Thursday, December 22, 2005

Rebuild or not? (continued)

Professor Henderson continues:

Enough has been said about global warming by the he media. Global warming makes New Orleans even more vulnerable to storms like Katrina.

The disaster in New Orleans should be a national wake-up call to the dangers of ignoring global warming. The national response to this disaster should be to implement public policies that reduce our carbon emissions and direct us to re-orient our cities in an ecologically sustainable and socially just manner.

How to Rebuild?

Public policies centered on resource extraction and auto-centric sprawl largely created this disaster, so it is important to learn from this when rebuilding New Orleans. These are some brief thoughts on approaches to rebuilding New Orleans.

What should not be rebuilt is the sprawl surrounding New Orleans. This includes New Orleans East, Metairie and Kenner [this includes razing what sprawl is currently intact]. Repeat same exercise on the West Bank and in St Bernard Parish. Get the sprawl out of the backswamps and recreate a cypress swamp buffer zone. The removal of the sprawl should be done in a methodical and coordinated manner, and with ecological restoration as first priority. Retreat, replenish, regenerate - and reconstruct the "old" New Orleans.

In New Orleans there is a natural levee of past bayous called the Metairie-Esplanade-Chef Ridge. The city should be reconstructed south of this ridge. Greater New Orleans reconstructed would straddle the Mississippi River on the high natural levee, from the St Charles Parish border with Kenner to Chalmette on the East Bank and from Avondale to Algiers on the West Bank, and would contain a population of roughly 500,000. Most of these sections of the city are still intact.

The future New Orleans economy would center on the port, tourism, arts, university, seafood processing, light manufacturing, and shipbuilding. Construction and craftwork will be very important in the decade after this storm. The port would remain critical to the nation. The city would implement a new housing policy that requires inclusionary zoning, so that people of different incomes can return to the city. The "old" New Orleans would have a systematic bike network, bus lanes, and expanded streetcar. Parking would be reduced city-wide, former parking spaces converted to housing and mixed-use developments. Access to the city would be primarily by rail, but smaller-scale highways would also be rebuilt.

The balance of the New Orleans population (approximately 500-600,000) would relocate to Baton Rouge, Hammond, and Lafayette, along existing highway and rail routes. Frequent 24-hour passenger rail would be established between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Hammond, and Lafayette,New Urbanist designs. Baton Rouge would become the regional economic hub, and experience major densification without expanding its physical footprint. The city currently has extreme low density and ample room for infill, and should be reconfigured into a compact city of one million with development focused on arterials that would be transit oriented.

Bus rapid transit, with priority bus lanes, signal priority, proof-of-payment and low-floor platforms would be constructed throughout the city. The city would also build a comprehensive network of bike lanes and sidewalks. The infill strategy for Baton Rouge would be repeated in Lafayette in Hammond, albeit at a smaller scale. A regional government should be established in Southeast Louisiana. Regionalism would counter the parochial competition between New Orleans and its hinterland. The backbone of this regionalism would be a regional passenger and freight rail network that focuses development around stations.


This disaster was largely caused by public policy. These policies included using Louisiana as a major refining center for domestic and imported oil, requiring access for ships and pipelines. These policies centered on a national urban policy of promoting and subsidizing low-density, automobile oriented sprawl such as that built in the backswamps surrounding New Orleans. These policies included refusing to cooperate globally on climate change and refusing to regulate carbon emissions. These national policies allowed much of New Orleans' poor to be left behind while sprawl was subsidized.

For this reason the funding for the rebuilding of New Orleans, including densification of Baton Rouge, Hammond, and Lafayette, should be financed by a nation-wide 50-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline. This 50 cent gas tax would be used for disaster relief, clean-up, remediation, rebuilding, and densification. Price caps on the cost per gallon will be imposed, to reduce the impact of the increase on the middle class. Low income motorists would be exempt. Public policy was the root of this disaster. Public policy must confront and resolve it. A 50 cent gas tax is a good place to start.

Henderson, Jason "Thoughts On Rebuilding (And Not Rebuilding) New Orleans" September 26, 2005


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