This is the time of year we look back and reflect on the past 12 months in New Orleans. In many ways, our city continues to enjoy blessings amid tragedies. The post-Katrina recovery continues unabated. The Saints and LSU continue their winning ways. And the city's artistic and cultural sectors continue to grow and inspire. But not all the news of 2011 was good. The city's murder rate remains a national disgrace — and the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) remains one of the nation's most troubled cop shops. Meanwhile, the local seafood industry struggles to recoup losses inflicted by the BP oil disaster.
Let's start with the good news.
The Saints got off to a hit-and-miss start, but the team is peaking at just the right time as playoffs approach. The Black-and-Gold are 11-3 going into this week's divisional showdown against Atlanta on Monday Night Football, at home in the Dome. Drew Brees is having a record-setting year, while new running back Darren Sproles and young tight end Jimmy Graham have delighted Saints fans — and confounded opponents — all season long. With two more wins at home to close out the season — and a little help from the San Francisco 49ers — the Saints can earn a No. 2 seed and a bye for the playoffs.
The LSU Tigers are headed for their third BCS championship appearance (and hopefully third championship) in eight years on Jan. 9. LSU has won each of its BCS championships in the Superdome, and Tiger fans hope the home-field advantage will work in LSU's favor once again as the team plays No. 2 Alabama in a much-anticipated rematch of their grueling regular-season game.
The post-Katrina recovery gained more traction in 2011. Local public schools were awarded $1.8 billion from FEMA to build new campuses in 2010, and this year officials agreed on a plan to split the money between the Orleans Parish School Board and the Recovery School District. The new facilities will complement a new "can-do" atmosphere in local public schools, where a growing percentage of students are posting improved test scores. Meanwhile, the Hyatt Regency Hotel reopened after being shuttered for more than six years, part of Armstrong Park reopened to rave reviews, and Mercedes-Benz bought naming rights to the newly illuminated Superdome.
Also on the recovery front, area flood protection continues to improve as levees are raised and buttressed. And, in a case of "no news is good news," no major storms hit the Louisiana coast this year.
The NBA Hornets sold a league-high number of season tickets in the second half of 2011, but earlier this month the league-owned team traded star point guard Chris Paul to the L.A. Clippers. The Hornets picked up three solid players and a first-round draft pick, but fans will miss the beloved CP3. It probably was the best deal the team could get for Paul, who otherwise would become a free agent after this season.
Federal investigators posted another banner year, winning a string of convictions in high-profile political corruption cases and bringing indictments against several more local politicos. As busy as U.S. Attorney Jim Letten was this year, 2012 is shaping up to be even busier.
The local arts and culture scene continues to lead the city's post-Katrina recovery. Preservation Hall turned 50 and proved that some things just get better with age. Meanwhile, local artists and musicians keep the beat going strong here in New Orleans and on the road.
Now for the bad news.
In the wake of the BP oil disaster, lawsuits mounted as locals complained that the Gulf Coast Claims Facility dragged its feet paying claims. Meanwhile, the feds have reopened deep-water drilling in the Gulf. Oil companies say the feds are imposing too many regulations; environmentalists warn that drilling is not regulated enough.
Violent crime spiraled out of control this year, thwarting what would otherwise be a great year for New Orleans. Mayor Mitch Landrieu launched Saving Our Sons, his anti-crime initiative, but much remains to be done to change the city's culture of violence. Finally, the city and the feds continue to negotiate a consent decree for federal oversight of much-needed, top-to-bottom reforms at NOPD.
As we celebrate what went right in 2011, we know what we have to fix in 2012.