The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans

Jack Schafer argues that Katrina may amount to "creative destruction," and that "[o]nly a sadist would insist on resurrecting this concentration of poverty, crime, and deplorable schools."

The cases for and against the rebuilding of the city rest on deep issues of social justice. For whom will it be rebuilt? In whose interests will it be rebuilt? And will the poor of New Orleans find a better future in a rebuilt New Orleans or scattered about the surrounding areas?

"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."

Thanks to Miles Hochstein

Full Story: Don't Refloat

Comments

Comments

Make every rebuilt roof a solar roof, after Katrina

Why not make every new roof a solar roof, as we rebuild New Orleans with federal funds? Why not mandate and fund the use of environmentally friendly practices (debris disposal) and materials? "After Katrina: Rebuild Green" asks these and other interesting questions.

The Lay of the Land

Shafer makes a strong case, nearly universal as far as I can tell, that the rebuilding of New Orleans must consider the possibility of leaving some low-lying areas empty. Like many in the media, though, he seriously overstates his case.

Readers should accept his challenge to overlay flooding maps with the excellent race, poverty, and elevation maps at the Community Data Center. Let's do a walk-through of the lay of the land:

First, consider only pre-WWII New Orleans, which clung to the natural levee of the river and a few "ridges" formed by old riverbeds. Along the river, damage was minimal and flooding nonexistent. That crescent surrounds a low-lying area, the historic "back o' town," where the poor moved when priced off the ridges. That area, poor and black, suffered mightily from flooding. So, in Old New Orleans, those who control the high ground fared significantly better than those in the basins.

However, the vast bulk of the deep flooding, took place in post-WWII developments near the lakeshore and New Orleans East. Shafer's trusty overlay makes clear that the flood losers on the lakefront west of the park (near the 17th Street Canal) were largely high income white, and those east of the park high income black. New Orleans East, a largely failed experiment in suburban development, does indeed bear out the tragic story.

Downriver from downtown, the Lower 9th Ward and Chalmette present manmade disasters. In a collosal engineering failure, the MRGO canal provided a storm surge funnel, offering the waves a way in and concentrating them into a V as they approached the urban area. In these neighborhoods, safely perched on the natural levee, the disaster is entirely man made.

A final twist, largely unreported because St. Bernard has been inaccessible to even the most intrepid reporters, is that the bodies still to be pulled from Chalmette will be overwhelmingly white and working class. Reports thus far have focused on the accessible 9th Ward.

So, yes, rebuild with the wisdom of hindsight. But be careful of broad generalizations.

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