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Thread: The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans

  1. #1
    For a Level Playing Field RedFanAlways1966's Avatar
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    Apr 2001
    Oakwood, OH

    The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans

    Don't Refloat
    The case against rebuilding the sunken city of New Orleans.
    By Jack Shafer

    What's to rebuild?
    Nobody can deny New Orleans' cultural primacy or its historical importance. But before we refloat the sunken city, before we think of spending billions of dollars rebuilding levees that may not hold back the next storm, before we contemplate reconstructing the thousands of homes now disintegrating in the toxic tang of the flood, let's investigate what sort of place Katrina destroyed.

    The city's romance is not the reality for most who live there. It's a poor place, with about 27 percent of the population of 484,000 living under the poverty line, and it's a black place, where 67 percent are African-American. In 65 percent of families living in poverty, no husband is present. When you overlap this New York Times map, which illustrates how the hurricane's floodwaters inundated 80 percent of the city, with this demographic map from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, which shows where the black population lives, and this one that shows where the poverty cases live, it's transparent whom Katrina hit the hardest.

    New Orleans' public schools, which are 93 percent black, have failed their citizens. The state of Louisiana rates 47 percent of New Orleans schools as "Academically Unacceptable" and another 26 percent are under "Academic Warning." About 25 percent of adults have no high-school diploma.

    The police inspire so little trust that witnesses often refuse to testify in court. University researchers enlisted the police in an experiment last year, having them fire 700 blank gun rounds in a New Orleans neighborhood one afternoon. Nobody picked up the phone to report the shootings. Little wonder the city's homicide rate stands at 10 times the national average.

    This city counts 188,000 occupied dwellings, with about half occupied by renters and half by owners. The housing stock is much older than the national average, with 43 percent built in 1949 or earlier (compared with 22 percent for the United States) and only 11 percent of them built since 1980 (compared with 35 for the United States). As we've observed, many of the flooded homes are modest to Spartan to ramshackle and will have to be demolished if toxic mold or fire don't take them first.

    New Orleans puts the "D" into dysfunctional. Only a sadist would insist on resurrecting this concentration of poverty, crime, and deplorable schools. Yet that's what New Orleans' cheerleaders—both natives and beignet-eating tourists—are advocating. They predict that once they drain the water and scrub the city clean, they'll restore New Orleans to its former "glory."

    Only one politician, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, dared question the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans as it was, where it was. On Wednesday, Aug. 31, while meeting with the editorial board of the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., he cited the geographical insanity of rebuilding New Orleans. "That doesn't make sense to me. … And it's a question that certainly we should ask."

    "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed," Hastert added.

    For his candor and wisdom, Hastert was shouted down. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and others interpreted his remarks as evidence of the Republican appetite for destruction when it comes to disaster victims. But if you read the entire interview—reproduced here courtesy of the Daily Herald—you might conclude that Hastert was speaking heresy, but he wasn't saying anything ugly or even Swiftian. Klaus Jacob seconded Hastert yesterday (Sept. 6) in a Washington Post op-ed. A geophysicist by training, he noted that Katrina wasn't even a worst-case scenario. Had the storm passed a little west of New Orleans rather than a little east, the "city would have flooded faster, and the loss of life would have been greater."

    Nobody disputes the geographical and oceanographic odds against New Orleans: that the Gulf of Mexico is a perfect breeding ground for hurricanes; that re-engineering the Mississippi River to control flooding has made New Orleans more vulnerable by denying it the deposits of sediment it needs to keep its head above water; that the aggressive extraction of oil and gas from the area has undermined the stability of its land.

    "New Orleans naturally wants to be a lake," St. Louis University professor of earth and atmospheric sciences Timothy Kusky told Time this week. "A city should never have been built there in the first place," he said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    Why was it? Settlers built the original city on a curve of high flood land that the Mississippi River had deposited over eons, hence the nickname "Crescent City." But starting in the late 1800s and continuing into the early 20th century, developers began clearing and draining swamps behind the crescent, even dumping landfill into Lake Pontchartrain to extend the city.

    To chart the aggressive reclamation, compare this map from 1798 with this one from 1908. Many of New Orleans' lower-lying neighborhoods, such as Navarre, the Lower Ninth Ward, Lake Terrace, and Pontchartrain Park, were rescued from the low-lying muck. The Lower Ninth Ward, clobbered by Katrina, started out as a cypress swamp, and by 1950 it was only half developed, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. Even such "high" land as City Park suffered from flooding before the engineers intervened. By the historical standards of the 400-year-old city, many of the heavily flooded neighborhoods are fresh off the boat.

    The call to rebuild New Orleans' levee system may be mooted if its evacuated residents decide not to return. The federal government, which runs the flood-insurance business, sold only 85,000 residential and commercial policies—this in a city of 188,000 occupied dwellings. Coverage is limited to $250,000 for building property and $100,000 for personal property. Because the insured can use the money elsewhere, there is no guarantee they'll choose to rebuild in New Orleans, which will remain extra-vulnerable until the levees are rebuilt.

    Few uninsured landlords and poor home owners have the wherewithal to rebuild—or the desire. And how many of the city's well-off and wealthy workers—the folks who provide the city's tax base—will return? Will the doctors, lawyers, accountants, and professors have jobs to return to? According to the Wall Street Journal, many businesses are expected to relocate completely. Unless the federal government adopts New Orleans as its ward and pays all its bills for the next 20 years—an unlikely to absurd proposition—the place won't be rebuilt.

    Barbara Bush will be denounced as being insensitive and condescending for saying yesterday that many of the evacuees she met in the Astrodome would prefer to stay in Texas. But she probably got it right. The destruction wrought by Katrina may turn out to be "creative destruction," to crib from Joseph Schumpeter, for many of New Orleans' displaced and dispossessed. Unless the government works mightily to reverse migration, a positive side-effect of the uprooting of thousands of lives will to be to deconcentrate one of the worst pockets of ghetto poverty in the United States.

    Page One of today's New York Times illustrates better than I can how the economic calculations of individuals battered by Katrina may contribute to the city's ultimate doom:

    In her 19 years, all spent living in downtown New Orleans, Chavon Allen had never ventured farther than her bus fare would allow, and that was one trip last year to Baton Rouge. But now that she has seen Houston, she is planning to stay.

    "This is a whole new beginning, a whole new start. I mean, why pass up a good opportunity, to go back to something that you know has problems?" asked Ms. Allen, who had been earning $5.15 an hour serving chicken in a Popeyes restaurant.

    New Orleans won't disappear overnight, of course. The French Quarter, the Garden District, West Riverside, Black Pearl, and other elevated parts of the city will survive until the ultimate storm takes them out—and maybe even thrive as tourist destinations and places to live the good life. But it would be a mistake to raise the American Atlantis. It's gone.
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  3. #2
    RZ Chamber of Commerce Unassisted's Avatar
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    Jul 2003
    San Antonio

    Re: The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans

    I always appreciate outside-the-box thinking, so I think Hastert's idea deserved more consideration than it got. But it's moot since there was an announcement this week that the New Orleans levee system will be restored.

    The catch is that it will only be restored enough to protect the city against a Category 3 hurricane. Rebuilding those levees to that level of protection is like only bothering to lock the doors of your home every other night after it was burglarized.

  4. #3
    Member GAC's Avatar
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    Apr 2001
    Bellefontaine, Ohio

    Re: The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans

    If the bureaucrats in D.C., on both sides, don't learn from this and invest in the proper levee system, then it is not only sad, but a waste of taxpayer dollars IMO.

    How many billions are they gonna spend now in the relief and restoration, when it could have been maintained and funded in the millions?

    And for the more important issue of protecting lives.

    Levee system not designed for stronger storms
    Funding problems plagued programs to protect New Orleans


    WASHINGTON - Projects designed to keep New Orleans from flooding in a hurricane prepared the city for a probable scenario, not the worst-case scenario.

    The network that was supposed to protect the below-sea-level city from flooding was built to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, the Army Corps of Engineers said. It was overwhelmed when Katrina’s winds and storm surge came ashore a week ago as a Category 4 storm.

    That has left some lawmakers wondering why officials only considered the consequences of a moderate storm.

    “What that, in essence, says is that you’re not going to worry about the biggest disasters that could occur, you’re only going to worry about the smaller ones,” said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

    “How many times do we have to see disaster overwhelm our preparedness before we recognize that we are playing Russian roulette with people’s lives, with their livelihoods and with the life of whole communities?”

    Louisiana lawmakers have long lamented that Corps of Engineers programs designed to protect New Orleans and surrounding areas were starved for cash.

    Corps officials, said, however, that funneling more money into the agency’s levee repair programs wouldn’t have totally averted disaster. The infrastructure around the city was designed to withstand only a Category 3.

    Some flooding inevitable
    Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, Corps of Engineers commander, said some flooding would have occurred even if the remaining repair projects planned for the levees had been completed.

    The infrastructure assumed that a storm bigger than a Category 3 has a very low probability of occurring.

    When the project was designed about 30 years ago, the corps believed it was protecting the city from an event that might occur only every 200 or 300 years.

    “We had an assurance that 99.5 percent this would be OK. We, unfortunately, have had that .5 percent activity here,” Strock said.

    Former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said everyone has known for years that the levees wouldn’t stop a “once every hundred years” storm that could put New Orleans under 20 feet of water.

    The complaints and problems with corps funding go back to the Carter administration, and presidents since then have tried to draw money from the agency’s projects to pay for other priorities.

    Mike Parker, a former Mississippi congressman who left as civilian head of the corps in 2002 after criticizing the White House budget office, said the funding problems occurred through Democratic and Republican administrations.

    “The corps requested money to complete the projects through the years, but the funding level wasn’t given to them in order to do it,” he said.

    Blame lands on Bush administration. It’s the Bush administration taking the brunt of the heat now.

    House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said New Orleans got an infusion of money for flood control projects in the late 1990s.

    “There was less money spent after that huge project, as, of course, there would be,” Blunt said. “Any time you do a big building project, when that project’s over, the next year you spend less money.”

    Blunt suggested there might be a limit to the amount that federal programs can do.

    “This is not something that government can always prevent,” he said. “You know, God is actually bigger and nature is bigger than we are, and this is one of those instances.”

    Two Corps of Engineers projects were in place to control flooding and prepare for hurricane damage in southern Louisiana. One was a flood control project with channel and pumping station improvements for Southeast Louisiana; the other was a project to protect residents between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River levee from surges driven by a fast-moving category 3 storm.

    Each year since 2001, the corps asked for much more money for those two projects than the Bush administration was willing to request or Congress was willing to spend, according to figures compiled by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

    In addition, funding for the two programs declined between fiscal years 2001 and 2004, although both saw slight increases this year. Much of the federal budget outside homeland security and defense has been held down while the administration tries to control deficits under control.

    Advocates also have pressed for money to restore the eroding Louisiana coastline as additional hurricane protection.

    In the future, Breaux said, the federal government must think about a system of levees designed for the once-a-century storm.

    “They’re going to have to be built stronger. They’re going to have to be built higher. They’re going to have to be maintained,” he said.

    “It looks like Baghdad underwater out there.”
    Last edited by GAC; 09-14-2005 at 09:49 AM.
    "In my day you had musicians who experimented with drugs. Now it's druggies experimenting with music" - Alfred G Clark (circa 1972)

  5. #4
    Puffy 3:16 Puffy's Avatar
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    Feb 2002
    Panama City Beach

    Re: The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans

    That article is complete and utter bullcrap written by someone who has an agenda.

    I lived in New Orleans for three years and walked everywhere (many, many times at 3 in the morning in a drunken stupor) and never once, even once, was I bothered, scared, in fear, anything. As a matter of fact the people in New Orleans were so damn nice I fell in love with the place within the first month I was there. You can't walk down the street without some stranger saying hi to you, just because. When part of my house burnt down it was my neighbor, who I had talked to maybe a dozen times, who gave me a place to live for two months. New Orleans has a higher than average murder rate, however, it has been in decline for all but one of the past 12 years. It is a city which is less than 66 square miles with 500,000 people - do the math, lots of people, small area. So of course its going to have a higher murder rate, people are living on top of each other, they are poor, and crime is the only way these people have to survive.

    But, how bout instead of not rebuilding one of the greastest cities in the world because "hey, its poor" why don't we fix the problem of poverty in the area. Why doesn't the govt get businesses into there that give poor people jobs, why don't they show some compassion and figure out a solution.

    I have talked to maybe a dozen different people who have evacuated over here from New Orleans, who have lost just about everything (including one guy who lost his house plus a 1965 mint Ford Mustang), and everyone of them has every intention of moving back to the city they love when the water clears out. What would this author tell them? Sorry, get a new town?
    "I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum... and I'm all out of bubble gum."
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  6. #5
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Shadyside, Ohio

    Re: The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans

    The only problem is that I had heard that it would take years and billions of dollars to rebuild the levee system to what it needs to be. I just see too many setbacks. What if we get a Cat 5 next year? I think that it needs to be rebuilt. It's an american institution. Where is Mardi Gras going to be? But, what about the cost? Do the benefits outweigh the potential costs? Would the billions spent on rebuilding the city be better spent across the country making sure these people have homes and the possibility of regaining a little normalcy to their lives? That's why I am an accountant and not a politician or governmental official. Too hard to make a decision like that.
    Madness is like gravity....all it needs is a little push.

    Why so serious?

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