September 06, 2005
Rebuilding New Orleans?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Now that the levees are sealed and the water is being pumped from New Orleans, people have begun to turn cautiously to the rebuilding effort. Or maybe not so cautiously. Last week, Dennis Hastert was looking for a bulldozer (until he retreated), and today the W$J is asking its online readers to answer this poll question: "Should New Orleans be rebuilt in its current location?" With almost 2000 votes logged, the results are running two-thirds in favor of "No."

The problem is that New Orleans is not simply a do-over. Most of the French Quarter was spared, and much of the business district will dry out and be repaired. The housing stock has been devastated, but the people of New Orleans are passionate about their city, and although it will be forever altered, they will want to return. James Carville captures what I suspect is a widespread sentiment of natives:

Maybe it comes back stronger. No one forgot how to play the saxophone or how to cook or write. Or have a good time. That's all still there. Calamities and disasters are part of New Orleans' history. This too shall pass.

The big issue -- and the place Hastert eventually landed -- was whether the city could be rebuilt with some assurance that this will not happen again. (Not that it will never have another hurricane, but that it will never have another post-hurricane flood caused by breached levees.) I suspect that the city can be fortified, and that is the direction we are likely to travel, once the rescue effort is complete.

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Comments (5)

1. Posted by Shag from Brookline on September 6, 2005 @ 6:03 | Permalink

If New Orleans is rebuilt, and I hope it will be, would all of its residents, including in particular its poor (black and white) be provided for? Or might the rebuilding result in an influx of Yuppies (black and white), with the poor swept out to sea? This sometimes happens with urban renewals.


2. Posted by Scott Moss on September 7, 2005 @ 7:22 | Permalink

As I understand, we believe we have the technology to build a stronger flood-sontrol system -- but it's humbling to see this illustration of the limits of our technology, and/or our ability to implement our technology effectively. It sheds a different light on the space program. A permanent moon base? Terraforming Mars? We haven't even figured out how to build a permenent base in, or terraform, New Orleans. I'm not 100% confident that we'd undertake the necessary upkeep on a new state-of-the-art flood control system in New Orleans.

If you think we'll have learned from past mistakes, think about how I boarded a flight in Newark airport (the airport of one of the hijacked planes) in late 2002 without being asked for photo ID -- not at check-in, not at the metal detector, not at the gate; nowhere.


3. Posted by Scott Moss on September 7, 2005 @ 7:26 | Permalink

I realized I should clarify: I'm not saying "don't rebuild New Orleans." Personally (not that anyone is asking), I think we certainly should, with better flood control and all.

I just worry that in X years, after several other crises urelated to flood control divert public attention and tax dollars, we'll again be neglectful of 'Nawlins... and a new generation of residents without much mobility will pay a terrible price.


4. Posted by Salil Mehra on September 10, 2005 @ 22:29 | Permalink

Some sort of New Orleans should be rebuilt, if only for the prosaic reason that a working port and extractive industry center near the river's mouth is important to the economy of the Mississippi watershed.

But given the flood risk, I would hope that some thought is given to diversifying the risk by encouraging port development -- and some water flow via the Old River Control Structure -- to the Atchafalaya Basin. But for the Army Corps' intervention, the Mississippi would have already forced this shift. Effectively, this would "split" the "New Orleans" function in the economy. The main cost would be environmental, but the benefit would be to make the next Katrina more manageable to both the national economy and evacuating local residents. It would potentially be somewhat workable from a public choice perspective, since it would keep these functions (and their revenue) in Southern Louisiana.


5. Posted by Jim on June 19, 2006 @ 11:36 | Permalink

I think it makes sense for house boats to be used, rather than single wide mobile homes. Both for FEMA supplied trailers and for homeowners wanting a safer design for the next time New Orleans fills up with water.

I was thinking that a houseboat with one or more strong anchor chains attached to it, the anchor chains cemented in the ground, and also a way to secure the houseboats by anchor chain higher up the chain near the top of the anchor chain, so that hurricane winds do not blow the houseboats over, but that you can then detach the short anchoring, leaving the long anchor lines in place, so that when New Orleans fills up with water, the house boats merely float at the surface, attached to their anchor lines so they don't float away, and when the water subsides they settle back down. Then they are put back onto their properties by cranes and the short anchoring is secured again.

The result is way less financial losses and disruption to homeowners and to the City. Property fences would need to be pretty low or nonexistent, so that when the house boats settle down, they are not resting crooked on a fence.

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