Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Adapt or Die?

At times, I wonder if many of us New Orleanians are living in a “make-believe” world when it comes to New Orleans and its recovery. Our initial sense of incredible opportunity after the Storm, a sense that we could perhaps rebuild better levees, better housing, better schools, and induce better economic development into the City has been hit with the reality of not only the slowness of the recovery pace but also the ineptitude of the “so-called” leaders at all levels of government to fund the recovery. Nearly two years after the Storm and large parts of the City remain abandoned and blighted. In my former neighborhood of Broadmoor—one of the better neighborhoods when it comes to post-Katrina recovery—I still find significant pockets of abandoned and blighted housing (my former house, which I sold last year, has yet to be gutted—it most likely will be a teardown). Just on my former street (Walmsley Avenue), I estimate that only 33-35% of the houses are occupied. The others appear to still be in a state of despair.

Mark Hertsgaard, the Nation Magazine’s Environmental Correspondent, reports this week that, given the changes taking place on the planet due to climate change, New Orleans may be lost anyway.

“New Orleans …will be looked back on as one of the first great casualties of climate change. Not because global warming can definitively be blamed for Katrina or the Bangladesh floods; the earth's weather system is too complex to attribute any one event to a single cause. But these events fit a larger pattern: Extra-strong hurricanes and floods are exactly what scientists expect to see--along with fiercer heat waves, harsher droughts, heavier rains and inexorable sea level rise--as global warming intensifies in the years to come.”

As I drove around the city this last weekend, I couldn’t help but feel that the city was full of incredible heroes, those working with a passion to rebuild their houses, communities, and lives. New Orleans is such a great place to preserve—it is important. Yet, one has to wonder how futile this work will be if New Orleans is hit with another hurricane. One thing to consider is that New Orleans has been touched by the four most destructive storms of the twentieth century: the Hurricane of 1947, Betsy, Camille, and Georges. It is difficult to believe that New Orleans will not be hit with a hurricane again this century. It becomes imperative that the Levees be repaired and reinforced to withstand a Cat-5 storm, and Wetlands be restored. Without this, we are in peril of losing New Orleans. We must seriously think about this as we encourage the rebuilding of New Orleans.

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