The New Orleans City Council’s redistricting consultants presented four draft maps on Wednesday to rebalance the City Council district boundaries based on the 2020 census, which the council will use as baseline options as it rushes to create a final map within the next month. 

The consultants stressed that the maps are just a starting point, and that the final version will be adjusted as residents submit public comments. 

“These are ideas, these are starting points,” said Rebecca Wright, a consultant with FLO Analytics. “We definitely want your input. We need your comments, and those comments will change how this map develops.”

But the council and their consultants are working on a short deadline. The city’s Home Rule Charter requires the council to finalize a new map by March 16. The deadline for public comment is March 8, which can be submitted in a number of ways including the city’s “redistricting engagement portal” and through virtual public meetings. Councilman JP Morrell said the city was working on getting physical maps in public libraries. Residents can also call email or call 504-620-0036.

The main legal requirement for the new map is that the biggest and smallest district populations can only differ by 10 percent maximum, and ideally less than five percent. To meet that requirement, boundary changes will be necessary in District D, which has grown into the most populous district, and District C, the only district to shrink in population since 2010. The difference in populations between the two districts as currently drawn is now 18.1 percent.

While they aren’t legal requirements, the consultants said other important factors are keeping the districts as compact as possible and maintaining “communities of mutual interest.” The current map, created in 2010, divides several downtown neighborhoods between districts C and D, including St. Roch, Seventh Ward, Treme and St. Claude. 

All four draft maps were made with different top priorities. The first was made to balance populations with as few changes as possible to the existing map. The second prioritized having the lowest population deviation as possible. The third created the most compact districts. And the fourth focused on keeping neighborhoods within the same district.  

During public comment, some residents called for an even bigger change: expanding the number of City Council districts above the current five. Some observers have pointed out that cities of similar size have much larger councils. Cleveland, which has roughly the same population, has 17 council members representing distinct geographical areas of the city.

Morrell acknowledged those calls, and seemed to be open to considering the idea. But he said that expanding the number of council districts would involve a change to the city’s Home Rule Charter, which would require approval through a local election.

“That is something that is not really for consideration at this time because that would require a charter amendment to even do it,” Morrell said. “That is probably something that we will tackle in the near future.”

Map one

The first draft map has the fewest changes of any. It changes the border between Districts C and D that stretches from St. Phillip Street all the way to the Industrial Canal. 

A much larger chunk of St. Roch would be absorbed into District C, although the neighborhood would still remain divided between C and D. District C would also get additional portions of Bywater and St. Claude. Draft maps two and three also have this same border change. 

Map two

The second draft map was made to have the smallest population deviation possible between the biggest and largest districts — just .4 percent. It includes the same border changes from the first map, as well as three other minor border changes.

District C would absorb a section of the Central Business District from District B. District B would get a small portion of Mid-City from District A. And District D would take a section of Little Woods near the lakefront airport from District E. 

Sub: Map three

The third draft map prioritized creating compact districts. It includes the same changes from map one, and two of the same smaller changes from map two in Mid-City and near the Lakefront Airport.

Map three would also move a portion of the Lakeshore – Lake Vista neighborhood, which is currently completely contained in District D, to District A. 

Map four

Map four is the most distinct of all the draft maps, and it prioritizes keeping neighborhoods within the same districts. It would maintain the small changes in Mid-City and near the Lakefront Airport that exist in maps two and three. But the boundary between Districts C and D — the major focus of the redistricting effort — looks very different from the other three maps. 

The fourth map would unify many of the neighborhoods that are currently split between Districts C and D. St. Claude, Treme, and Bywater would be completely absorbed by District C. The Seventh Ward and St. Roch, meanwhile, would be fully contained within District D. 

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...