As the New Orleans City Council undertakes its once-a-decade review of council district maps, this time on a rush, much of the attention will turn to two contiguous districts where fortunes have swung to the over the past 10 years.
After the 2010 census, District C had the largest population of the council’s five districts. It now has the smallest, well below the ideal range based on the 2020 census. District D, meanwhile, has gone from last to first.
Together, the two neighborhoods cut a vertical slice through the geographic center of the city. Bordering the district along Claiborne Avenue are Treme, the 7th Arrondissement, Saint-Roch and Saint-Claude, culturally significant neighborhoods split between the two.
Below the border is District C, which also includes Faubourg Marigny, Bywater, the French Quarter and Algiers. District D groups the upper parts of the splintered neighborhoods with Gentilly, Desire, the lakeside subdivisions above City Park, and the Downman Road corridor.
Council members are now set to realign the traditional boundaries of these neighborhoods with political ones, which is one of the criteria council members and their councilors will consider when drafting new maps, according to the site. City Council website.
Population parity is the top priority of the New Orleans Home Rule Charter. The population of the city is 383,997, which means that the ideal municipal district will have 76,799 inhabitants. Map designers generally aim to create district populations within 5% of the ideal.
To achieve this goal, District C must expand by at least 4,850 people and District D must contract by at least 1,100 people.
Public debate on how the boundaries might change will not start until council consultants deliver preliminary maps at a public hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday. Council members are likely to consider adjustments to the boundary between District C and District D to equalize populations while improving neighborhood integrity.
“I’m not going to spell out where the change needs to take place, but some things are kind of out there and obvious,” said District D councilman Eugene Green.
Public hearings scheduled
Following the release of the draft maps, district-level public hearings for residents are scheduled for March 7-8. The maps will then be revised and the council must approve the final versions by March 16, according to the charter. If council members miss the deadline, they lose their pay until a commission of college presidents completes the job for them.
The 2022 timeline is much more compressed than the last redistricting, in 2011, when board members approved new maps about two months after consultants released draft versions. Redistricting after the 2010 census was more complex, following huge population losses resulting from Hurricane Katrina five years earlier. District B – covering the Warehouse District, the Central Business District, Central City, the Irish Channel and the Garden District – was the only one left with a population in the sweet spot.
At the time, the majority white council split along racial lines to approve the map that is now in effect, following bitter disputes over competing proposals. When the dust settled, the Treme, Saint-Roch and Saint-Claude districts found themselves divided between two municipalities. Treme was divided by Claiborne Avenue and the Interstate 10 overpass, and the new Claiborne Avenue border line continued through St. Roch.
Further downstream, Saint-Claude was cut even further, with a zigzag boundary running down from Claiborne to Avenue Saint-Claude. In part of the ward, the boundary places each side of the divided thoroughfare between Claiborne Avenue and Robertson Street in separate council districts.
The new map improved District D while shrinking District C, and population changes over the next decade accelerated what City Council started. District C lost over 3,000 people, with about 70% of those losses in Algiers, while District D expanded almost everywhere; St. Bernard, Filmore, Dillard and several other neighborhoods gained over 1,000 residents.
Kristin Gisleson Palmer, council member for District C during the last redistricting, suggested that part of Treme should now be returned to District C. She also suggested connecting St. Roch and St. Claude by pushing the district boundary C further towards Lake Pontchartrain.
“When you look at the council, our primary responsibility is land use. A lot of land use issues come from neighborhoods championing certain issues,” Palmer said. “So I think it’s really important to keep them as together as possible.”
Current District C council member Freddie King III did not respond to an interview request.
Returning the lake portion of Treme to District C and streamlining the border along Claiborne to St. Claude would create two districts of similar size, each slightly below ideal. This would partially unify the divided neighborhoods, although Saint-Roch and Saint-Claude would remain split along Claiborne Avenue.
“Nothing will ever be perfect,” Palmer said.