Friday, September 2, 2005

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Will the Saints go marching back in?

In Slate, Josh Levin mourns the loss of his hometown city:

New Orleans seems more like a scene out of 28 Days Later than a place where people ever lived and worked and raised their families.

A little more than 48 hours after Katrina strafed the city, I'm starting to mourn a place that's not quite dead but seems too stricken to go on living.

Also in Slate, Daniel Gross posits that the national economic effect of Katrina could be more devastating than the 9/11 attacks. Kieran Healy has two posts worth reading about the magnitude of the social disaster.

If there is any comfort that can be taken at this point from Katrina's aftereffects, it's in this story by Michael Phillips and Cynthia Cossen in the Wall Street Journal: cities beset by catastrophic attacks refuse to fade away:

At the close of World War II, American bombers incinerated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic weapons. Within two decades, both cities had been rebuilt, and their populations had surpassed prewar levels.

The lesson, according to economists who have studied the question, is that, while it may take years, cities are resilient and usually bounce back from the worst natural or man-made devastation. "Even nuclear bombs and fire bombing of cities was not enough to change the level and nature of economic activity," says Columbia University economist Donald R. Davis, who studied Japanese reconstruction. "People don't abandon their cities, and indeed industries don't abandon the cities they're in."

Such large-scale disasters are rare, of course, but a look back at four of them in the U.S. -- as New Orleans copes with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- reinforces that conclusion: Americans are loath to surrender their cities despite the threat of an array of biblical plagues.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM


Bush has once again choked.

Homeland security?

What a joke.

posted by: JB on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

I'm sorry, but that article is nothing but irrelevant historical anecdote and wishful thinking. The closest they got on subject was the Galveston response. Is the proposal that we fill in the New Orleans bowl with landfill? It'll sink again, and the Mississippi will continue to build itself up on its ninety-mile-long mound above the southern Louisiana landscape, and the back bayous will continue to rot away into the Gulf, exposing the site of New Orleans more and more with each spring flood.

Chicago sprung up again because it was a good site with a good situation. San Francisco is an exposed site, but still tenable. Nagasaki, Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo and Hiroshima were good sites with good situations destroyed by acts of war. Given the site and situation, the cities were bound to reappear where they did. This is why Troy, for instance, was destroyed and rebuilt - what was it, seven or eight times?

New Orleans is a *bad site*. It started out as a passible site, before the levees built the river above the old city. But now? You might as well wall off a section of the open Gulf, drain that patch of sea floor, and build a city *there*. It would be criminally thoughtless to encourage the reconstruction of a city on the current site of New Orleans.

posted by: Mitch H. on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

It will be interesting to see whether or not they actually put billions of dollars rebuilding on the same tenuous spot again, which is bound to have recurrent hurricanes in the future.

posted by: WitchyProf on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]


It is a guaranteed, absolute, sure thing that they will "put billions of dollars" into rebuilding right there. Any political figure who opposed it would be lynched by Anderson Cooper and Shepherd Smith (live pictures at 6) before the voters even had a chance to get to them.

posted by: Bob on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

People in NO have a distinct cultural and historic identity; people in the South poke fun at the "CoonAsses" but they refuse to change and dearly love their city.

Please remember that flooding in NO is a regular occurance (I lived there in the 80s) and they are adapted to it and have coping mechinisms.

We Americans all love the decripitude of NO but,lets face it, we wouldn't want to live (or die) there. We're seeing the downsides now.

Besides, how much of the Netherlands are undersea level and behind dikes? We will need to take responsibility for ALL the levees away from the corrupt locals and give it to the Corps of Engineers (the Corps maintains the river levees while the ones on the lake that failed are controlled by the locals.)

posted by: Whitehall on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

I agree that it's time to recognize New Orleans should have ceased to exist 50 years ago. Wasting tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars to rebuild a city that has failed in just about every respect is beyond absurd. The real problem is that this WILL happen again and the taxpayers of the country will again subsidize fixing the place.

The truth is that many cities have been abandoned in human history for far less. Let's just add this to the list.

posted by: Joe on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

Rebuild the commercial and tourist areas, but locate the residential areas somewhere else.

posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

No insurance company or bank will take risks on property in what had been New Orleans absent federal guarantees or surveys showing the underlying land is above the lake level.

The ONLY way New Orleans will be rebuilt is with federal money, loan guarantees and federally funded or guaranteed insurance.

Furthermore they'll have to waive a whole bunch of legal requirements pertaining to toxic waste, flood insurance, etc.

The federal government does not have enough money to decontaminate all of New Orleans' site per present federal regulations for toxic contamination.

And waiver of federal law requirements won't waive the laws of nature concerning disease, toxin-created illness and gravity (water flows downhill). Waiver of EPA & other regulations concerning toxic contamination of a building site won't keep people from getting sick and dying from the toxic contamination.

New Orleans is gone. It won't come back.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

N.O. will come back...It's the nature of life.

Just build the walls a tad higher. That's what
life is all about...learn and rebuild.

Besides, Your stuck on this mud ball of a wild
planet. No starship coming for you. Deal with it.

(BTW-When is MY starship coming back? Wanna ya
mean in a few years... o_O)

posted by: James on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

The little city of Grand Forks, N.D. completely flooded back in 1997. It received some nat'l news coverage for about a week.

Before rebuilding, the Army COE (with money, and a different mission back then) marked off hundreds of acres nearest the river as "no build" zones. These were 120 yr. old neighborhoods, but no longer. They were a bad choice in 1877, still a bad choice in 1997.

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

I did some work in eastern North Dakota around that time, and remember the community response. Pulling away from riverfront neighborhoods was wrenching, but North Dakotans are very sensible people. As in New Orleans, the difference between Grand Forks (and East Grand Forks, MN across the river) and the cities Dan mentions in the main post is that for the latter group whether disasters recur is up to man. New Orleans could have been obliterated within hours if Katrina had not weakened at the last minute and swerved to the east just before landfall; if a future hurricane in the next decade or sometime in the next month follows Katrina's path there will be nothing anyone can do about it.

posted by: Zathras on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

Of course the American taxpayers will pay billions to rebuild a city in the worst possible place a city could be built. I can't really blame the people who live there, it is human nature. Politicians should know better.

We do it all the time in other parts of the the country. Look att eh coasts of Florida.

We are also watching ten of millions of Americans move to areas where there are chronic water shortages. Who will pay to fiz that fiasco.

Maybe Hastert got something right for a change.

Right now, we should be firing the entire top managmement at FEMA and praying for 2008 to get here quickly.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

I do not think we should rebuild New Orleans. Built into the cost must be the cost to rebuild the town again and again in the future. Global warming is worsening. These type storms are going to continue. We can not bankrupt the nation by rebuilding cities that will have to be rebuilt again and again. This is only the beginning.

posted by: extagen alzare enzyte on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

Hey - You rebuilding naysayers really should do some research on New Orleans. We need a city located there. We need a city there to handle all the soy, corn, wheat, ect. that travels down the Mississippi for export. It transfers from barge to ship in New Orleans' port. We need a city there to house the refinery and related industry workers.

It's not simply a case of, well, if they want to live there let them pay for it. I think you'll see senators and reps from the middle third of the nation lining up to demand federal rebuilding funds. Can you imagine trying to transport all the produce from the heartland by truck or train? Can't be done with the present rail infrastructure and the cost of a barge compared to a bizillion trucks is not something that Kansas or Iowa wants to comtemplate.

The press is mostly emphasizing New Orleans' party image, but they really need to start educating the public on why the degradation of the New Orleans' ports is going to send the economy into a nosedive. The importance of the ports cannot be overstated. It is mindnumbing that it has been left so vulnerable by the "security conscious" Bush admin.

posted by: briggs on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

Briggs is correct about the importance of all the industries he mentions in connection with New Orleans, but the truth of the matter is that we do not need a city at the mouth of the Mississippi to service them. We need a town, or rather a number of towns.

Now, I am neither a civil engineer or an urban planner. It may be possible to rebuild much of New Orleans on its present site while protecting it adequately from another storm like Katrina, and if it is I have no objection in principle to doing so. The only thing we should insist on is that the cost be counted first for whatever it is we decide to do. In the meantime there are a great many desperate, impoverished people from the New Orleans area and from coastal Mississippi; looking after them has got to be our first priority. There will be time to assess the potential and wisdom of rebuilding later.

posted by: Zathras on 09.02.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

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