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Third Battle of New Orleans
April 7, 2006 12:08 PM   Subscribe

The 3rd Battle of New Orleans, a post-Katrina group weblog, visually debunks the notion that most of New Orleans is 10 feet below sea level and that not enough residents had flood insurance.
posted by turbodog (62 comments total)

 
Note 1: Mr. Burns agrees.
Note 2: New Orleans does not owe Texas.
posted by turbodog at 12:10 PM on April 7, 2006


Heh.

THE LIE: N.O. IS TEN (10) FEET BELOW SEA LEVEL!

the truth (from the same page): only a bit over half of NO is below sea level. 70.6% was flooded (storm surge is well above normal sea level.)


That's fine. Punt the part that floods, rebuild the part that isn't going to be underwater after the category 6 that's coming this year.
posted by jfuller at 12:29 PM on April 7, 2006


Actually, I think we can expect more than one Category 5 hurricane this year, but perhaps they zig rather than zag at Florida and take out Washington or New York instead.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:31 PM on April 7, 2006


Active Hurricane Season Predicted for 2006
"This year's hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, is likely to have nine hurricanes, five of them intense, according to Colorado State University researchers led by William Gray, who has been predicting hurricane activity for 22 years."
CSU Forecast:
"Named Storms - 17
Named Storm Days - 85
Hurricanes - 9
Hurricane Days - 45
Intense Hurricanes - 5
Intense Hurricane Days - 13
posted by ericb at 12:38 PM on April 7, 2006


THE LIE: N.O. IS TEN (10) FEET BELOW SEA LEVEL!

OMG, the USGS has been lying to us all this time!
posted by fandango_matt at 12:43 PM on April 7, 2006


Right. And last year they predicted 13 named storms and 7 hurricanes. There were 27 and 14, respectively. That means that they were off by 100 or 50 percent, depending on how you want to look at it. So why in the world do we care what their predictions are? I live on the coast of North Carolina. The predictions are never accurate. They have no value whatsoever.

Based on the position of the weeds growing through my brick patio, I am forecasting 11 hurricanes with 3 being intense. Anyone want place bets on whether I do better than the Colorardo State University researchers?
posted by flarbuse at 12:48 PM on April 7, 2006


That's fine. Punt the part that floods, rebuild the part that isn't going to be underwater after the category 6 that's coming this year.

Read (or re-read) their most recent post: "The flooding of most of the City of New Orleans was not the result of a natural disaster, it was the result of an admitted MANMADE mistake by the federal government--specifically the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Hurricane Katrina was simply the catalyst to reveal the design error."

It was levee breaches, not water driven by Katrina over the levees that flooded the city. See also "Corps chief admits to 'design failure'"
posted by turbodog at 12:53 PM on April 7, 2006


Right, and those levees are needed because much of New Orleans is at or below sea level.
posted by fandango_matt at 12:55 PM on April 7, 2006


Help me out on this one. I seem to recall that some paper had noted that money was requested to fix the levees prior to Katrina but this funding was denied.The money was to fix what was understood as problems with the levees. The request was, I believe, from the Army Corps of Engineers.
posted by Postroad at 12:56 PM on April 7, 2006


Right, and those levees are needed because much of New Orleans is at or below sea level.

Are you serious? Most important areas along the Mississippi river have massive levees. St. Louis is 515 ft above sea level. It has levees. It also flooded.
posted by turbodog at 1:07 PM on April 7, 2006


Postroad: "In fiscal year 2006, the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bracing for a record $71.2 million reduction in federal funding."
posted by turbodog at 1:11 PM on April 7, 2006


As turbodog notes, the above/below sea level thing is largely a red herring. The real question is the location of the historical floodplains.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:12 PM on April 7, 2006


And again, those levees are necessary because the areas they protect are the river's floodplains.

On preview: What monju said.
posted by fandango_matt at 1:16 PM on April 7, 2006


The "below sea level" argument is so often just a clever ploy for saying "they were stupid about where they built their city and so it was their own damn fault." I'm waiting for the same thing to be said when San Francisco is destroyed by earthquake, Minneapolis is destroyed by tornadoes, or Portland is destroyed by Volcano.

Or New York is destroyed by it's own self-importance.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:17 PM on April 7, 2006


its.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:18 PM on April 7, 2006


flarbuse:

http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/products/outlooks/hurricane-archive.shtml

The NOAA is typically not too far off-base when it comes to their outlooks, and they care enough to do a revision each year after having been able to gather more data. Just because we had one freak, record-setting year doesn't mean they're retards and there's no reason to care what they have to say. Weather prediction is insanely difficult, and that's exactly why we should care—if we all threw up our hands and said, "Oh, well, the work these guys do has no value whatsoever," there'd be that much less incentive to do it. It's important work.

People rarely predict—and I mean predict in the true sense of the word, not just "I said it was gonna happen y'all"—record-setting events. That's why we have the word "anomalous" in the first place.
posted by Mikey-San at 1:20 PM on April 7, 2006


Astro Zombie : "I'm waiting for the same thing to be said when San Francisco is destroyed by earthquake, Minneapolis is destroyed by tornadoes, or Portland is destroyed by Volcano."

"Waiting for" in the sense of "I predict the same thing will be said if these happen", or "waiting for" in the sense of "in these cases, there's no way they're going to say that"?
posted by Bugbread at 1:23 PM on April 7, 2006


Historical floodplains are, for lake of a better word, irrelevant today. There are millions upon millions of people living alongside levee'd rivers. This says that the Mississippi river levee system is 2200 miles long. The ability to allow major rivers to set their own courses and flood naturally along heavilty settled areas have looong passed.

Are you seriously suggesting that people everywhere be moved away from dangerous rivers?
posted by turbodog at 1:30 PM on April 7, 2006


"Waiting for" in the sense of "I predict the same thing will be said if these happen", or "waiting for" in the sense of "in these cases, there's no way they're going to say that"?

I don't even know. I'm cynical enough now that I think if George W Bush walked into my apartment and stabbed me in the face while I was providing emergency services for homeless puppies, a good portion of the citizens of this country will say, well, what were you doing there in the first place? Don't you know enough to get out of the way of Bush when he's feeling stabby? And, lastly, we hope you don't expect any federal help from our god damn tax dollars, you fucking leech.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:40 PM on April 7, 2006


posted by turbodog Are you seriously suggesting that people everywhere be moved away from dangerous rivers?

I'll disregard your straw man argument and say if you build your house on a river's floodplain, you shouldn't be surprised when it's washed away when levees and other man-made structures fail. Your point seems to be "We have the technology to build cities on the floodplains of rivers," but that neatly ignores the fact that rivers flood, and levees fail.
posted by fandango_matt at 1:40 PM on April 7, 2006


Are you seriously suggesting that people everywhere be moved away from dangerous rivers?

Building the damn levees right seems like a good first step.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:42 PM on April 7, 2006


Those levees were supposed to be able to withstand a cat 4 hurricane. When Katrina actually hit them, it was cat 3. The problem wasn't flood plains, or hurricanes, or being beneath sea level. The problem was that the god damn levees were badly made, and should have been improved long in advance of this eventuality, and nobody did anything. There's plenty of blame to go around, but it shouldn't be heaped onto the backs of the citizens of New Orleans, who are, after all, the victims of this catastrophe.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:45 PM on April 7, 2006


St. Louis is 515 ft above sea level. It has levees. It also flooded.
Not with sea water. St. Louis is not 515 feet above the Missisippi River, which is where the water came from. I'm sorry to be playing Captain Obvious, but implying that N.O.'s being largely below sea level is irrelevant is disingenuous. Why not use Death Valley, which is even farther below sea level, but doesn't flood at all?

It's wonderful that the technology exists to maintain a city that's below the level of an adjacent big body of water. If nobody actually spends the money to apply the technology, though, the technology may as well not exist. So far, nobody's spending the money. If it doesn't get spent, nobody should live there any more.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:56 PM on April 7, 2006


Your point seems to be "We have the technology to build cities on the floodplains of rivers," but that neatly ignores the fact that rivers flood, and levees fail.

fandango_matt: my point was to demonstrate that the notions that "OMG all of New Orleans is a giant pit below sea level" and "OMG nobody in New Orleans even had flood insurance" were false. Period.

But if I had to make an additional point re: levees, floodplains, etc. it would be "what Astro Zombie said".
posted by turbodog at 1:56 PM on April 7, 2006


take a look at this map click to see flood depth. new orleans flooded all over the city but i think you can see a difference between 2 inches and 8 feet depending .
posted by nola at 2:07 PM on April 7, 2006


Not with sea water. St. Louis is not 515 feet above the Missisippi River, which is where the water came from. I'm sorry to be playing Captain Obvious, but implying that N.O.'s being largely below sea level is irrelevant is disingenuous.

New Orleans wasn't flooded with sea water either. If the lakeside levees hadn't failed, the city would have weathered the storm pretty well (except for the torn off roofs and fallen trees). If the MS river hadn't topped the levees around St. Louis, no flood. Sea level has nothing to do with it.

It's wonderful that the technology exists to maintain a city that's below the level of an adjacent big body of water. If nobody actually spends the money to apply the technology, though, the technology may as well not exist. So far, nobody's spending the money. If it doesn't get spent, nobody should live there any more.

That's just silly. The Army Corps of Engineers said that the levees would hold up in a Katrina-like scenario. The populace believed them. The Corps was wrong. How were N.O. residents supposed to know this in time to move to spacious Death Valley?
posted by turbodog at 2:15 PM on April 7, 2006


Kirth Gerson : "If it doesn't get spent, nobody should live there any more."

turbodog : "That's just silly. The Army Corps of Engineers said that the levees would hold up in a Katrina-like scenario. The populace believed them. The Corps was wrong. How were N.O. residents supposed to know this in time to move to spacious Death Valley?"

I think that was addressed in the "any more" part of Kirth's comment.
posted by Bugbread at 2:19 PM on April 7, 2006


Fair enough, but I think you're still ignoring the reason why the levees and flood insurance are required in the first place--and that reason, as Kirth noted, is because the city is both on the floodplain of a river and is partially below sea level. Yes, in theory, the levees could and would be built to withstand whatever Nature can dish out. In practice, they weren't, and probably can't.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:20 PM on April 7, 2006


i may be reading the flood map wrong , or maybe it is inaccurate, but the impression i get from the map , is that something more like 40 - 50% of the city was flooded in a catastrophic way. (like over 4 feet of water) i'm not saying having 2 feet of water in your house is no big deal, but again, from the map it would seem parts of the city that flooded only saw a few inches. so to say they should move out of the flood zone seems to be over stating the level of danger for some areas.
posted by nola at 2:24 PM on April 7, 2006


here is another flood map from lsu , sorry it loads slow.

also "Amphibious houses" , if you can't fight the tide, roll with it.
posted by nola at 2:42 PM on April 7, 2006


Here's another flooding map. It's pretty clear that the vast majority of the land area in and around the city flooded to some extent. Even an inch of water meant that your entire first floor was ruined. Water + sheet rock + time = mildew heaven.

Fair enough, but I think you're still ignoring the reason why the levees and flood insurance are required in the first place--and that reason, as Kirth noted, is because the city is both on the floodplain of a river and is partially below sea level. Yes, in theory, the levees could and would be built to withstand whatever Nature can dish out. In practice, they weren't, and probably can't.

*Straw man alert* So you'll be moving out of San Francisco to escape the inevitable earthquake that your home, in theory, could withstand but, in practice, probably won't? :)

Seriously though, I've heard stories of people in N.O. who expected to be required to buy flood insurance, but were told by their mortage bankers that they shouldn't because they didn't live in a 100 year floodplain. They flooded just like everyone else.

To bottom line this, I think of this as more engine-falls-off-poorly-designed-jetliner-in-bad-weather than tornado-flattened-my-barn. See what I mean?
posted by turbodog at 2:43 PM on April 7, 2006


Look,we had a massive warning about the failings of the levees a year before Katrina -- just before Ivan, the Times-Picayune printed a week long series that exactly predicted the failure of the levees, what would flood, people being on their roofs, floating balls of fire ants, crocodiles feating on the dead, and manatees making a brief, angelic appearance in Lake Pontchartrain the week before the flood and then going sadly missing the week after (well, maybe they didn't predict the last part.) The city evacutaed during Ivan. A year later, along comes Katrina, andnothing had been done.

Rebuilding the levees would have cost 6 billion dollars, which isobviously out ofthe range of the city of New Orleans, and out of the range of the state of Louisiana, and becomes the sort of thing that the federal government is suppsoed to handle,because that's why we have a federal government and that's why I pay mroe taxes to the federal government than to my state. Yet nothing was done, and now it will cost 100 billion dollars to fix, and won't be back upto speed for 25 years. Sure, the local government should have done more to push the repair of the levees, and didn't, and should be censured for that. But this was ultimately a failing on a federal level. And the people who shouldn't shoulder the blame for it are the residents of New Orleans, who already have to shoulder the burden of losing their homes, their family members, and their city. I have no patience for the "don't live in a city below sea level, idiots," argument.

Not that anyone here is making the argument. But I have been hearing it since I left New Orleans, even from people who live in rural Minnesota, or, as we like to call it, tornado alley.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:08 PM on April 7, 2006


God, I hate this fucking keyboard at work.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:09 PM on April 7, 2006


posted by turbodog To bottom line this, I think of this as more engine-falls-off-poorly-designed-jetliner-in-bad-weather than tornado-flattened-my-barn. See what I mean?

I do, and I'd be remiss not to point out I do not think of the disaster as either scenario. For me, the disaster is the result of a bad decision: building the city on a floodplain below sea level at the delta of a river, and the problems created by this decision will never be solved until the city is moved to higher ground.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:09 PM on April 7, 2006


Building a city is not a decision.

Unless you're playing Civilization.
posted by turbodog at 3:21 PM on April 7, 2006


However, rebuilding a city is a decision.
posted by Bugbread at 3:38 PM on April 7, 2006


i get what turbodog is saying . a city in allot of ways builds it self. in this case built around a very important port. as you pointed out fandango, the gulf to the south of them and
the old miss to the north of them. quite an important piece of real estate , that has been and will continue to be of major importance to the US economy.

the questions are , how do we protect this important piece of real estate, and who is going to pay for it.
posted by nola at 3:41 PM on April 7, 2006


However, rebuilding a city is a decision.

Who gets to make that decision?
posted by turbodog at 3:45 PM on April 7, 2006


A decision tempered by the fact that an ungoddly percentage of freight goes thru New Orleans, and any 'replacement' New Orleans would still have to be close to deep water harborage, and the Mississippi river to be as economically viable as the Old New Orleans.
posted by nomisxid at 3:46 PM on April 7, 2006


fandango-matt lives in San Fran? Am I reading your info page correctly? How dare you?
posted by raysmj at 3:47 PM on April 7, 2006


turbodog : "Who gets to make that decision?"

That's a pretty damn good question. Any lawyers or other legal experts here who can answer that?
posted by Bugbread at 3:56 PM on April 7, 2006


there are other ports on the gulf of mexico that provide for trade, we can fall back on them to some degree . but i guess i'm wondering where do we draw the line? when a hurricane or other natural disaster strikes a gulf port can we really just abandon it to nature? the locals will not , many will stay and try and salvage whats left , in the case of new orleans this is no small salvage, much of the city remains, only a fool would abandon such a treasure.

so what now? do we aid the city that feeds the national economy, or do we let it struggle on it's own until nature or necessity forces us back further and further from the other coastal ports? why stop with new orleans , if other cities fall pray to mother nature should we abandon them as well? should we abandon the coast?

on preview what nomisxid said
posted by nola at 3:56 PM on April 7, 2006


Some of this is moot. The lower 9th Ward, for example, is destroyed, its residents scattered, and few of them will return. The city's poor are gone, and I know the rich won't miss them, but, truth be told, there were a lot more poor than rich in New Orelans Parish. What I knew of New Orleans will never exist again, and I don't fora moment believe that anyone rebuilding the city will give enough of a damn about the good things that poor people created in a floodedcity to make sure it is a part of the new New Orleans. Especially considering the costs of rebuilding the city, chances are it will be one vast, corporate-owned theme park, based on a drunken tourist's fantasy of Bourbon Street. As a result, unless you're a drunken tourist wishing to experience the fantasy of Bourbon Street, the city will be a waste of your time. Get ready for a century of Genades and Hurricanes (the cocktails), and forget your Sazeracs and Ramos Gin Fizzes.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:00 PM on April 7, 2006


Get ready for a century of Genades and Hurricanes (the cocktails), and forget your Sazeracs and Ramos Gin Fizzes.


never!
posted by nola at 4:02 PM on April 7, 2006


*stirs his roffignac , takes a sip*
posted by nola at 4:06 PM on April 7, 2006


posted by turbodog Who gets to make that decision [to rebuild a city]?

My guess would be the same authority that made decisions regarding Love Canal and Times Beach.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:12 PM on April 7, 2006


*regarding the relocation of residents of Love Canal and Times Beach, I mean.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:13 PM on April 7, 2006


Astro Zombie, that's the cultural side of what I'm most afraid of for N.O. The economic side is if/when the big oil companies and the companies that depend on them start moving the remaining jobs to Houston. That will completely gut the middle class and seal the city's fate.
posted by turbodog at 4:18 PM on April 7, 2006


The Love Canal site was purchased by the Niagara Falls Board of Education after WWII from a private corporation. Its cleanup is on the EPA's list of Superfund Site success stories, and the site is still used for housing.

What's your point?
posted by raysmj at 4:18 PM on April 7, 2006


The "authority" that agreed to relocate a few hundred residents from Love Canal was called--you may have heard of this one before--the White House (more formally known as the Executive Office of the Presidency).
posted by raysmj at 4:21 PM on April 7, 2006


So, then, apparently, the White House gets to make that decision.
posted by Bugbread at 4:25 PM on April 7, 2006


My guess would be the same authority that made decisions regarding Love Canal and Times Beach.

Wikipedia tells me that Love Canal involved reloating 800 families and that Times Beach had a population of 2200.

The New Orleans area had a population of 1.3 million. If you grant that 40% of the population is still there, you'll relocate a half million people? And that 40% doesn't even take into account the homeowners who have abandoned their (most likely still mortgaged) homes.
posted by turbodog at 4:26 PM on April 7, 2006


In the case of Times Beach, I believe those decisions were made by the EPA and the FEMA, raysmj.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:30 PM on April 7, 2006


A wikipedia article also says that the White House, under Carter, was unable to fund the relocation of all Love Canal residents. I don't know about that. I was relying on other material I had around (from a public admin. class). But doesn't it suggest that this was a costly thing? I imagine it occured only due to the great outcry at the time--which I remember, even though I was only 11 or 12 then.

The cost of relocation at Times Beach, meanwhile, was $30 million--this, in the early 1980s. Double that, and you're close to the estimated costs for today.

The reason the EPA could in effect buy out the residents, by the way, was due to the passage of Superfund legislation, which was passed in the wake of the Love Canal debacle.
posted by raysmj at 4:38 PM on April 7, 2006


Astro Zombie writes "Minneapolis is destroyed by tornadoes"

Tornadoes are very destructive but they don't take out entire cities. The damage is amazingly selective.

turbodog writes "New Orleans wasn't flooded with sea water either. If the lakeside levees hadn't failed, the city would have weathered the storm pretty well (except for the torn off roofs and fallen trees). If the MS river hadn't topped the levees around St. Louis, no flood. Sea level has nothing to do with it."

Difference is when the Mississippi receeds St. Louis drains, not so much for New Orleans. In fact one of the fears in a Cat 4/5 is the storm surge over topping the levees thereby filling the bowl and causing more damage than flooding from the lake side.
posted by Mitheral at 6:31 PM on April 7, 2006


You know, Minneapolis really doesn't have very many tornadoes at all. It's not even in what is generally referred to as "Tornado Alley." It doesn't even have more tornadoes than places like Boston, New York City or DC.

So why is Minneapolis suddenly the tornado city referred to here? Surely we mefites have more knowledge of geography than this.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:00 PM on April 7, 2006


I work for the company that created the flood map that Nola linked to above.

In case anyone's curious, this is my understanding of how the flood map was created (it is not perfectly accurate):

NO consists of several natural and man-made "bowls". The level of the water should be the same elevation throughout the bowl (for the most part). So, if we have evidence of a particular bowl having water at 1ft above sea level, for example, we can apply that throughout the bowl. If someone's home is on land 2 ft under sea level, the water level in that location will be three feet (roughly).

Water depths were collected from various sources including charts given to us by a few government agencies (almost daily). Also, we do a lot of work offshore, so we have satellite phones. These were loaned (to the national guard, I believe) to help out in NO. So those guys called us every so often and gave us the water depths at known locations (street intersections, for example).
posted by MotorNeuron at 8:46 PM on April 7, 2006


I'm sympathetic to the broader point. The idea has been bruited about that NOLA doesn't deserve to be rebuilt because it's in a stupid location -- despite that the flooding was largely subject to man-made factors such as poor design and construction of floodwalls (not to mention the use of floodwalls instead of levees; they're different animals), the lack of maintenance and upkeep and monitoring of said floodwalls, the failure to implement long-obvious recommendations such as a storm surge barrier for Lake Pontchartrain, lousy pre-disaster planning at various levels, malcompetent management of post-disaster rescue and recovery efforts -- which all make such a judgement particularly obscene. Especially when you consider the investment in rebuilding that coastal residents chipped into for years and years, on top of the taxes they all pay.

It's also stupid because NOLA wasn't always at such risk. The Army Corps, by walling the Mississippi, has prevented the silt that comes down from the Midwest from helping to maintain the delta (now it's shot straight out into the bottom of the Gulf). The wetlands have been destroyed by other man-made factors, further reducing the natural protection that the city used to have. And pumping the city to keep the floor dry, as it were, has helped parts of it sink further. Then, as if that all weren't bad enough, global warming comes along and helps sea levels inch upward, and supercharges the hurricane season so that we get more, and worse, storms each year.

That said, I'm also pragmatic, and NOLA should have its lowest-lying areas redlined, the racial and economic composition of those areas pre-Katrina be damned. In the wake of the disaster, those areas will be forever ghettoized. NOLA is never, as Astro points out, going to get some of those people back, but they didn't have jobs before the hurricane. Yes, NOLA is an important port still, but many of the jobs have been automated or moved out of the city proper (there is a major seaport facility west of the city). Without jobs for people, there's no way I can recommend they all return.

I do think NOLA can be a viable city at a majority or even plurality fraction of its pre-storm size. Maybe 250,000 people. So even if people can't rebuild where their old house was they will certainly be able to rebuild somewhere in the city -- there's gonna be plenty of room. And yes, especially if the main industry continues to be tourism, a lot of people are going to be poor. I think to a very large degree the people that want to come back to NOLA will be able to do so.

But we have to be smarter about the next time. I'm pretty sure that my major idea here will never be implemented so I may as well be tooting out my ass, but I think the Japanese super-size levee -- basically a levee with a minuscule grade that becomes the land on which people build -- should ring the city. The trouble is, you can't easily build such a project when people are living there, but you can build it when they're not. In other words, this is the golden opportunity to build these levees, when there's nobody living in the houses because they aren't there anymore.

Then the city needs to address its Titanic problem -- floodwalls that don't completely insulate parts of the city from one another. Those walls (and floodwalls inside don't bother me as much) should be complete barriers, and they should probably break up the city into smaller chunks, so that a flood won't be as catastrophic.

Residents, meanwhile, need to start thinking like they're below or near sea level, and any new construction should be full of barrier island features such as the first living floor on stilts and the ground level utility rooms such as garages (just think -- more back yard). If the lowest areas are redlined, that reduces the number of houses that need such treatment.

And the Dutch learned from us, more or less, how to build their seawalls, which they were prompted to build by the awful North Sea "hurricane" of the 1950s -- now it's time for us to learn back from them. A storm surge barrier like the Thames Barrier may well have prevented much of the flooding (no guarantees, of course).

So that's my plan in a nutshell. NOLA gets rebuilt, but sensibly. The money isn't spent on making inadequate floodwalls higher, it's spent on a more forgiving and less reactionary theory of flood management. The idea is no longer How do we keep the sea out? but How do we manage inevitable flooding? So we put money into rebuilding the city, but we also protect our investment, by doing it smarter.

This could all be done if we had visionary leadership and transparent government. But we don't, so it's not gonna happen. Twenty years after the Chicago fire, Chicago was the nation's second largest city and hosting a world's fair. There's no reason, if we wanted to, that we couldn't make New Orleans a world-class showcase of American spirit and values.
posted by dhartung at 9:28 PM on April 7, 2006


Precisely, and New Orleans is a great deal more important to American culture and history than Chicago was at the time of the fire. The talk of giving up by people here and elsehwere is, as you put it of the arguments that the city had it coming, obscene. If the country can't get it together and rebuild a city as culturally and historically rich as New Orleans (just think of the architecture alone--even shotgun houses there have Victorian elements), even while pumping billions into the disaster that is Iraq, what will be worth fighting for when the next war (or, rather, a war we cannot choose, but which chooses us) comes along? What's the point of America?
posted by raysmj at 9:46 PM on April 7, 2006


malcompetence makes a comeback!
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:33 AM on April 8, 2006


I had a bunch written here but I deleted it.

I just want to make a brief but imho crucial point:

A lot of people are talking about NOLA as if it were one huge monolithic entity where all parts were flooded and damaged and equally as idiotic places to build.

My understanding is this is not the case. I see several different types of areas:

- Areas which were not flooded, and which are fine
- Areas which were flooded moderately or mildly, and which require some reasonable-ish amount of levy protection to avoid future flooding.
- Areas which were flooded severely, and which require exorbitant amounts of levy construction / maintenance in order to keep from flooding again, or to rebuild after the unstoppable flood takes its toll. There are two subtypes of this area: the type in which the required investment pays off in economic activity overall, and those in which it does not, and which represent a sink of taxpayers' money into an area that does not warrant being rebuilt.

Imho, if you want to build in this last type of area, you should be *on your own* and not get subsidized in any way (and if I were an insurer, no way would I touch you with a ten-foot pole). The city can survive without those sections. It is madness and unfair to force other taxpayers to pay for someone wanting to build / rebuild in such an area.

I think this is what a lot of people from outside NOLA are reacting to, because it seems (and is) unfair. But this is not the story for every Katrina-affected area of the city. Some areas *do* warrant rebuilding / levy protection.
posted by beth at 7:54 AM on April 8, 2006


beth: So, what about the blog's suggestion that the fault was with the federal government here, and the flooding was not "inevitable" (as there would be for the city as a whole if there were a direct hit by an actual Category 5)? And what if the city redeveloped the Lower Ninth Ward for upscale housing and commercial development? Would building stronger levees then be acceptable? Would that be fair? Would you, as a hypothetical insurer, touch that with your proverbial 10-foot-pole?

The Lower Ninth Ward, by the way, had a home ownership rate higher than the city average.
posted by raysmj at 10:33 AM on April 8, 2006


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