Limited Protection       

Months after Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast of the United States, almost every aspect of Federal aid and assistance is still being debated on both the local and federal level.  There is, however, a sense of priority with respect to aid in that the victims are considered first, the levees second, and the reconstruction of the city third.  Residents of New Orleans certainly want the city to be restored to its former state but unfortunately the budget for aid and reconstruction may not allow for such an optimistic task.  The urban planners in charge of restoring the city have found it prudent to strengthen the parts of the city least likely to be damaged in the event of another storm (Allen et. al).  The people of New Orleans might find that reconstruction will be benificial with regards to long term protection and stability if the low lying areas of the city are not rebuilt and efforts are concentrated towards protection for the parts of the city that can be protected.     The first thing to try and understand is the categories of hurricanes and also their frequency.  This is important because while it is unlikely for another Hurricane like Katrina to hit New Orleans in the near future, it is inevitable another will hit that area again.  Since the frequency, path, and intensity of a hurricane cannot be predicted, we have to rely on global trends in past years. Category 5 hurricanes like Katrina are defined as systems featuring winds of 156 mph or more and category 3 hurricanes with winds of 100 mph or less.  Studies have also shown that not only has the total number of hurricane worldwide increased by nearly one hundred percent in the last thirty five years, the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes has increased as a percentage of the total number of hurricanes (Ascribe 2).  The current plan for restoration of the levees will enable them to withstand a category 3 hurricane or smaller by the start of next hurricane season. Donald Powell, Director of gulf coast rebuilding stated that “once this work is done, the city will still have some flooding but that it will be manageable”. (qtd in Kafanov).  While allowing for budget considerations, many politicians took issue with this plan for category three protections. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) responded that “studies have already been done to indicate that we need to rebuild these levees to a stronger standard that category three. Category three is asking for trouble.” (qtd in Kafanov).  The strength of the levees is not, however, the only impediment to sufficient long term protection.     The disappearance of natural hurricane protection such as wetlands and barrier islands is not just a concern for environmentalists anymore. An illustrative example of this is a stretch of marshland the size of Rhode Island off the coast of Louisiana that has receded into the ocean within the last fifty years (Tidwell 2).  These wetlands around the mouth of the Mississippi were once created and maintained by the sediment coming out of the river. As New Orleans and other cities along the river grew, the sediment was drastically reduced and the marshes eroded.  The idea is that the wetland and the levees work to supplement each other. Professor van Heerden of LSU and director of the University’s hurricane center found an important piece of evidence in that “Where you had wetland, the levees were not eroded and where you did not have wetlands, the levees were annihilated.” (qtd. in Schwartz).  This shows a clear correlation between the man made protection and the disappearing natural barriers, further decreasing the possible stability of the city.     New Orleans is an important city not only for its residents who created and embrace the unique culture.  The city is also economically important as a major port at the end of the Mississippi.  Grain, oil, and natural gas are just a few of the key exports from the port and are necessary not only for the economy of the city, but for the country as a whole.  The official position of The American Planning Association, therefore is that New Orleans should be rebuilt to insure its position as an economic trade power (Tidwell 4).  In order to be restored as a trade center, there has to be a population to support it, as well as a stable place for residents to live.     A commission headed by the mayor of New Orleans has proposed a compromise “between those who had argued for rebuilding to be allowed anywhere in the city and those who wanted the most flood prone areas abandoned.” (Ward 2).  The proposal is that for the communities where there is very little repopulation, an appointed redevelopment agency will buy condemned properties.  This is a reasonable idea because it will indirectly prevent people from moving back into the low-lying areas. It is hard to imagine that any private real estate companies will invest in the ninth ward.  Despite this projected outcome of incentive based population redistribution, many urban planners still consider it irresponsible to allow people to rebuild anywhere they have the population to support it (Ward 3). With evidence showing that the city can not be adequately protected, there is just cause for this accusation of irresponsibility.     One of the largest problems with restoring the city is how to present the environmental and engineering evidence to the residents without prompting defensive and counterproductive responses.  Without considering the costs, most residents feel that “strong protection is the linchpin that everything else depends on”, said Joe Veninata, the owner of a shopping center and rental homes in the Gentilly neighborhood, “for people to come to the city and invest, for the people to feel secure.” (Schwartz 1).  The cost of upgrading the protection system to a category 5 is by no means a agreed upon figure, but one that is certainly out of reach in the near future.     Unfortunately, due to the botched response to the disaster by the Federal Government, the private sector has clashed with beaurocracy continuously, wasting time and resources debating various conflicting approaches to reconstruction. These debates serve to confuse the local population because of the constant emotional appeals.  The environmental evidence that suggests low lying areas should not be reconstructed is often refuted by the emotional attachment of the victims.     There is no question that however much New Orleans repopulates, the number of residents will be far smaller and the city demographic completely different.  The city has been steadily losing residents for 45 years and because the city had an inordinate amount of people living at or below the poverty line, a significant part of the population  will not be able to return, even if they wanted to (Moran 1). There is an almost universal consensus that the post Katrina population will depend on the level of protection for the city as well as the perceived long term stability of the region. Palazzo Simmons, a survivor and former resident of the ninth ward lamented, “I was lucky to get out this time and they can’t even tell me they gonna make things better…my family has been here for generations but it’s the next generation I’m worried about.”(Pround).     It is easy to emphasize and understand the desire to fully restore New Orleans because at the end of the day most of us just want to return home and it’s hard to imagine your home was gone.  My family has lived in Boston since the founding of the city and if a large hurricane hit Boston, we would be mostly under water east of Kenmore Square.  It is also very important that people are optimistic about rebuilding the city due to its unique and important cultural heritage (Mandel 1).  Being rational, particularly with a limited budget, is also necessary for a successful restoration.  The people of New Orleans will eventually make the major decisions concerning which parts of the city are to be rebuilt and will err on the side of caution if the practical evidence with regards to reconstruction and regional stability is properly presented.                                                                                         Works Cited  Allen, Greg; Reporter. Anchors Siegel, Robert & Norris, Michael. “All Things Considered: Plan Allows Controversial Rebuilding in New Orleans.” National Public Radio. Jan 10, 2006 8 am EST. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 21 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com> Ascribe Inc. “Hurricanes are getting stronger, study says.” Ascribe Newswire. Sept 12, 2005.  Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 19 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com>   Donze, Frank & Schleifstein, Mark. “Added Protection.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). Dec 7, 2005. National; Pg.1. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 19 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com> Kafanov, Lucy. “GULF RECOVERY: House panel calls for stronger levee protections.” Environment and Energy Daily. March 10, 2006. Spotlight Vol. 10 No. 9. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 19 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com> Mandel, Charles. “Rebuilding New Orleans: Economy and heritage favour city’s renewal; some say it’s too risky.” Times Colonist. Sept 24, 2005. Pg. E12. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 20 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com> Moran, Kate. “Shrinking City; No one disputes that Katrina will reduce the population of New Orleans area, but just how much is unclear.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). Oct 23, 2005. Headline. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 19 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com> Pround, Geoffry; Executive Producer. “Modern Marvels: Engineering disasters: New Orleans.” Modern Marvels. The History Channel. General Electric. Org. air date Feb 28, 2006.  Schwartz, John. “Category 5: Levees are piece of 32 billion pie.” The New York Times Late Edition. Nov 29, 2005. Sec. A; Column 3; National Desk; Pg. 1. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 15 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com> Schwartz, John & Revkin, Andrew. “Levee construction will restore, but not improve, defenses in New Orleans.” The New York Times. Sept 30, 2005. Sec A; Column 1; National Desk; Pg.22. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 15 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com> Tidwell, Mike. “It’s time to abandon New Orleans; If the Bush administration continues to ignore the major fixes that are needed, it would be homicidal to rebuild the city.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania). Dec 14, 2005. Editorial; Pg. B-7. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 19 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com> Tidwell, Mike. “Indifference to marsh is kiss of death.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). Dec 9, 2005. Metro-Editorial; Pg. 7. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Boston College, O’Neill Lib. 16 March 2006 <Http://web.Lexis-Nexis.com> Ward, Andrew. “New Orleans panel suggests demolition for no-hope areas.” Financial Times (London, England). Jan 12, 2006. The Americas; Pg. 11.


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