Last Sunday's blog on whether New Orleans is worth rebuilding aroused a lot of comment. Here is a stronger case for rebuilding offered by our good friends, Janice and Steve Shull:
Beyond the intangible sense of place of New Orleans is the historical fact of an old city, born of the French, nurtured by the Spanish, and playing a major role in American history. Its culture and vitality have been studied, romanticized, and mimicked, but never reproduced. Strands of many other places, other languages, other stories are woven into New Orleans' singular fabric.
But there has always been an ugly underbelly to life in N.O. and Katrina exposed it all. Unfortunately, opportunities for a true revitalization of an impoverished city have been missed or cynically dismissed. Still, New Orleans survives and its resilience must inspire hope to anyone who suffers a disaster. Just as the World Trade Center site has become a sacred place, New Orleans' symbolic meaning is powerful.
The historic heart of town is on high ground, but other parts of the city are so damaged that they should not be rebuilt. Only a small fraction of properties have been rehabilitated in the Lower 9th Ward, and the west end of Lakeview and New Orleans East remain terribly vulnerable to another Katrina-type storm.
New Orleans will never be the power-house city that it aspired to be in the 1970s-1980s. With astronomical insurance rates, exorbitant building costs, rents that are 50% higher than in 2005, and a job market offering primarily low-paying wages, there isn't much to attract people to live and work there. Perhaps the answer lies in accepting New Orleans' destiny as a tourist mecca on the order of Savannah or Key West. It doesn't have to be a DisneyWorld or Williamsburg!
Mark Abkowitz, a professor of Civil Engineering at Vanderbilt University, has stated that only a long-term, systematic and strategic approach to hurricane protection will reduce the risk in the Gulf Coast. The patchwork, reactionary response to each and every hurricane is doomed to failure at some point.
Hurricane-strength building codes must be strictly enforced, and this scattershot rebuilding throughout greater New Orleans should be stopped. But you know well that the political implications often outweigh common sense.
Remember, too, that it was not Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans, but rather a failure of government on all levels to provide the levee protection that had been promised and guaranteed at Level 3 and then to coordinate a disaster plan effectively to ensure public safety after the storm. The hard lessons of Katrina are paying off in better emergency management all over the U.S., whether from floods, tornadoes, earthquakes or what have you. The cost, while heavy (much less than Iraq, however!), does benefit taxpayers. One academic source computed the cost at $98 a year in additional taxes per person to achieve the stronger hurricane protection needed. This opinion piece in the L.A. Times argues that it is the right thing to do: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-barry23apr23,0,5522292.story
We have visited the city many times since Katrina and it continues to be a hard place to live. You just can't imagine what people have gone through in the last three years to keep the city alive. Hard, hard work and great personal sacrifice are the words that describe life in New Orleans.
Janice Shull retired as a law librarian from the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and now works as a volunteer at the Venice Archives and Area Historical Collection. Steve Shull is an emeritus professor of Political Science with the University of New Orleans. His specialty is the presidency, and he has written several books on the subject. The Shulls miss New Orleans but have learned to appreciate small-town life in Venice FL.