Sunday, September 07, 2008

Is New Orleans Worth Rebuilding?

Hurricane Gustav has revived the question in our title for the first time since Katrina. The following discussion is adapted from an article by Lara Jakes Jordan, Associated Press Writer:

Those who love New Orleans say Hurricane Gustav is proof that the billions of dollars spent to protect the city and bring it back to life after the devastating 2005 storm season was worth it.

Despite fizzling out shortly after it made landfall Monday, Gustav spurred the government into action, probably costing millions of dollars, and put a nation angered by the bungled response to Katrina three years ago back on alert. Would it be worth the cost to rebuild New Orleans again if the storm had been worse?

Since Katrina ripped through New Orleans three years ago, the federal government has devoted at least $133 billion in emergency funds and tax credits for Gulf Coast disaster relief. Much of it went to rebuilding and better protecting New Orleans from future storms. How much more will be needed after Gustav — or Hurricane Hanna, as that storm creeps up Florida's eastern coast — is unclear.

Former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., infuriated Louisiana lawmakers when he suggested in 2005 that a lot of New Orleans "could be bulldozed" after Katrina and questioned the wisdom of rebuilding it. More dispassionate observers note that no matter how much is spent, New Orleans will continue to swallow federal dollars with each gulp of the Gulf or Lake Pontchartrain.

To die-hard residents and other devotees of the Big Easy, the money poured into the Gulf Coast to continue oil production, preserve local culture and, most importantly, strengthen levees showed that New Orleans could withstand another battering by Mother Nature.

Some observers aren't so sure.

"It's a soup bowl and it's not safe," said Beverly Cigler, a public policy professor at Penn State University, referring to the city's geography. "My own personal opinion is that you shouldn't rebuild in areas unless you can make them safe," she said. "And nobody's had the willingness to confront these kinds of issues."

Yet abandoning New Orleans hardly seems an option either.

The Gulf Coast is home to nearly half the nation's refining capacity, 25 percent of offshore domestic oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output. Tens of thousands of construction workers, hoteliers, nurses and other service employees who flocked to New Orleans in Katrina's aftermath have helped keep local unemployment low. Not to mention that giving up would, essentially, mean spending all those billions of dollars for naught.

"It's clear that a lot of the money was spent well — even if it's far too early to declare victory," said Don Kettl, University of Pennsylvania public policy professor and co-editor of "On Risk and Disaster: Lessons From Hurricane Katrina." "If you walk away, you are condemning the city to tremendous suffering," Kettl said. "As serious as the suffering was the last time, it didn't completely destroy the city. The real challenge is deciding what kind of city you want."


jbv's Competitive Edge 


Blogger doctorj2u said...

Thanks for the post. My biggest loss from Katrina was not the destruction of my hometown, which was HORRIBLE, but the loss of my country. I believed in the community of the USA pre-K. I believed Americans supported one another pre-K. I don't believe either anymore. The wonderful volunteers are the only sign that that country exists anymore. I am sorry to be so pessimistic, but that is how I feel about it.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous nola said...

This question of "rebuilding" a major American city infuriates me. There would be NO question if it were NYC or Los Angeles or D.C. The entire city wasn't destroyed, thus why I put quotes around rebuilding. What we are demanding, what we are entitled to, is protection. Protection from storms that are severe. The feds have pumped lots of money into the NOLA area. But they did NOT rebuild the levees to the protection we need. So instead of spending more money NOW, they will wait for another, God forbid, Katrina-like disaster, where they will have to pay property owners AGAIN. And maybe then they will give serious thought to Cat 5 levees.

And don't even get me started on the wetlands or the fact that if NOLA didn't have impact on OIL what the fed's would have done for us. Because it is a nice cool Sunday morning and I don't want my head to explode.

Thanks for the post.

And doctorj2u, it isn't your fellow countrymen that don't support you, it is your federal government. Take comfort in the fact that if you talk to the folks around the country, overall, they support NOLA getting the protection we deserve. It's just Bush would rather spend money democratization Iraq than protecting American cities.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Overflowing Brain said...

San Francisco was wrecked in an earthquake in 1906, and it was rebuilt. Last week it withstood a small earthquake. It's not a matter of if, but when, another huge one hits the bay area. When it crumbles and burns, will people tell them not to rebuild? Will they say that rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake was wrong? Will they chastise them for living on a fault line? Then why do people and the government do this to New Orleans?

The same thing in Los Angeles. Or in the middle of Tornado alley. Or along the coast line in other countries where every several hundred years, a tsunami hits. Every place in this world has a risk to it. No one is safe from disasters of nature and nowhere else are we telling people not to rebuild their lives. And no where else is the government turning a blind eye and pretending like it's fine.

If we don't rebuild, where would you have people go? There are a million people in the metropolitan area of NOLA, should they just move to Baton Rouge? You can't displace that many people.

The government dropped the ball in New Orleans. I'm a native Californian and I can tell you that after the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, FEMA had trailers out for those without a house within a day. They had food and water available almost immediately. So what the hell happened with Katrina? Why was that such a challenge to the government?

And why wouldn't they want to avoid another catastrophe and properly secure us for a bigger hurricane? It just doesn't make sense to me at all. But I sure as hell don't think that not rebuilding is the way to fix the problems.

Giving up is never the answer.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous New Orleans Ladder said...

Great post as usual, John. However, contrary to the opening, Gustav hardly "fizzeled out" but rather ripped out the heart of Louisiana that was missed by Katrina and Rita.

Baton Rouge mostly remains without power.

This from a Sept 1st letter from the US Conference of Mayors"
"While the nation focuses on Minneapolis and St. Paul, it is our position that we should not ignore Baton Rouge in this hour of desperate need. Because Baton Rouge was never given the order to relocate, the citizens of Baton Rouge are still bearing the brunt of the storm. Yesterday, in a city of 500,000, approximately 300,000 residents in Baton Rouge were still without power, shelter, food and basic necessities. These people are also in dire need of equipment from FEMA and assistance from the federal government to help them reenter their homes."

--and this:
News from Indian Country reported on its website today that “Gustav hit the rural Terrebonne Parish and the United Houma Nation communities southwest of New Orleans the hardest, causing heavy damage before moving into St. Mary Parish and causing wind damage to the Chitimacha Reservation.

Thank again for staying on top of it.
Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

10:38 AM  
Anonymous New Orleans Ladder said...

John, please don't take offense here as I really love your blog, but quite frankly I am past sick and tired of people asking this stupid question.

And very stupid it is...Such a stupid question that stupid media is being paid to ask again and again even while tax'paying American Citizens continue to rebuild and try to get along with it. "It" being Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Let's just not rebuild America. Let us instead simply hand it over to the Chinese and the Saudis. Let us not allow anyone to live in South Louisiana because the Oil Companies want it instead and our Midwest AgriFuel Business wants all the wetlands sediment and water trapped up there in labyrinthine Corps flood control structures.

Let's just not allow Americans to live around our nation's Natural Resources any longer.

Soon the coastlines will be dotted with windmills too, so we must be disallowed that space as well: Natural Resources.

Do we allow ourselves to be reduced to a nation of "Runners"? "The Evaculture"?

Do we continue to Assume the Position of Sheep in a Pen?

I say rather we return to a nation of "Makers" who "Deal With It"
of, for and by The People.

Thank you,
Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The material from the news reporter's article and question that you quote for me is taken out of context and omits the key part of the quote. The original article shows that I said NOTHING about rebuilding all of New Orleans. I spent a great deal of time discussing with the reporter the trade-offs among and between economic development, protection of private property rights, and wise land use decisions, and highlighting the fact that various parts of NOLA are at differing elevations. The quote about not rebuilding in some areas until they are safe referred to those parts of the city only. I also discussed the fact that the refurbishing of levees won't be completed for 3 years and that's in her article. The material posted here also puts the reporter's comment about some people not being so sure about rebuilding above my quote, however, her article had that line after my comment on the lowest lying areas.

Another blogger also misread, misperceived, and misinterpreted the news article and quotes attirbuted to me. Once I sent him several articles I've written on NOLA, he retracted his comments and posted this instead:

"September 03, 2008

Misperceptions and Apologies

Apparently, there is a lot of that going on - around the country, around New Orleans, and around this blog.

Professor Cigler has sent me some articles that she has written about Katrina and the way that humans interact with their environment. She has handled my rude comments with class, and I am sorry if I offended her. There have been other professors who truly believe that New Orleans should not be rebuilt. After a more careful examination of the article in which she was quoted, it is clear that she is simply posing a realistic question that others have asked, too. I am inclined to agree with her position - New Orleanians should not rebuild in areas unless they can be made safe. She is not advocating for the abandonment or razing of New Orleans (even if the sentence following her quote is "Yet abandoning New Orleans hardly seems an option either.")
Restoring wetlands is an important part of this which Professor Cigler advocates for. Also, smart planning and levee design are part of her approach. In fact, it's hard to find fault with much of what she says in her papers and articles. Professor Cigler understands that much of the country is in harm's way and does not even realize it, something New Orleanians know all to well.

Professor Cigler, I would like to publicly apologize for using inappropriate comments to criticize your opinion. My use of profanity was made after a cursory reading of the article, without an critical eye or ear. I am thankful that you have been in contact with me and have corrected my erroneous view. You are a much better person than I, and I appreciate your time and your contribution on this argument. It's hard to hear that your hometown and home to your family and friends should be left for dead, and clearly you are not one of those saying that. My sincerest apologies for any ill feelings.

The previous article will be removed completely."
- - - - -

I would be pleased to identify the blog on which the apology appeared, as well as sent interested person some of my articles on New Orleans.

Bev Cigler

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's a soup bowl and it's not safe," said Beverly Cigler, a public policy professor at Penn State University, referring to the city's cup-shaped geography.

Local political eagerness to develop property in New Orleans instead of protecting wetlands, which serve as a natural storm buffer, has hampered safety, said Cigler, co-chair of a Katrina task force set up by the American Society for Public Administration. Levees, meanwhile, are still three years away from being fully strengthened. And since there are differing levels of elevation throughout the city, "some places are safer than others."

"My own personal opinion is that you shouldn't rebuild in areas unless you can make them safe," she said. "And nobody's had the willingness to confront these kinds of issues."

Above, find the complete quote related to me. "Areas" refers to the most low lying, unsafe areas and I suggested making them safe before rebuilding. Much of what I told the interviewer about "these kinds of issues" was omitted. Specifically, I discussed trade-offs among and between economic development, private property rights, and wise environmental and land use policies (vs. solely structural solutions such as levees.)

Bev Cigler

5:09 PM  
Anonymous New Orleans Ladder said...

I do not understand this comments thread from the post above "Bev Ciglar has a conversation with Anonymous".
These comments here are posted by "Anonymous" but signed by Ciglar.
I don't understand.

I read Ms Ciglar's article.
While she may not be mean enough for the Manhattan Institute Think Tank perhaps she could work the front desk.

It is truly unfortunate that she is paid a salary for such vicarious think-tankery... but to see that she is in an advisory position of a fairly major policy board scares the wet pants off of me.
Sickening actually.

She has presented herself as a typical policy wonk who has no experience with the situation on the ground.
These policy-people can "find" plenty research but "create" none of their own.

Even when her quotes are taken in context, she shows brutal ignorance of the area of devastation.

She has obviously has no understanding of either New Orleans or South Louisiana's vital placement in the Economics and past/future growth of our nation.

I am very tired of these people.

Ms Ciglar stuck her own foot in her own mouth here and now seems to be attempting to take it out in order to back-pedal her wrecked tricycle.

As for this "Anonymous", Ms Ciglar should have come off the name of this "blogger" right off the bat. This is a blog, not a teacher's lounge full of malleable fellow wonks who would swallow such innuendo without demanding back-up. To have let it go this far bespeaks, frankly, of passive-aggressive misdirection.

Ms Ciglar should offer no more "policy directives" until she moves to New Orleans (or just south Louisiana and/or the coastal areas) and places herself on the cutting edge of America's new "Evaculture".

On a blog, whenever possible you cite your sources and sign your name.
That is the biggest difference between the "story" wonks such as Ms Ciglar and the Major Media are trying to "Frame" to stunt the Recovery of New Orleans and what John is doing here, with NO Bull, in ferreting out the irreality from the reality.

Thanks John,
Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

10:11 AM  
Anonymous New Orleans Ladder said...

Check her out yourselves:

And her people here:

10:32 AM  
Anonymous New Orleans Ladder said...

Last time then I must get to work. As I research this woman the plot sickens considerably.
I posted, on da'Ladda, the Editorial on this very question from Sunday's Baton Rouge Advocate with Ms Ciglar's quotes. These quotes have turned up all over the world now, in at last count around 20 different outlets across the internet.

When Policy Wonks like Ms Ciglar issue such public sentiments in major media and also testify before Congress along these same lines --people listen and use it to bolster the Myths of Katrina.

This is no accident and Ms Ciglar is no innocent academic.
It represents Propaganda for National Socialism. Where We The People are perfectly willing to Socialize Corporate Debt and bail out companies "too big to fail", but not the people who live with those corporate assets and suffer from their exploitations.

That is Ms Ciglar's game, and that dog won't hunt in Louisiana.
You cannot simply remove people from their property.
We should never forget that Stalin was first a Public Policy Wonk before he slaughtered tens of thousands of his own citizens, as were many of the greatest dictators in history.
They created the bureaucracy.

This from Nov of '05:

Thank you,
Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

11:04 AM  
Anonymous New Orleans Ladder said...

"The Katrina Myth; the Truth about a thoroughly unnatural disaster"

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This note is from Bev Cigler I post under the name "anonymous" but have signed my name to every blog comment and, within my comments use the word "I." Anyone blogging can choose a name and it's usually difficult to trace the real identity of the person. I differ from that pattern and ALWAYS have given my name, attached to my comments. That should be easy to figure out and I fail to see how that's deceptive or confusing to a typical reader. It's much more forthright than the typical made up username.

A number of the threads on this blog are rather completely unsubstantiated attacks. For example, "new orleans ladder")whoever that might be) claims: "I read Ms Ciglar's article."--I doubt that he or she did and no title is provided. What article was read that I wrote and specifically tie it to your judgments about the Manhattan Institute, socialism, etc. What, specifically, is the "brutal ignorance" you perceive me to have? How do you know what experience I have "on the ground"? Where or when did I advocate "moving people from their property?" You refer to creating research and imply that I don't do research. What's the basis of that statement? And, just what is my relationship to Stalin?!?

Or, "new orleans ladder," are you referring to a news article written by a reporter in which a few seconds of quotes are reported from more than 1/2 hour interview for which the quotes omit the preponderance of my comments, context, etc.

I note that this blogger has not corresponded with me or the blog administrator, both of whom could send NINE articles I've written on NOLA.

In one of my posts here, I offered to send any other reader copies of any or all of those articles and op-eds. Since some of you think that comments need to be substantiated, why don't you do that. Contact me, read the work, which was published in respected places, and then comment.

Or, the blog administrator can post the articles through links on this site and I encourage him to do so. I am confident that rational readers will find my contributions on Katrina and NOLA to be professional, well documents, and unbiased writing and research.

I've been to NOLA many times and am currently working on a manuscript about NOLA's most vulnerable residents and how they have fared in the rebuilding. Someone against rebuilding does not devote so much of their work to that topic.

I think that the administrator of this blog should comment on the articles I sent for him to read, including some short op-eds. Key points that he will uncover are:

--There are "natural hazards" but "natural disasters" occur when we place people and property in harm's way. Simple geography shows that NOLA IS in a soup bowl and I've explained that it has varying elevations. Stating fact in no way presupposes policy decisions or singles out NOLA. I also have written about floodplains throughout the U.S., earthquake prone areas, canyons and wildfires, etc. to explain the differences between natural hazards and so-called natural disasters.

--There is a mix of structural (dams, levees, etc.) and non-structural (land use, zoning, subdivision regulations, building codes, etc.) that can be applied to hazardous areas. It is a fact that levees can fail; specifically, NOLA's levees are currently not safe at the levels needed and completion of the current wave of refurbishing won't be done for 3 years. That's fact.

--Non-Structural options are difficult to deal with because of the trade-offs among and between the need and pressure for economic development, the protection of private property rights, environmental concerns, etc. As such, too often in a political system, non-structural options are not dealt with or enforcement is weak. This is all well documented in the land use literature, including the first and longest article sent to this blog administrator.

--So, NOLA is unsafe and especially unsafe for its most socially vulnerable residents (e.g., the poorest who live in the lowest elevations) unless and until an appropriate mix of structural and non-structural options are used. My research and writing is trying to help make NOLA safer for all and especially the most vulnerable.

--I've also written about the slowness of the rebuilding process and especially the pace of releasing funds for rebuilding.

I am not responsible for the title of an article by a journalist. I'm also not responsible for a journalist using a handful of quotes from me and others and reducing them greatly to fit a short newspaper article. I'm not responsible for people who jump to faulty conclusions, misinterpret, and simply misread and/or misunderstand basic factual information.

Now, my opinion. Some of the posts here harm any chance for the blogger to be considered credible. Sweeping generalizations lodged at teachers/professors, researchers, etc. also lessen one's credibility.

Since Katrina, I've been interviewed by dozens of reporters and quoted in more than 350 outlets. Only a handful of people, referring to this one article, have complained. While I would have liked for the reporter to have included more of the interview in her article, a CAREFUL reading of her article shows, I think, rather clearly that the quotes attributed to me should not be viewed with alarm or anger.

Bev Cigler

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading problems:

The original post by John on this blog attributes this quote to me:

Sunday, September 07, 2008
Is New Orleans Worth Rebuilding?
"It's a soup bowl and it's not safe," said Beverly Cigler, a public policy professor at Penn State University, referring to the city's geography. "My own personal opinion is that you shouldn't rebuild in areas unless you can make them safe," she said. "And nobody's had the willingness to confront these kinds of issues."

This is not a complete quote. John omitted key sentences and caused ambiguity. After I wrote to him, he posted more comments from me. In part, these elaborated on the interview with the reporter. HOWEVER, my main point was about John's omission of all of the quotes, meaning that he reinterpreted the article.

The link John had in his condensation of the news article has the following quotes from me:

"It's a soup bowl and it's not safe," said Beverly Cigler, a public policy professor at Penn State University, referring to the city's cup-shaped geography.
Local political eagerness to develop property in New Orleans instead of protecting wetlands, which serve as a natural storm buffer, has hampered safety, said Cigler, co-chair of a Katrina task force set up by the American Society for Public Administration. Levees, meanwhile, are still three years away from being fully strengthened. And since there are differing levels of elevation throughout the city, "some places are safer than others."
"My own personal opinion is that you shouldn't rebuild in areas unless you can make them safe," she said. "And nobody's had the willingness to confront these kinds of issues."

The last paragraph CLEARLY refers to the paragraph directly above it. “Areas” refers to low lying elevations, the most unsafe parts of the city. In no way was anyone calling for bulldozing, razing, taking people’s property, etc.
Subsequent posts by me on this blog offer material not used by the reporter and clearly found in my research writings. Contrary to some of the nasty comments, I have not backtracked on anything.
Bev Cigler (not Ciglar, Sigler, etc.) There appear to be all kinds of “reading problems” by some bloggers.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous New Orleans Ladder said...

Sorry, Mam. Here is your similarity with the Manhattan Institute:
I was there in New Orleans as Katrina passed the city. We survived the Storm. Really. As it says in the video, all the storm damage would have been repaired in a few months at most.
However the 80% of the city flooded, not because of your incorrect geography description of the city as a bowl, but because the levees failed in over 53 places.
They failed, not because the most vulnerable lived behind them, but because the Corps had built them criminally negligent.
These most vulnerable you focus on lived behind them because the Corps guarrenteed those levees to withstand at least a Cat 3. Yet everyone in New Orleans was effected by this engineering failure, the most expensive in American History.

The Corps did not tell anyone that they knew (even then) that these levees were built substandard and flawed.

They did not tell the people that they knew the effects of their continuous widening of MRGO.
The Corps knew these things.
These are facts.

None of what you espouse had anything to do with the flooding of New Orleans. And yet, the Flooding of New Orleans has Everything to do with the welfare of everyone in the country, not just your "most vulnerable".
New Orleans flooded because the Corps failed.
Everyone in America is effected by this.
You remind me of Stalin in the Breadth of your Position, the distance of your view from the people you describe as vulnerable.
Everyone is vulnerable to what happened in New Orleans. Everyone.

Of course I am reading everything you have written that I can find as far back as I can find it.
So far I am neither impressed nor inclined that you rate my footnotes. Your appeal to authority floats like a lead zeppelin.
Your past career means nothing in the light of this damaging misnomer. Please don't go there.
Why bother. What does your career matter when those levees fail again due to bad engineering? Nothing. I am stunned that you put that much faith in your academic credentials because we could take your diplomas and stuff them into our flood walls next to the Newspaper that the Corps used this past year. Yeah, newspaper.

You opened your mouth to the mass media. Live with it. Please do not attempt to lead us to believe you are naive of journalistic license.
What are you doing talking to reporters anyway? If your word can be screwed so easily, why get upset when we the readers (some who happen to have witnessed the crime) take umbrage.
John is just doing his blog. John did not do an interview with a reporter. You did. We have every right to be wrong on our own blogs (which John was NOT) while you in such an official capacity have every duty to get it right when you speak to the National Press.
This You Have Not Done.

Now you have to write and restate and re-justify your ignorance of what happened to New Orleans --but the damage is done.
Your erroneous statement is bouncing all over the world in over 3 dozen articles.
Give me a break!
New Orleans Is Not A Bowl! Over 50% of the city is above sea level. The Ninth Ward where your "most vulnerable" live is above sea level.

The sad thing about all of this is that you may very well live near a Corps Levee. Nearly half of the country is "most vulnerable" to the very thing that happened to New Orleans. Rich. Poor. Beggarman. Thief.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

~and btw, Anonymous, there is a big difference between choosing to use a pseudonym and your attempt to nominalize an adjective.
Anyone that wants to find me can. You just have to know how to operate a computer.

10:48 PM  

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