I’ve been playing around with the 2010 United States Census results by county again, this time comparing them to the previous decennial census conducted in 2000. This allows one to observe population shifts taking place over the prior decade. I tend to find more interest in the larger shifts, which is true I suppose for most observers, particularly those places that lost the greatest number of residents. I wasn’t too surprised by the results. Well, I’ll amend that a bit by remarking that one of the biggest losers misaligned with my preconceived notions.
Wayne County, Michigan
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Wayne County is home to Detroit, and topped the list. It’s firmly at the center of heavy manufacturing job hemorrhaging particularly within the automotive industry. Did anyone imagine that one not making the list? Right. It’s obvious. That’s not the unanticipated result I mentioned. I featured Detroit’s situation in an article about real estate prices a couple of years ago. It was possible then and probably still today to find hundreds of homes available for purchase for less than ten thousand dollars. Detroit may bulldoze whole portions of the city to deal with its shrinkage.
As an aside, the real estate feature appears to have been removed from Google Maps since I last focused here, but the town boundary feature now exists. I never realized until now that Detroit is a doughnut city: check out the completely enveloped adjoining towns of Highland Park and Hamtramck at its center.
Wayne County lost 240,000 residents over the decade, or more than 11% of its population. To put that within perspective, that’s about the same population as Windsor, Ontario, its neighbor across the Detroit River in Canada. Imagine everyone in Windsor moving away, or everyone in Norfolk, Virginia or Plymouth, England or the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. That’s the magnitude of population loss in Wayne County during the first decade of the new millennium.
Cook County, Illinois
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Cook County, anchored by the city Chicago, is the one that surprised me a bit. Cook lost about 182 thousand residents. However it’s not so bad as a percentage (~3%) due to its immense size. The story here is a bit different though. According to the Chicago Tribune:
Chicago lost a hefty 200,000 residents in the last decade, most of them African-Americans, while suburban counties grew dramatically in numbers and diversity, according to 2010 census data released Tuesday. People continued to spread out far from the region’s urban hub, as thousands flocked to Will, Kane and McHenry counties, all of which experienced a second decade of vigorous double-digit growth, the numbers showed.
It’s more of a population shift than an economic loss unlike what has been experienced by Detroit. People are trading chairs but they’re not necessarily leaving the extended metropolitan area. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning developed an excellent map that clearly demonstrated that effect. Some of the innermost sections of Chicago had fewer residents, but many of them were wealthier.
Orleans Parish, Louisiana
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Population decline can be a study of heartbreak and decline. I don’t mean to diminish the slow-moving tragedy that is Detroit, but the devastation of New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina seems to bring grief to a completely different level. This one is particularly difficult for me personally due to family ties both in Louisiana and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Katrina blasted New Orleans and surrounding areas in August 2005. Corresponding population loss was abundantly evident four-and-a-half years later when census takers combed through the bayous. A solid 140 thousand fewer people lived in Orleans Parish in 2010 than in 2000. Similar, proportional stories could be observed in neighboring Parishes such as St. Bernard.
The New York Times offered an excellent set of maps that detailed population loss in New Orleans. It also explained,
The Lower Ninth Ward, the poorest neighborhood in the city and the one hardest hit by the storm, had the largest population decrease. Pockets of New Orleans East, a low-lying section of the city that was also devastated by the storm, also had large drops. The few areas with an increase in population tended to be along the Mississippi River, a higher-elevation section of the city that was not significantly flooded after the storm.
There are signs that New Orleans Parish has been picking-up population so it will fall from the Biggest Losers list in 2020.
Cuyahoga County, Ohio
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Cuyahoga County, home to the city of Cleveland, lost just north of a hundred thousand residents. Nonetheless, the Cleveland Plain Dealer opined somewhat optimistically that it could have been worse. Cuyahoga seems to combine elements of Detroit and Chicago, with losses in manufacturing jobs but also the retention of a decent portion of its population within the greater economic area (albeit outside of Cuyahoga).
The list of population loss drops very quickly from there. The top (bottom?) four locations stand out rather starkly when compared to the remainder of counties losing residents.
Long-time 12MC reader Randy Clark shared an interesting map with me a few days ago. Check out this wonderful set of geographically-themed street names in the Rancho Yolo neighborhood of Davis, California.
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East of Pole Line Avenue we see: Inner Circle; Full Circle; Broken Circle; Quarter Circle; Outer Circle; Hidden Circle; and just to top things off, Diameter Drive. It reminds me a bit of Corona’s Corona.
Nice find, Randy!
Has it really been five years already? The memories are starting to fade but they come back to life in ghostly form on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, when the news media forces me to pay attention to them. Our family was one of the lucky ones. I can’t and won’t compare our story to those who fared much worse. My heart goes out to those who suffered through staggering hardships and still struggle to recover. I was even luckier personally, sitting safely away, 1,200 miles distant while various family members battled the storm’s wrath.
I decided I better write some of this down before I lose even more of the details. They are bleeding away rapidly with the passage of time.
I do have a few photographs to help me remember the events, and I’m going share some of them with you today. They were taken by family members in the days immediately following Katrina unless marked otherwise.
I’d been visiting family along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in the suburbs of New Orleans, Louisiana just a few weeks before the storm. I go down there often and this trip seemed no different than any of the dozens of others I’d made over the years. Hurricanes are a fact of life along the coast. Why would this one be any different?
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This is where my wife and I went out to dinner one evening that summer. My mom was gracious enough to watch our son so we could get some quiet time alone. Katrina would wipe the Dock of the Bay restaurant from the face of the earth in short course. The current (August 2010) version of Google Street View for Bay St. Louis, Mississippi still provides a label for that nonexistent place along the bayfront, a phantom reminder of what once stood here. Go ahead and pop that map into a larger image and walk along Beach Boulevard towards the railroad bridge. You’ll see plenty of gutted shells and empty lots where a vibrant strand of homes, shops and restaurants stood until August 2005.
This was once a home several miles inland. Notice the trees snapped by the wind.
Most of my family fled from the area as warnings grew increasingly frantic. They scattered to the relative safety of Natchez, Houston and the Florida Panhandle. One of my sisters remained. It was a different storm along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, ferocious and intense with an immediate storm surge unlike the slow-motion misery that would engulf New Orleans. She didn’t realize, nobody realized, the surge would punch inland several miles along bayou conduits.
She called my father as water poured through the doorway and rose towards the ceiling. She sought refuge along with her three children in an attic crawlspace above the garage, water still rising, and then the conversation ended. The local phone network succumbed to the winds. For the next 36 hours we considered them all dead, dreading notification as next of kin. We didn’t know until later that somehow they’d kicked a hole through the attic with their feet and climbed atop the roof. There they remained exposed to the elements for several hours as the hurricane eyewall and then the backside of the storm crossed above them, and twelve feet of torrential storm surge turned their precarious perch into an island.
This mess remained after the water subsided, some objects knocked about with others seemingly untouched.
They were safe once the storm passed and the surge dissipated. A local Southern Baptist congregation open its doors and provided refuge for many battered families that first night, where pews became makeshift beds. The house was unsalvageable and her car had to be junked after floating into a neighbor’s yard. They lost everything but the few items that could be scavenged from their waterlogged home several days later, but they were alive.
My brother-in-law was a policeman in one of the most devastated communities along the Gulf Coast. The officers retreated to their station only a few hundred feet from the coastline, a solid bunker designed to withstand hurricane-force winds with ease. They understood the danger but they had a duty to aid the populace once the storm passed. The building held firm and provided refuge until it disappeared under the storm surge. He and several other officers clung to a tree for their lives and somehow avoided being swept into the Gulf, their grips so tight that they stripped the bark under their hands. Today he is no longer a policeman, nor does he live anywhere near the Gulf Coast. I’d call that a rational choice given the circumstances.
Another home stood, first floor gutted by storm surge. Notice the dresses hanging from the rafters, unscathed.
The aunt of another brother-in-law rode out the storm from her bayfront home. She was not as lucky. She simply disappeared along with her house and everything she owned, never to be seen again. Gone. The only evidence remaining was a concrete slab where her home once stood.
Two of my nephews were caught on Interstate 10 trying to flee New Orleans in advance of the storm. They were stuck for hours but made it out in the nick of time. A few weeks later they got to experience it all over again when Hurricane Rita rolled through their temporary refuge in Houston, Texas.
Signs of destruction remained even five years later.
It doesn’t take much effort to find evidence of Hurricane Katrina even five years later. I confirmed that for myself when I was down there in April 2010. Remnants are beginning to fade though, along with the collective memory. This was the first visit where every conversation didn’t turn eventually to the simple phrase, "well, before Katrina…" It still came up but not continuously, similar to the found objects in the woods that are being pulled gradually back into the earth by undergrowth. Houses are beginning to spout on the exact foundations swept clean earlier. Let’s hope stricter building codes prevail when the inevitable returns.
My kids still call my mother Grandma Hurricane, much to her chagrin.
I made it back from my brief journey to the Deep South last night. We covered about 2,500 miles in ten days, seeing the sites and visiting with family. Things went about as well as one could hope. I’ll consider doing this again in the future although it definitely pushed the limit of what I’d want to cover by car. I collected lots of "stuff" during the journey, all memories but nothing physical. Let me share a last few items with you and then wrap it up.
I took many photographs that portraid various aspects of the diversity of Southern culture. Here are a few more. Let me not detract from their stories by bracketing them with lots of text. I’ll let them speak on their own with simple geographic notations.
Jack Daniel’s Distillery; Lynchburg, Tennessee
Alabama, Somewhere Between Montgomery and Mobile
Abita Springs, Louisiana
I’m a relentless counter and I’m defined by the lists I keep. I used this trip as an opportunity to make decent progress on several of them. As usual, I’ll update the lists when I get a chance and then develop permanent travel pages for all the places I visited.
26 New Counties
This is for the County Counters in the audience. These are the new counties I added in sequential order.
- SOUTH CAROLINA: Lee; Kershaw; Richland; Lexington; Aiken
- GEORGIA: Richmond; Columbia; McDuffie; Warren; Taliaferro; Greene; Morgan; Walton; Newton; Rockdale
- LOUISIANA: Plaquemines
- ALABAMA: Blount; Cullman; Morgan; Limestone
- TENNESSEE: Lincoln; Moore; Coffee; Warren; Van Buren; White
4 New Breweries
- 5 Seasons Brewing Company; Atlanta, Georgia
- Abita Brewing Company, Abita Springs, Louisiana (been to the brewpub previously but this was my first visit to the larger brewery)
- Bull & Bones Brewhaus; Blacksburg, Virginia
- The Mash House; Fayetteville, North Carolina
1 New Lighthouse
- Biloxi Lighthouse; Biloxi, Mississippi
1 New Ferry
- Belle Chasse Ferry; Belle Chasse, Louisiana
For those of you who joined this story at the end
Here are the earlier articles in this travel series.
Thanks for bearing with my self-indulgent travelogue. I’m going to get some rest and I’ll return to geo-oddities later in the week.