Rebuilding New Orleans is not only a political question. In light of the suffering that has occured after the flooding, it has become an ethical question. Do we condemn future New Orleans residents to the same fate?
Update: One commentator requested excerpts for each link and relevant facts. This post will be a bit longer as a result of the enhancement, but will hopefully provide the relevant context as well.
Update 2: By all means, the victims of the disaster should get immediate aid and comfort. The purpose of this discussion is not to take away from that effort in any way. However, considering politicians' inclination to make emotionally laden promises of rebuilding without first analyzing the situation (promises that will be thrown back in their face once the situation has settled down), it is not to early to call for a rational review of the options.
Update 3: The #1 thing you can do if you believe in alternatives to rebuilding New Orelans: Call and email your Congressman and Senators and tell them you want a rational discussion before they pour billions into rebuilding; before they start making emotionally laden promises.
Update 4: Dennis Hastert, House Speaker, does not support rebuilding New Orleans. From The Washington Post:
It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said of federal assistance for hurricane-devastated New Orleans...
...There are "some real tough questions to ask," Hastert said in the interview. "How do you go about rebuilding this city? What precautions do you take?"
Later in the article the speaker appears to backtrack when challenged by Senator Landrieu who is obviously (and rightfully so) emotionally involved in the situation.
Hastert later issued a statement saying he was not "advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated."Hopefully he can stick to his original sentiment.
"My comments about rebuilding the city were intended to reflect my sincere concern with how the city is rebuilt to ensure the future protection of its citizens and not to suggest that this great and historic city should not be rebuilt," the statement said.
Update 5: In Hastert's press release he totally backtracks and basically wimps out:
"It is important that when we rebuild this historic city that we consider the safety of the citizens first. I am not advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated. My comments about rebuilding the city were intended to reflect my sincere concern with how the city is rebuilt to ensure the future protection of its citizens and not to suggest that this great and historic city should not be rebuilt."Hopefully, Congressional hearings will focus on this one fact: the city is sinking; about 3 ft every 100 years. A civil engineer, that specializes in flood control, comments here and refers to this Civil Engineering Article:
They've been building levees and interior drainage that was predicted to be complete around 2018. But in 2003 they started to realize that the levees may not be high enough. The hurricane modeling that has been done in the last few years has predicted that the levees as designed could possibley handle a fast moving class 3 hurricane. The predictions for class 4 and 5 storms was terrible.The insurance industry has studied the situation in great detail. From Risk & Insurance:
NO has so many drainage problems it makes my head hurt. Not only is the city at or below sea level, it's also getting lower. All of coastal Louisianna is sinking and the marshes between NO and the Gulf are eroding, which continuously brings the city closer to the Gulf. The National Geodetic Survey is a nationwide system of survey control points with location and elevation data that is resurveyed every 10 years. The ground subsidance in coastsal LA is so bad they consider the survey markers in the area obsolete. Some of them dropped as much as 2 ft between when the article was published in 2003 and the last survey (which I believe was around 2000).
So basically we have the city which over a billion has been spent to protect, and is sinking into the ground.
...And it is a hurricane on a particular track with a particular force that could submerge New Orleans. According to data supplied by Risk Management Solutions, a leading catastrophe modeling firm in Menlo Park, Calif., hurricanes of Category 4 or stronger make landfall within 100 miles of New Orleans about once every 35 years. There have been four storms of Category 4 strength or greater since 1899. Hurricane Camille made landfall as a ategory 5 hurricane and was one of only two Category 5 hurricanes to hit the U.S. in the last century. Hurricane Betsy, a Category 4 hurricane, struck about 80 miles to the west of New Orleans, subjecting the populated areas to the stronger winds and surge on the right side of the storm path.
Another factor in how the city survives a hurricane is the natural buffer between the city and the sea. Louisiana's marshes are depleting at a rate of 25 miles to 30 miles per year, or the equivalent of a football field every 15 minutes. Since 1930, the state has lost well over 1,500 square miles of wetlands. each year, New Orleans inches closer and closer to the Gulf of Mexico. The shrinking wetlands that bring the city closer to the coast are the same ones that have protected the city from catastrophic disaster in the past. Wetlands and barrier islands are a natural
protection against hurricanes.
Update 6: The recriminations against Hastert's statement start. Governor Blanco demands an apology. This is the type of emotional "rebuild it; come hell or highwater" passion that causes politicians to make promises that should never be kept.
Advocates of alternatives to rebuilding a city below sea level are NOT calling for the abandonment of our fellow citizens, just that we learn the lessons of this tragedy.
Please post in the comments section any political statements from rational politicians that support at least tough questioning of the notion of rebuilding a city that is below sea level and is getting more so year over year. They will be highlighted here.
Update 7: More political emotional pandering; President Bush: "Here's what I believe: I believe that the great city of New Orleans will rise again and be a greater city of New Orleans." Oh really? Many are curious and eager to see the plan to reverse the sinking.
Update 8: If the claims in this article (A Perfect Storm of Lawlessness) are accurate, parts of New Orleans were already devastated from a societal perspective.
Added to the questions of the practicality of rebuilding due to the the geographic realities of New Orleans is this one:
What value do we place on the possiblility that many will have a fresh start in another city that doesn't have the same social ills that were once in New Orleans?
Update 9: New Orleans: A Geopolitical Prize attempts to make a strong argument to keep the City of New Orleans to support the nation's shipping needs. But here are a few question to challenge the thesis.
Why wouldn't a city further upstream, like Baton Rouge (map), away from the Gulf area be a viable option?" Baton Rouge is already, "ranked tenth in the nation in total tonnage, according to the latest statistics compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and is noted for high productivity and damage-free handling of cargo."
Could we just keep the port facility in New Orleans and have the work force commute via ferries and rail? If we need to keep a small workforce to run the port, can't they be housed on barges that could be easily moved upstream when a hurricance was approaching.
Is the Port of New Orleans all that's required as opposed to the City of New Orleans?
One can agree with the strategic value of the Port of New Orleans to shipping without having to buy the argument that a large city, that exists at the mercy of the next Cat 5, has to be rebuilt.
Update 10: This comment came via email and appears to be an excellent way to have charitable donations and the free market contribute towards a more rational alternative:
I made a donation to my local ARC chapter with a condition that it only be provided to an individual or family that has permanently relocated to my area, which is far safer than NOLA or any area along the Gulf Coast. I encourage others to do the same vs providing anyone aid toward rebuilding or returning to NOLA. Some of the disaster victims may be reluctant to relocate, but I'm not going to provide aid toward their destruction.
Update 11: The following is the text for a suggested email/letter/fax one can write to their representatives:
Re: Making the case for not rebuilding New Orleans
In 2004 the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to an American, Edward Prescott, of Arizona State University, and a Norwegian, Finn Kydland, of Carnegie Mellon University.
The October 14, 2004 Economist magazine article entitled 'Cycles and Commitment' (on the web at http://www.economist.com/finance/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3292902) gives a layman's overview of their work, the essence of which is captured here:
"Thanks to this new emphasis on a bottom-up, or microeconomic, approach, Mr Kydland and Mr Prescott were able to craft their most enduring work. In a paper in 1977, they demonstrated the importance of credibility in economic policy. If governments cannot commit themselves credibly to a course, their policies may be futile.
Examples abound, showing the wide applicability of their work. A government might, for instance, want to discourage building in areas prone to hurricanes. So it warns citizens that no compensation will be given for houses in such areas should disaster strike. If people believe the warning, they will not build. But if they expect (as history suggests they should) that the government is likely to soften its stance and pay for hurricane damage after all, they will ignore the warning. Before the fact, the government wants to stop building; afterwards, it wants to compensate those who have suffered. Mr Kydland and Mr Prescott refer to such conundrums as “time consistency problems”. "
It would be nothing short of legislative malpractice if these gentlemen were not brought in to testify when policy is being formulated on any aid that may go to New Orleans for rebuilding.
As my representative, I expect that you will show leadership in asking the 'tough love' questions and allow logic to have a seat in the discussions along with the obvious emotions that the New Orleans flooding disaster has brought us.
For more information you can review th blog post entitled 'Discussions on alternatives to rebuilding New Orleans' at http://porkopolis.blogspot.com/2005/08/discussions-on-alternatives-to.html.
Update 12: Popular Mechanics is sponsoring a poll: Should New Orleans be rebuilt?
As of 10/17/2005 results of 2,627 votes were: Yes, 24.4%, No, 76.1%.
From the Blogsphere:
- Should New Orleans be rebuilt?
It’s an indelicate question but one that needs to be asked: Should New Orleans be rebuilt? Or how much of it should be?
- Can't see the Center...
Thoughts from a former Louisiana native. If you read just one post, this has to be the one. Great analysis on the economic impact of the disaster and long term consequences. Good comparison between New Orleans and Cleveland to support his argument.
- Washing away: The Times Picayune's (New Orleans' local paper) 2002, 5 part series detailing New Orleans risks
"It's only a matter of time before South Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day"
- 2004 National Geographic Report: Gone with the Water.
" "The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours—coming from the worst direction," says Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30 years studying the coast. "
- PROTECTING SOCIETY FROM FLOOD DAMAGE
A CASE STUDY FROM THE 1993
UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER FLOOD
"In the four years since the flood of 1993 many efforts have been made to help reduce future flood damages; many levees have been repaired, several small communities have been moved out of the floodplain, many thousands of individual buildings located in the floodplain have been purchased and removed, work is progressing on levees and or floodwalls for several unprotected urban areas, thousands of acres of land previously protected by levees are being purchased from willing sellers for restoration to wetland conditions."
- Jack Chambless, Economics Professor, Valencia Community College: Interview with Neil Covuto on Fox News:
"But the founding fathers never intended, Article One, section Eight of the Constitution, never intended to provide one dollar of taxpayer dollars to pay for any disaster or anything that we might call charity. What we now have is the law of unintended consequences taking place.."
- ScienceDaily: New Orleans...The New Atlantis?
"With predicted sea level rise, wetland loss, subsidence, and the absence of restoration programs, the future of New Orleans appears bleak."
- Scientific America: Drowning New Orleans
A Grand Plan The scientists, engineers and politicians who had been squabbling realized how close the entire delta had come to disaster, and Bahr says that it scared them into reaching a consensus. Late in 1998 the governor's office, the state's Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service and all 20 of the state's coastal parishes published Coast 2050--a blueprint for restoring coastal Louisiana.
- AzCentral.com: Experts debate rebuilding New Orleans
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Sept. 2, 2005 07:30 PM
WASHINGTON - Even before the evacuation of flooded New Orleans has been completed, hurricane scientists, disaster experts and reconstruction officials are raising the question of whether the city should be rebuilt at all.
President Bush has promised to help the city "get back on its feet," and few people can imagine an America without New Orleans. "I can tell you that someday there will people playing jazz in the riverfront," said Hassan Mashriqui, a Louisiana State University engineer who used a supercomputer to model flooding from Hurricane Katrina.
But others say the idea of rebuilding a below-sea-level city next to a large lake in a hurricane-prone area makes little sense, especially with the prospect of taxpayers having to foot repeated bills for aid and reconstruction.
- This quote, from the Washington Post's '9th Ward: History, Yes, but a Future?:
"It would be negligent homicide to put people in the Lower Ninth," said Russell Henderson, a veteran community organizer who has formed the Rebuilding Louisiana Coalition. "If you put people back in there, they're going to die."
- Editorial: Republican-American
"Is anyone surprised? For decades, New Orleans has been a catastrophe in waiting. Geologists have predicted it would be destroyed by the tidal surge from a powerful hurricane sometime this century. The city sits below sea level, below massive Lake Pontchartrain and below the Mississippi River. Since 1930, more than 700,000 acres of Mississippi Delta south of the city have disappeared into the Gulf of Mexico, the victim of the same natural forces that one day will consume New Orleans. The city sinks further every year as the silt beneath it compacts; so do the bayous and the barrier islands that shield the city from hurricanes and strong storms.
With or without a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, The Big Easy is doomed. Judging from news reports, Katrina seems to have hastened the city's day of reckoning. "
- GlobeAndMail.com: How to rebuild a New Orleans in ruins?
"Unless the Gulf of Mexico's devastated coastal wetlands and barrier islands are restored, New Orleans is doomed to another disaster, according to experts who tried to sound the alarm before this week's catastrophe.
"The bottom line is that to rebuild New Orleans you need to rebuild the coastal wetlands first," said Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Hurricane Center of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge."
- Michael Barone: Rebuilding New Orleans
Friedman's argument seems hard to counter. And it is surely within the nation's physical and financial capacity to rebuild New Orleans' port and oil infrastructure -- re-engineering it to withstand a Category 4 or 5 hurricane this time, not just a Category 3 -- and make it once again what it was until last weekend. But ports and petrochemicals are no longer labor-intensive industries: It doesn't take that many employees to man a refinery or a container port. Port Fourchon, the site of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, is a tiny community in southern Lafourche Parish. Restoring the port will not restore the fabric of the city.
- Confessions of a Welfare Queen: How rich bastards like me rip off taxpayers for millions of dollars by John Stossel
In 1980 I built a wonderful beach house. Four bedrooms -- every room with a view of the Atlantic Ocean.
It was an absurd place to build, right on the edge of the ocean. All that stood between my house and ruin was a hundred feet of sand. My father told me: "Don’t do it; it’s too risky. No one should build so close to an ocean."
But I built anyway.
Why? As my eager-for-the-business architect said, "Why not? If the ocean destroys your house, the government will pay for a new one."
- Boston Herald: Big job, not so easy - Tab to rebuild at $75B or more
"As has become apparent, New Orleans is not simply ``flooded.'' It's lying at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain. Reclaiming it may take months. The 80 percent now submerged may have to be built pretty much anew. "
Also contains many indivdual estimates for various rebuilding projects.
- Slate Magazine: Don't Refloat: The case against rebuilding the sunken city of New Orleans
Nobody can deny New Orleans' cultural primacy or its historical importance. But before we refloat the sunken city, before we think of spending billions of dollars rebuilding levees that may not hold back the next storm, before we contemplate reconstructing the thousands of homes now disintegrating in the toxic tang of the flood, let's investigate what sort of place Katrina destroyed.
- Emails to CNN on 'City of the future':
"Don't fight nature. Break the levy and let the water flow naturally. Find the high ground and rebuild the city there. It make no sense to repeat the mistakes of the past."
Sam, Boston, Massachusetts
"It's to soon to think about rebuilding. We should send environmental survey teams to take soil samples, dig test wells and such. Until we know the long term impact of living in the flooded areas, we can't put people back."
Stephen P. Marino, Yukon, Oklahoma
"I think the levees should be destroyed to let the water settle where it will go. Nothing should be built below sea level. The damage and destroyed buildings could be used as landfill, but a 100-year flood line should be maintained and there should be nothing rebuilt that could flood without draining in the next storm."
Ken Peterson, Mount Dora, Florida
- Washington Post: Gives very short shrift to the argument against rebuilding but does provide this:
"David Schulz, director of Northwestern's Infrastructure Technology Institute, says one key question that must be posed in New Orleans is: "Do you really rebuild a city below sea level that's vulnerable?"
He says planners should explore extraordinary measures, including the possibility of raising the level of New Orleans.
If you "rebuild the place essentially as it was, with modern-quality housing stock, if you build the levees higher," he says, "... then you're going to go to church the next Sunday and pray the hurricane doesn't come in their lifetime." "
- Philadelphia Daily News: New New Orleans
"Maybe now is not the right time to question rebuilding the city, especially since we don't have any idea of the extent of the devastation.
Frankly, we're still waiting on an answer to earlier questions: With pockets of New Orleans descending into ruthless lawlessness, when are troops and federal agencies going in to restore order?
But with 80 percent of the city underwater, the question of whether to rebuild New Orleans, and rely on luck to keep the city and residents safe from hurricanes and flooding, is a fair one to ask."
Now is exactly the time to start asking the question because you have politicians starting to make the promises of rebuilding without reviewing New Orleans' plight. "
- New York Times: Appears to start laying the ground work for starting to question the rational for rebuilding; it a start. Future Face of New Orleans Has an Uncertain Look for Now
"The impulse to rebuild follows any catastrophe within hours, relief drawn on a future account when there is little comfort in the present.
But when New Orleans staggers out of the devastation now engulfing it, it will face questions of an unimagined scale, beginning with how much of its urban fabric - from the cherished to the derelict - will even be salvageable as a foundation for rebuilding."
- News-Leader.com letter to the editor: Don't rebuild New Orleans
"Like Ariel Sharon abandoning untenable settlements in the Gaza Strip, President Bush should declare the parts of New Orleans that are below sea level the newest nature preserve and provide financial compensation to those thus displaced. Rebuilding New Orleans would be just another example of throwing good money after bad."
- RightWingNews - In Defense Of Dennis Hastert
"I've got to tell you that not only do I agree with Dennis Hastert's sentiments, I agree with the timing.
Because after a big natural disaster, there is always enormous pressure on politicians to do something now, now, now! They're supposed to fly over the disaster zone, give reassuring speeches, and then appropriate gargantuan sums of money as fast as possible to prove they care. Any sort of delay in doing any of these things is treated as icy and nearly inhuman indifference to human suffering...and keep in mind, this is one of the biggest natural disasters in American history. That means the pressure is going to be ratcheted up that much higher."
Also has 100's of comments from readers on both sides debating the issue.
- Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) commenting on this Washington Post story:
..This needs to be a non-starter. It is, to me, an open and under-debated question whether the federal government should fund the rebuilding of New Orleans -- I'm inclined to agree with the polls that say it shouldn't -- but this is a naked grab for money by the very political establishment whose corruption and ineptitude led to the problems in the first place. It should be slapped down fast and hard...
- Holman W. Jennkins, Jr.; Wall Street Journal Op-Ed (Gambling with Your Money, Their Lives):
To rebuild in a way safe from a recurrence of the Katrina flood would be to darken the city's neighborhoods behind vivisecting walls and ever higher levees -- or to spend unfathomable sums to lift the town five or 10 feet above the surrounding waters. As Louisianians themselves are likely to conclude, a better approach -- perhaps the only sane approach -- is to relinquish the city's lowest elevations back to the waters. Originally known as the Crescent City because settlement was restricted to high land along the Mississippi, New Orleans could become the Crescent City again, focused on its historic districts and the tourism traffic they generate.
Indeed, all this must come to pass now that the city's wish-fed gamble against the odds has come a cropper, a bet that no sensible government would be willing to make again with even higher stakes.
- National Nine News: New Orleans may never be rebuilt
"The submerged city of New Orleans may never be resurrected.
Experts are questioning the wisdom of rebuilding a below-sea-level city next to a large lake in a hurricane-prone area, the KRT news agency has reported.
“We could finish rebuilding, put the levee back where it was and five years from now we could be facing the identical scenario,” said Eric Tolbert, a former disaster response chief for the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Can the country afford to rebuild in this high-risk area, where there is no means of mitigating the losses?”
FEMA estimates it would cost an estimated $65.69 billion to relocate New Orleans.
“It would be an unbelievably expensive and difficult proposition, but it has to be on the table,” John Copenhaver, a former southeast regional director for FEMA, told KRT."
- Veronique de Rugy, Fools Rush In
...On the other hand, it could be argued that it is the unintended consequences of federal spending through the Army Corps of Engineers that ultimately led to this disaster. As we know, government spending changes people's incentives and behaviors. There is a chance that the billions spent on building levees over the past several decades -- preventing New Orleans from being naturally flooded as it would have otherwise -- ultimately allowed the city of New Orleans to continue to grow even though it is under sea level. Without that spending, people in New Orleans may have been prompted to realize that it was too risky to live there and adjusted their behavior accordingly.
- MichNews.com: DON’T REBUILD NEW ORLEANS
"It makes no sense.
And yet the courageous sounding continue with the age-old baptized mantra: "We will come back. We will rebuild."
That is commendable in that it is basically an emotional response to the New Orleans and environs tragedy. But it is not reasonable.
Are we going to rebuild a city that is going to go under again and again and again? The geography was warned over and over in the past by professionals who forecast that the bowl would fill up with flood waters one day. And now that apocalypse has come. We are experiencing the worst disaster in the nation’s history. "
"In my personal opinion we would be better off spending our tax dollars on additions to existing ports that are not subject to this same type of danger. This is about People not Places. Victims of this terrible disaster have already been displaced. Let's give them a new home in a new location that does not hold the threat New Orleans exhibits."
- The Geography of New Orleans
...The levee system that has been built along the river, coupled with the canal system to keep the interior of the city dry, prevent the land from being replenished by the annual spring floods. As a result, the land will continue to sink until eventually there will be nothing to stop the waters of the Gulf to rush back upon the fragile land. In addition, the fresh water that is pumped into the brackish wetlands surrounding the city is creating an ecological disaster. When the Bonnie Carre Spillway is used in order to spare the city of New Orleans from floods, the consequences to the coastal estuary system is profound. As a result, in order to save itself from the waters surrounding it, the city of New Orleans is slowly destroying its own environment.
- The City Below Sea Level
"If you have a wetland soil, it has a very high clay content and a high content of organic matter," said McCulloh. Much of New Orleans outside of the Vieux Carré -- the French Quarter that was Bienville's original city -- has been built on swampland drained by pumps and canals. Water seeping from the clay into the canals, which is then pumped uphill into Lake Pontchartrain, leads to volume reduction in the soil. It compacts down.
"The other issue is oxidation of organic matter," said McCulloh. "The sediment in a wetland is in a sort of pickled state -- it's prevented from exposure to oxygen. As soon as you dewater the soil, atmospheric oxygen then invades that top part of the soil column which was not previously exposed." The resulting decay of organic material can have a tremendous effect on the volume.
Of course, the leveeing of New Orleans from both lake and river prevents fresh sediment from accumulating and restoring height lost to volume reduction in the clay.
But, McCulloh said, while clay dehydration can occur at deeper levels too, these issues are mainly just on the surface where people are active. "The biggest process of all is the one in which the entire coastal zone is warped across a hinge zone by the deposition of sediment in the Gulf."
The Mississippi River washes incredible amounts of sediment downriver and dumps it in the Gulf of Mexico at the shelf between shallow and deep water. The weight of this huge lobe of sediment is such that it can actually create ripples which lift other parts of the landscape. Like a seesaw, when one end sinks down, the other end of the board rises. Great news if you are on the "updip" side of the seesaw's fulcrum -- but bad news if you are on the sinking side. And New Orleans, McCulloh believes, is on the wrong side of the hinge zone
- Rebuilding 'The Big Easy' possible?
"If you threw a dart at a map of the United States 999 times, you could not hit a worse spot to locate a metropolis.
Surrounded by two large, flood-prone bodies of water, New Orleans lies as much as 10 feet below sea level in some places, and is sinking deeper every year. With scientists seeing an era of more intense and more frequent tropical storms, it sits in the bull's-eye of Hurricane Alley. What's more, it's wicked-hot, and very humid. "
- Plenty of commentary on blogger post (Wizbang) of an affected blogger
On the same site at http://wizbangblog.com/archives/006924.php there's a useful side view that shows NO between the Mississippi and Lake Pontchatrain
- Plenty of commentary on related post at Ace of Spades HQ
eg: "As I mentioned before, it's going to be very hard to justify rebuilding much of New Orleans. Yesterday, the talk radio outlets were all noting that the Times Picayune, the city's major newspaper, ran a long article in 2002 detailing the risks the city faced. The scenario described was almost exactly what has now become reality.
The problem has been known for decades but there was no practical solution. Meanwhile, the ground beneath New Orleans continues to sink, making the flood that much worse when it comes. "
- Will Katrina Impoverish the Nation?
To repair and revive is one thing, though; to rebuild New Orleans better than it was, as President Bush promised Thursday night, or bring all the New Orleans residents back as Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco vowed earlier in the week, is something else...
...Everybody cares. But this outpouring of aid raises a big question of fairness -- not to mention common sense in federal subsidies encouraging people to live below sea level in hurricane prone zones.
- Don Surber: Do Not Rebuild New Orleans
"It is nuts to build a city below sea level, particularly when that city is parked next to a sea.
Everyone in the nation wants to help New Orleans in its time of need. And I realize that relocating the city poses all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the lack of available higher ground.
But Americans must be truly compassionate and not set up the victims of this Big One to be the victims in the next Big One."
For those not in the know, Kydland and Prescott won a Nobel Prize in 2004 for pointing out that it isn't very bright for the government to give people money to rebuild after a natural disaster because they will rebuild in the same spot and get clobbered again.
From an Economist magazine article commenting on their work:
"Examples abound, showing the wide applicability of their work. A government might, for instance, want to discourage building in areas prone to hurricanes. So it warns citizens that no compensation will be given for houses in such areas should disaster strike. If people believe the warning, they will not build. But if they expect (as history suggests they should) that the government is likely to soften its stance and pay for hurricane damage after all, they will ignore the warning. Before the fact, the government wants to stop building; afterwards, it wants to compensate those who have suffered. Mr Kydland and Mr Prescott refer to such conundrums as “time consistency problems”. "
"Unfortunately political demagoguery has so far inhibited an honest and frank discussion about whether we should rebuild the city in it’s current location. But as this indicates, the discussion needs to be had, because the city is sinking."
"Rebuilding in these zones, and not just the Mississippi delta, is too short-sighted and expensive given the inevitable pressures of Mother Nature."
- composite drawings
"But logistically, on a city like the Big Easy, cleaning out and rebuilding every 35 years or so is (as FOX says) a nightmare and an increasingly impractical venture. Levees are always vulnerable to collapse, no matter how much of a genius was the guy who built them. And, even when they don't collapse, they make the city that much more threatened when the water rises above them."
- Gerry Charlotte Phelps
"It is early to consider this; but with some things, the earlier they are considered, the better.
What kind of sense does it make to have a city near the Gulf and its hurricanes which is the size of New Orleans, in a bowl 8 to 20 feet below sea level? If it does not make much sense, should it be rebuilt there?"
- Jeff the Baptist
"Now it may be too expensive to move the city outright. There will certainly be a lot of steel and concrete commercial buildings that will come through this without major structural damage. However calls to rebuild exactly as it was, should not be heeded."
As to Jeff's assertion of no structural damage, Paul at Wizbang (New Orleans - "I don't think we even understand the half of it yet"), a New Orleans native, has some different thoughts on that:
"Now consider this...~10 feet of water in a city for ~10 weeks.
Most homes will simply dissolve. Basically anything under 3 stories is gone...
But the big concrete buildings including the office buildings are safe right? We just replace the interior of the bottom floors right? Not so fast....
In New Orleans (and many other places) our buildings "float" via a system of modo [sic] sized pilings. The mud is too soft to actually support them but the friction holds them in place. -- Now take that same mud and let it sit underwater for 10 weeks.
The foundation of our 30 to 40+ story skyscrapers will erode. When that happens they will start to lean.... 40 story buildings don't "lean" too well."
- Jeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine)
"I’m not suggesting that what’s left of New Orleans should be bulldozed and abandoned. But I will suggest that, indeed, the city may need to be reinvented. How?"
"The question of rebuilding New Orleans — whether and how — is not just an understandably emotional decision and certainly an economic one but it is also an ethical issue. We knew this was going to happen and we were not prepared. "
Also plenty of commentary.
While unpopular among politicians, the hot question of the day is whether New Orleans will, or should be, rebuilt. Now, everyone knows that the greatest efforts will be made to pump the flooded districts and allow people to reclaim their soggy homes and property, but really, who will be willing to rebuild (and pay for it) a city that is sinking several feet a century? A city that is shielded from the gulf by a marshland that is disappearing at the rate of one football field every fifteen minutes
The arguments for New Orleans are self-evident, and will be repeated ad nauseum in the months to come. There are the arguments on behalf of the city itself: It is historical. It is a major port. It is an economic engine. It is the home of many people. Then there are the arguments on behalf of the rebuilding effort per se: that it is somehow a worthy act of defiance, ipso facto noble and American. There is much right with these arguments, but there is more wrong. Sane analysis is frequently absent in crises -- and it is no exaggeration to state that this is America's worst since 9/11 -- but in the absence of a threatening enemy, we owe ourselves and the people of New Orleans the deliberation that was absent on the eve, and in the wake, of their catastrophe.
- Unburned Pieces of The Mind
Baton Rouge - The New, New Orleans
On September 7, 1900, Galveston, Texas, was a bustling, prominent seaport with a growing population of 40,000 people. The next day when the historic hurricane blew in, Galveston was reduced to a pile of rubble, and over 6000 people had lost their lives. In spite of promises to build bigger and better than ever, Galveston never fully recovered. Today it serves as a seaside tourist destination with a population of 56,000 people. Its seaport and commerce moved inland and became the cosmopolitan city of Houston, Texas, which is now the fourth largest city in the United States today...
...And so, perhaps New Orleans should be relegated to become what Galveston, Texas became after 1900: a small, tourist city.
- Defying Mother Nature
Here are some of the questions we need to learn to ask:
* Does it make sense to inhabit, for example, the New Orleans basin at all? Actually, it might; it would be interesting to see whether the net value created there since the 18th century outweighed the losses we've just witnessed. But even if it made sense to hang on until Katrina, it might not make sense to try again. Transhipment from ocean-going to river vessels is not nearly as important, in a world with railroads and highways, as it used to be, and the Gulf Coast has natural harbors much less liable to being drowned for months in a storm.
* Is it a national responsibility to maintain the levees and flood controls in Louisiana, or is that a cost-benefit decision that people who have chosen to live there should make with their own funds? Mark's post links to a story deploring federal government failure to fix the levees. But might that "failure" have been exactly the right federal decision?
* Does anyone who chooses to live anywhere have a claim on everyone else's purse to make his choice as safe as living in a less risky location, or is this a blatant case of moral hazard? [Full disclosure: I am writing this very near the northern California fault that is most likely to slip next. I live in a wood house with lots of hardware that will probably hold it together at that time, but may not, and I pay a fortune for earthquake insurance with a whopping deductible and copayment. When we have the Big One, anyone catching me expecting the government to buy me a new house is invited to humiliate me with this essay in any way possible, and I readily admit that the decision to live here at all may well be completely loony by the standards of reasonable people.]
- Freedom Dip
"Everything is underwater. Who would want to move there now? The city is still below sea level. We’re at the highest hurricane activity ever. The city was dirty and nasty to begin with. Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Shreveport are cities that can flourish."
- Mark Daniels
"The question that has been rolling around in my mind since yesterday is one of those simple--but huge--ones. I don't know the answer. But the very fact that it seems like a reasonable question to ask is a bit daunting to me. It's this: Should New Orleans be rebuilt?"
- The Fat Guy
"Call me a romantic, but I’m afraid I simply can’t imagine an America without New Orleans. It does not compute. Now if the question is, should it be rebuilt 100% with 100% federal tax dollars, that’s valid... "
- Confederate Yankee
Comments on similar decision made by Diamond City in North Carolina that suffered at the hands of Hurricane Floyd.
- Richard Blumberg
"This is way worse than 9-11. It seems likely that New Orleans is history, at least as a major city; it may remain as a name on a map, but no one will live there who has the resources to move somewhere else. Venice can survive; Amsterdam can survive. But no coastal city below sea level can survive in the hurricane corridor."
- Swearing is Fun
"New Orleans is a modern day Atlantis, swallowed by the sea, or in this case Lake Pontchartrain. Rebuilding it would just be irresponsible. "
- Ramblings from the Masthead
"It looks like we avoided the staggering loss numbers that were predicted, but it appears that the city is basically gone. In the article, the disaster management people were quoted as saying that if the levees around the city break, the city will be flooded and basically unlivable. It seems like that is what has happened. They went on to say that the best course of action might be to simply bulldoze the city and rebuild somewhere else. I don't know if that is doable or if people who have lived there would even agree to it, but it still is damage on a scale that we haven't seen here in the US."
- The Scott Wickham Experience
"Please Don't Rebuild New Orleans
Bury the dead. Give people their federal flood insurance money and tell them to move. Because this will happen again and again until everyone moves."
- Vicious Momma
"And while I'm at it let me step even further into dangerous territory. I have to wonder why we should rebuild New Orleans in the exact same place and in the exact same way. It seems like it was a bad set-up to begin with, building a coastal city below sea-level."
- Half Sigma
"Does it really make sense to rebuild a home in a "bowl" that's susceptible to future hurricanes? Did it ever make sense to build it there in the first place? "
- The Truth According to Mark
"This might be the time to ask an important question - should New Orleans be rebuilt? It is so vulnerable to flooding it might be better to abandon most of it. Leave the French Quarter and the Garden District. Both of them were built on high ground. The rest of it is too low to be safe."
- Minority of One
"The indominable American spirit will undoubtedly work wonders, once the immediate humanitarian crisis has been dealt with. One wonders if they will try to rebuild the city where it now stands, or if they will build a new one in a safer location. The latter would be wiser, IMHO."
"Bad place for a city, even without the hurricanes."
"Drying it out is going to take some doing. And the wisdom of doing so seems questionable; as the oceans rise and the weather gets more severe over the course of the century, will it make sense to rebuild the levees and pump the city dry, and then floodproof it to the point where it can shrug off storms even worse than Katrina? Does it make more sense to just leave the ruins there and spend the money resettling the survivors?"
"I believe that repairing the city would cost too much compared to building a new city, call it New New Orleans or just Orleans. 80% of the city is flooded. 80%, that's mind blogging. And we're not taking a tad flooded, we're talking "Dude, where's my car" flooded."
- Left Brain Female
"The tough question, as I see it,is SHOULD New Orleans, as it was, be rebuilt?"
- Ogre's View
"I asked the question a few days ago, and now more people are weighing in. The question is, "Should we rebuild New Orleans?"
"Which leads me back to the situation where so much of New Orleans is below sea level. The Dutch people have had severe experience with such a concept, but the Europeans ran out of space a long time ago already and for them the trade-off makes a bit more sense. There is a chance that Katrina will cause a rethink of which areas are suitable for large populations on a long-term basis, or at least prompt some to move to safer areas, but my optimism is a bit limited."
- Random Moments of Lunacy
"...But the trophy goes to local, state, and federal governments. They have spent more than 150 years and countless billions of dollars trying to control the flow of the Mississippi River. A girl called Katrina just demonstrated the folly of it all."
- Internal Force
"I don't think anybody will ever be seeing New Orleans again. It has become a lake. At some point, they're going to have to figure that it will cost less to relocate everybody than it will to rebuild an entire city. What an awful mess."
- The Hate Salon
"You have to wonder if the city will ever be the same after taking a hit like it did this week. Will it be fully rebuilt and "prosper" as it once did? Anyone who's been to New Orleans and seen some of the neighborhoods that aren't on the tourist list knows why I put that in quotations."
- Geoff Fox
"At some point, we as a country are going to have to reevaluate our commitment to having a city (New Orleans) where it is. Do we want the responsibility, since it is so susceptible?"
- Garfield Ridge
"The bill for New Orleans and its environs will likely be far higher than what we're estimating now. But no matter what is done, when the city is rebuilt it will be rebuilt atop land that still sits below sea level. Dikes may be restored, levees may be reinforced, but nothing will change that fact."
- Deeply Concerned
"There is existing housing stock throughout the US that is vacant and otherwise for sale. These are great homes in wonderful communities that can immediately accommodate these folks. Rather than putting an unprecedented strain on Houston, Tennessee and other adjacent areas and their school and public welfare systems, each of these areas around the country could absorb the handful of students and families without much of an effect on their local economies."
- Weekend Pundit
"The second question that I've been pondering is the one that disturbs me the most, for the answer, regardless of what it is, will have a great impact upon the people of the city of New Orleans. The question? Should they rebuild or should they abandon the city and build a new one in a place less vulnerable than its present location?"
- Commentators on Captains Quarter's respond to, "We can and will debate the how and the what, but not the whether. We're Americans, and we don't run from a fight."
eg: "New Orleans may have been on that site since 1718, but the government didn't put it there. People did. If people want to rebuild and settle in that area I would be happy to pray for them and wish them the best. I glady contribute to relief efforts for the people who need relief so much now, but I think making the citizens of the nation pay for the poor location choices of other citizens isn't right. If there is a strong enough motivation for people and businesses to remain, they will do it for themselves. THAT is American character. Using tax money to give people a city they might not build on their own isn't a display of character as much as it is a display of the wilingness of government to spend our money."
- Hatless in Hattiesburg
"I've got a simple single solution that the government could use to solve at least three big problems facing our country:
* Allow petroleum refineries to be built on the sites of the military bases closed by the BRAC commission.
*Relocate all hurricane refugees to the abandoned housing around these bases, and give them jobs at the new refineries (or in other support businesses). "
- Finance, History and Politics
Should there be a New New Orleans? Let's face it, that city was lucky (and I was lucky to have visited it 3 times) to have made it this long. Rather than waste billions rebuilding something that could be destroyed again next year, or in 10, or a 100 years, why not rebuild somewhere ... less swampy and above sea level?
"Nobody can offer any rational reason to rebuild it in a manner resembling what it was. This isn’t like 9-11-01 and Ground Zero; this isn’t about a hole in the ground a couple of city blocks square. New Orleans in toto has basically been destroyed. From a sheer logistical engineering standpoint, that city had no business being where it was, and something like what happened this past week was inevitable."
But this article highlights an important problem--New Orleans' highest point is only six feet above sea level. And that problem raises a real question. It's a question that doesn't need to be resolved now, and in fact, shouldn't probably be considered now.
- TFS Magnum
Governor Blanco says, "we will rebuild." But who will pay? I expect to see any number of insurance companies fold, so will the US taxpayer pay? And if they do rebuild, New Orleans will still be 80% below sea level. So the whole thing will be waiting to happen again.
- Several comments at Lucianne.com
The following comment could be considered a supporting argument for the work Kydland and Prescott were recognized for when they won their Nobel Prize in 2004 (see: Economist magazine article)
GOOFUS: Hey, Doofus, I got me a great idea!
DOOFUS: What that be?
GOOFUS: Lets rebuild ever'thin right here where it were.
DOOFUS: But, it still be below sea level - that don't make much sense.
GOOFUS: Hey, Doofus, what we care? It ain't our money.
DOOFUS: Yea, that be right!!!
- Don't rebuild New Orleans as it was: Letter to the Editor dailypress.com
"Would any right-minded individual consider building a brand-new city below sea level, at the ocean's edge and in an area that we know will have repeated hurricanes?
I think not.
To rebuild New Orleans below sea level just doesn't make sense. To do so is playing Russian roulette, and it will simply be a matter of time before the current disaster will be replayed. Just look at the paths of the hurricanes that have struck the southeast United States in the past couple of years. Many localities have been struck several times."
- Tennessean.com: Rebuilding of New Orleans incredibly big, far from easy
"Just patching the holes won't be enough. Katrina shifted at the last moment before it came ashore, sparing New Orleans its most potent winds and waves, and the city's defenses still failed.
"I think they're going to have to completely re-strategize the positioning of the city and all the levees. There is going to have to be a complete re-analysis of how the city is protected," said Grover Mouton III, the director of the Tulane Regional Urban Design Center, based in the city."
- Chicago Tribune: How do they rebuild a city?
"One far-out proposal: Raise the level of entire neighborhoods by "upfilling" with material dredged from the gulf's floor. In the flooded sections of New Orleans that make up 80 percent of the city's acreage, much of the wood-frame housing likely has been destroyed.
"Once you clear away the destroyed housing, you have a chance to raise the grade of the city," said David Schulz, director of the Infrastructure Technology Institute at Northwestern University.
But such a costly, sweeping plan would risk unintended consequences, other experts said. Loading more landfill could simply weigh down the land and push New Orleans lower, a major consideration in a region that has sunk up to 10 feet over the last few centuries.
Cities that forge ahead with no plan do so at their peril. That's what San Francisco did after its 1906 earthquake. Ignoring a grand redesign proposed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, city leaders pushed much of the earthquake debris into San Francisco Bay. There it became a wobbly foundation for the city's Marine district, which suffered some of the heaviest damage during the 1989 quake."
- Portland Independent Media Center: Rebuild New Orleans?
"The extent to which the US invests in rebuilding New Orleans deserves a healthy debate. No one should question the suggestion by House Speaker Dennis Hastert that New Orleans may never be completely rebuilt."
- VodkaPundit: Coventry
"Do we want to rebuild a city best known for police corruption and topless Mardi Gras women, most of whom should really leave their tops the hell on?
Before we answer that, let's make something clear: Hurricane Katrina is not the fault of any private New Orleans resident. The French founded the city as a means of controlling the flow of goods out of the Mississippi, and as a fort to protect their vast, vacant New World empire. New Orleans, in other words, is an accident of history. It's no fault of the residents there that this country purchased the city, and it's not our fault President Jefferson bought it. The fact that New Orleans grew so big and so prosperous – despite its many geographical disadvantages – is a testament to our country in general, and to the people of New Orleans specifically."
- Derek's Rantings and Musings:
Building On A Flood Plain
So now that New Orleans is underwater, and the devastation of property is huge, various charities have started beating the drums about raising money to "rebuild New Orleans".
I'm forced to ask myself one simple question: "Why?"
New Orleans sits below sea level, and is only able to sustain itself as "dry" artificially via the use of pumping equipment that runs 24x7, as well as huge levees to keep the water out (the levees breaking are what caused most of New Orleans' problems).
Scientists have been predicting for years that New Orleans was going to vanish eventually. The disintegration of the Mississippi River delta, the fact that it was below sea level, all these things made it clear to scientists that New Orleans' days were numbered. While it was a convenient place to build a city a couple hundred years ago, when the delta was still above sea level, in today's reality, it'd simply be stupid to build there.
- Planetizen: Thoughts On Rebuilding (And Not Rebuilding) New Orleans
Should New Orleans be rebuilt? Whose fault was the flooding? Jason Henderson, Assistant Professor of Geography at San Francisco State University, and a New Orleans native, warns the citizens of his home city that rebuilding all is a bad idea, and that the flooding was an act of public policy failure, not nature.
- Sensible Mom: Rebuild New Orleans?:
In 1993, heavy rains caused the Mississippi River to flood many communities in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Although this particular flood was considered a "100-year event," federal and county agencies encouraged people to rebuild elsewhere because of what was becoming a cycle of smaller floods and rebuilding at the government's expense.
This same cycle could happen in New Orleans given its unique vulnerabilities. In 2004, Thomas Sowell (via Michelle Malkin) wrote about what he called "The Compassion Racket." It's something to consider. Maybe this storm was a one-time disaster, a "100-year event", for New Orleans, but what if happens more frequently?
Exploring the relocation option for Hurricane Katrina victims
A Civil Engineering Analysis from 2003 that turned out to be prescient on New Orleans' risks
Providing assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina responsibly: "...After the 1993 Mississippi Flood, the National Research Council developed a report called Reducing Future Flood Losses. One of the primary recommendations of the report was to:
Avoid developing the floodplain unless absolutely necessary. "
Rebuilding New Orleans
Labels: Hurricane Katrina