Monday, November 21, 2005

New Orleans

Look, the cold hard truth is that New Orleans is built on a delta. Del-tah folks. Okay, not really a delta, an alluvial plane, but that’s mincing words unless you’re a geology freak, like myself. Any which way, it’s built on sediment. That’s se-dim-ent folks. That might be okay, if 1. It wasn’t situated within an extensive river system, 2. It wasn’t sandwiched (yes, that’s a geological term) between Lake Pontchartrain and the Atlantic, 3. It wasn’t losing its protective island network at an alarming rate – and, finally the culmination of 1-3, 4. It didn’t possess the shape of a freaking bowl.

Okay, now the good liberal in me says, “Yes, yes, yes…that’s all true…but it’s also true that the cultural value of this fine city trumps any unfortunate geologic and geographic truths. Plus, this place is home to many generations of Americans. AND it’s a black city. G-d knows I love a black city; black cities vote democratic, produce much of the work of the country and contain true history, the history that you don’t find in school books, even now.

Plus, there are lots of places in the U.S. that are unfortunately situated on, say, a fault line or within a tornado alley or on a flood plane and you wouldn’t say that those people shouldn’t live there.

Ummm, yeah, I would.

I might not say that they should close down a full city and move elsewhere immediately, but if they were flattened (like towns that are flooded year after year as a result of the natural ebb and flow of the Mississippi River), I’d say pack your shit dude, it doesn’t do anyone any good to see you suffer year after year.

“But we’re can-do Americans!” you say. “Come hell and high water, we’re rebuilding cuz that’s who we are!”

Terrific. So, we’re idiots that don’t learn from experiences. Sure, it’s true, we’re capable of doing that, but just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. If we build the proposed levees required to sustain a hurricane of Katrina’s strength we’re looking at billions and billions. And who’s going to move back? I’ve heard numbers from the mayor himself projecting only 50% of the population return. Who will they be? Well, most likely people that can afford to pick up and move back or people that never left because of their economic situation. Okay, so you have upper class and a lower class. Now we spend all of that cash and end up with a community without a middle class and we all know how great a community without a middle class can be, don’t we? I mean, isn’t that what we’re moving toward in all of the larger cities in this country; richies living comfortably in the “safe parts” of the cities while the poor folks live in war zones? An economically stratified city is no good for anyone. Trust me, I’m from Detroit.

So what should we do to honor those that have lost their homes, communities and identities in this horrible storm?

Ask them. Ask them for Christ’s sake. If we built your dream community 100 miles inland, what would it look like? Would it have the best schools in the country? Would it be designed with green spaces? Would it be subsidized by the federal government to lure businesses and jobs to it?

When I was a teenager I was reporting for my school paper on a parenting conference being held at our school. The parents were gathered talking about their children as if they couldn’t speak. What do they want? How can we make them feel safe? How can I help keep them away from the danger of drugs and unprotected sex? I sat and listened for hour after hour and all I could think was ASK THEM!

What should we do for the victims for Katrina? Start by listening to them.


Anonymous Feanor said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Feanor said...

Also, I agree with pretty much everything you say.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a tough one - normally I would say we should just rebuild, because it is a great city with a great history and I am sure the climate has something to do with the culture ... yet, that very same climate seems to be changing, and I don't think we have the capability to design a structure that would keep the city safe. Can't fight Mother Nature. I would hate to see that city die a slow death, maybe they should cut the losses and start over someplace else.

Last night I watched a program on rescuing the animals - I cried like a baby. I know that I am a little nutty about my own pets, I can only imagine how hard it must have been to leave pets behind. Another sad chapter in the Katrina debacle.

And Happy Thanksgiving - I have no idea how to email you directly!


10:18 AM  
Blogger Duf said...

This is a tough one. It would make more sense to move the city inland. But, as a pratical matter, I really don't think that will happen. To me, the key is to build a better city where it is (and identify strategies to compel the middle class to return). New Orleans is not the first city challenged to think of how it can exist near water and a storm prone region - I recall a city in Scandanavia where the houses are basically built on connected to poles that look like stair rails. As the water rises, the house slides up the rails by floating - the house stays dry. I'm not saying that would work in N.O.

The problem is that I can't see N.O. adopting such a solution (even if money were no object). If history is instructive, I can't see the levees (or any other solution) being maintained adequately in perpetuity. It's a safe bet that if N.O. rebuilds where it is, this type of disaster will happen again within 50 years.

I can't see folks walking away from the Quarter and the history of the current site; I can't see a intelligent or sustainable plan for the current site.

I guess all I have in response is cynicism and pessimism.

11:17 AM  
Blogger SharonA said...

Great post, dude. If i were to write a post, the subject would be "rebuilding coastal wetlands."
Because we can't just destroy the earth and then move on to destroy somewhere else. It can be fixed. We can rebuild. It must be done, people own that under-water land. it is all they have.
Yes, I am a crazy 'we can rebuild' American. Still.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we were going to move New Orleans to "safer" ground ... wouldn't we have to move other American cities that are prone to disasters, like San Francisco and Los Angeles? How about Tacoma? It's right in the way of Mt. Rainier? New Orleans is also a major shipping port, so something will have to be rebuilt there. Part of the problem is that budgeting for maintaining and improving infrastructure is not a great campaign slogan, like cutting taxes or getting more money for your particualar region is. Preparing for a disaster that MIGHT happen doesn't catch people's attention the way that fighting terrorism or preparing for pandemic bird flu is.


2:33 PM  

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