies, reclaimed by nature. More importantly, we are able to see the humble beginnings of a New Orleans dissimilar to that of the past. Part of the old soul has been unearthed, only for the citizens to turn and walk away from it, choosing to create a new city. Of course the flavor of the French quarter will not budge. But from the looks of things, it is destined to move over and let another soul shine through. Tomorrow’s New Orleans is apt to be more egalitarian and future-reaching, as it now refuses to simply reach back towards some pre-Katrina state. In the end, it looks as if New Orleans might carry scars, but a new beauty exists that also makes these remaining marks easy to ignore.