Sunday, November 27, 2005

New Orleans: Stop whining, signed everyone else.

Nation: Jim Amoss editor of the Times-Picayune takes his act to the Washington Post opinion pages. Its a column filled with angst and love for a city that is going to be rebuilt, but not in the way he wants. He is going to have to deal with it.

Above all we are waiting for Congress and the federal government to decide that New Orleans deserves strong levees -- stronger than the sorry system, designed and built by the Army Corps of Engineers, that collapsed, wrecking our neighborhoods. We want word from Washington that a great American city will not be left to die. As our newspaper has documented in recent weeks, the miles of federally built concrete floodwalls that were meant to keep Lake Pontchartrain from flooding the city through its drainage canals during a hurricane appear to have been poorly designed and improperly constructed. The floodwall system is a federal project, designed by the Corps and built under Corps specifications. Evidence suggests that metal sheet piles didn't go deep enough into the ground and that the walls were built on peaty soil that did not provide adequate anchorage. One engineering professor from Louisiana State University called in to investigate the failures said it was the kind of engineering shortfall he'd expect his first-year students to be able to identify.
Question: Who built the levees, what about the levee boards? Where did all the money given to Louisiana and New Orleans over the decades go? Those are the questions you need to ask. The cost to nostlagia ratio in building a Cat 5 defense system for one city is ridiculous. Its time for a fresh start for one of the most corrupt cities in America, use this time to evolve, not try to recreate something that people were trying to get away from.
Today, when we New Orleanians travel around the country, we are comforted by a tremendous outpouring of sympathy from ordinary Americans. Many have given generously to charities for Katrina victims. We also hear people talk about how things must be getting back to normal. Nothing could be farther from the truth. New Orleans has become two cities -- an enclave of survivors clustered along the Mississippi River's crescent and a vast and sprawling shadow city where the water stood, devoid of power and people. The ancient heart -- the French Quarter and Uptown -- is throbbing with commerce and signs of life from the hardiest returnees. But cross Freret Street, and you enter a dim realm. The neighborhoods that extend from there to the lake are comatose. At night, I drive through darkened and abandoned streets, past acres of housing that marinated in polluted floodwater for weeks, past blocks where I know people died, unable to escape the storm, past the homes of poor, middle-class and affluent New Orleanians -- all devastated alike.
Wait a minute now. Mayor Nagin vacaing in Jamaica says things are better.
"....Commenting on reconstruction efforts, Mayor Nagin said that he was pleased with the pace at which the rebuilding of New Orleans was progressing. "We are moving in the right direction," he said. "The hotel industry is now up to 75 per cent of its capacity and it should be up to 100 per cent by year-end, and electricity has returned to almost 75 per cent of the city."
Lets get on the same page people. The French Quarter and business section is up and running, the port is there. The city is not going to be rebuilt the same as before, even the state of Louisiana is sneering and gloating as they have a chance to finally short change the city. People who left the city, I doubt most will be coming back as they settle elsewhere and get a new start in life that they didn't have in a crime ridden low expectations of success that were in New Orleans. It will be a smaller city with a different demographic makeup.
When we're ready, we will be expecting, not unreasonably, a commitment from our government to fund a well-designed system of substantial levees, floodgates and other barriers extending into the Gulf of Mexico; a system that will protect us not only from a Category 3 hurricane like Katrina but from the strongest storm, a Category 5. Such a system would already have been built if anyone had taken into account the billions of dollars the government's failure to protect New Orleans is costing us now. Can America, having witnessed the loss of well over 1,000 lives to Katrina, not rouse itself? Despite its problems, New Orleans remains one of our greatest cities, beloved of this country and the world. We are at the fulcrum of one-third of the nation's oil and gas and 40 percent of its seafood. We gave birth to much of this country's indigenous culture, and we continue to nourish it. What does it say about our civilization if this unique American metropolis is left to die?
You need to read your history, just because New Orleans is important does not make it indespisible. The hurricane that destroyed Galveston in 1900 moved the oil business center and delivery system to Houston. The state of Louisiana is more than enough to keep the culture alive that is unique to the region. New Orleans has a chance to finally become a city people can be proud of and not just known for crime, murder and corruption. America won't allow a city to die, but they won't make the same mistake with the original. New Orleans will evolve differently and not the same way as Amoss wants it to be.
What New Orleans needs is no extravagance. Our city must help itself in rebuilding its neighborhoods and reforming its institutions. What is lacking is political will in Washington and the determination to bring our engineering know-how to bear upon the problem. Without a substantial levee system, homeowners won't muster the confidence to rebuild, and businesses will not see fit to invest.
On the contrary, businesses are flocking to the city now and more will come if the city becomes more business friendly, prime real estate is for the buying and selling to develop. What you are not going to get is a blank check to rebuild what people are now looking at as a mistake to rebuild the same. Change is coming and some editor at the Times-Picayune can't do anything about it. Update# Just to put some info up on some of the stuff I said above. Newsweek: "A New Spice in the Gumbo"
Before Katrina, according to the 2000 Census, New Orleans was just 3 percent Hispanic and 67 percent African-American. After evacuating en masse, however, many blacks may have left for good. According to one survey of emergency shelters in Houston, 44 percent of respondents, who were almost uniformly black, had no plans to return. The potential outcome of these dual migrations: a much more Latin New Orleans. "This is a future San Antonio, Texas," says Scarlett Alaniz-Diaz, Hispanic liaison for the nearby city of Kenner.
New York Times: "Worker shortage hinders La. recovery"
"This region is going to be going through a huge boom for the next three to five years rebuilding the coast," Bollinger said. "That's very good news for those who want work and really worrisome news for employers who have to compete with everyone else for labor." "I think we all believed there would be more happening than is happening right now," said Joseph Canizaro, a bank president and retired real estate developer. "One of the key problems is jobs. You look at the housing situation, and the schools situation, and you wonder where businesses are going to find the people they desperately need to get things going."
I made the mistake of implying and stating the boom is going on now so short after the hurricane. But I don't see it as said in comments as being the Detroit of the South unless they local and state officials are foolish enough to drive up taxes and make recovery as hard as possible.

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