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September 03, 2005


"New Orleans is in our national interest, every bit in our interest as the War Against Militant Islamists."

I'm fascinated that you feel this needs explaining to some people.

I'm wondering why so many people think it's up to the federal government whether New Orleans comes back or not. Cities aren't made by governments (barring Canberra and a few other odd examples), they're made by people congregating. If people return to New Orleans to live there, it will become a town and then a city, and if they don't, it won't.

That's the spirit, sid. If people want to live there, they can rebuild the levees and pump out the water on their own.

If they don't, they don't.


I disagree for many reasons -- not least because the site of New Orleans per se is simply untenable, as we've seen -- but I'll save it for a post later.

I was kind of wondering about the feasibility of permanently maintaining a city that's always going to be below sea-level and vulnerable to these sorts of disasters.

Then I remembered that there is a country that has existed for centuries with at least a quarter of its land below sea level.

I would be fascinated to hear what some experienced Dutch civil engineers would say is necessary to properly rebuild New Orleans and keep it safe from future disasters of this kind.

but I'll save it for a post later.

But why? All this talk about possibly not rebuilding New Orleans is sure to alleviate it's citizens sense of abandonment.

Wimps...the nanny state is only for the wealthy.

Poor people can't aford no nanny!

What Republicans are gearing up for is presenting a case that "the Federal government has failed," rather than Bush's policies or GOP policies.

They want to spin this into an indictment of the whole idea of Federal disaster relief, rather than an indictment of their own starve-the-government ideology.

If they manage that, then they can protect their Party and their ideology from damage, and continue to convince people that the government is the problem, not the solution (as Reagan put it).

They can continue to cut taxes. The GOP is already gearing up to make the elimination of the estate tax permanent, and Grover Norquist is already calling for more tax cuts - that's after Katrina devastated NO, BTW.

They can continue to use tax dollars to fund their cronies. Halliburton has already been given contracts to rebuild NO.

And the memory of a time when the federal government had a duty of care to its citizens in general, and in particular in times of crisis and devastation, will recede until it's completely forgotten.

I think the GOP might even be willing to throw Bush over the side on this one. Bush, after all, isn't going to face another election. But the GOP wants to keep its majorities in Congress, and wants to put another RW Republican in the WH. If they can isolate Bush, say it's the fault of one man rather than the fault of the ideology he represents, they're ahead of the game.

I urge those who are actually in a position to
make decisions about the future reconstruction
of New Orleans (and the future of the entire
Mississippi delta) to read John McPhee's
excellent _The_Control_of_Nature_.
The piece "Atchafayal" explores the history
and science of the Mississippi flood regime,
and the limits of human intervention.
Originally published in the New Yorker for
23 February 1987. _Salon_ ran an excerpt:

I disagree for many reasons -- not least because the site of New Orleans per se is simply untenable, as we've seen -- but I'll save it for a post later.

I'm a bit confused. Are you suggesting we don't need a city on the mouth of the Mississippi or simply that we need to rethink the location? If it is the latter, what location are you thinking of?

least because the site of New Orleans per se is simply untenable

next up for "untenable" status, San Francisco, and then L.A.: prone to earthquake. then Seattle and Portland: at the mercy of volcanos. then all of south Florida, and costal GA,SC,NC: easy prey for hurricane. then everything north of I90: too cold. then all of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada: too hot and dry.

I think his point is going to be that New Orleans is "untenable" because it would cost a lot of public money to restore it and protect it from further megastorms. And heaven knows we can't be spending a lot of tax dollars on... US cities and citizens.

This segues perfectly with the point I made in my earlier post: We're going to be told that the Federal Government should not be in the business of protecting Americans or American cities from major natural disasters. If you get caught in one, it's your own damn fault, and you're on your own.

And I like cleek's post. Once the GOP has decided that we're on our own, the list of regions that'll have to be written off does get pretty long. Eventually our country will consist of the Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, New England, the Middle Atlantic states, Idaho, and maybe Virginia.

Maybe it's all part of a cunning plan to deal with global climate change by... abandoning 3/4 of the country.

If this is a rebuilding thread, this cnn article on what is left in NO might be interesting. According to this link, Tourism is second behind oil/gas, but I suspect that business may include conventions, which would make it first. Of course, sports based tourism might be out (the Super Bowl has been held every 5 years or so, and the Sugar Bowl is a yearly event), but I am thinking that tourism would provide financial pump priming in terms of getting things restarted. I imagine that the initial parts would be fueled by those with an interest in the macabre (like this) but I'm not sure where else the initiative is going to come from, given the size of the deficit. However, if that was Tac's point, I would be surprised, as I haven't seen him hold the deficit as restricting US ability to act, though I may have missed that change.

Ironically, a strong economic downturn followed by a Democratic administration that implements a vast program of public works sounds so 1930's... (note that was in Slartian mode and no philosophical position was implied or endorsed)

Also, on the tourism front, the New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Zoo apparently survived the hurricane unscathed, in part because of the extensive emergency measures that have been put in place, suggesting that we should turn the management of FEMA over to the zookeepers.

...but I am thinking that tourism would provide financial pump priming in terms of getting things restarted.

I guess so. But as New Orleans was reliant on it before, and seems to be a basket case economically, I'd say it's time to diversify.

If they're rebuilding all infrastructure anyways, it would be nice if some state-of-the-art internet technology was built in. The major cost of such things is not usually in the equipment itself, but rather digging holes and putting it in the ground.

I would be fascinated to hear what some experienced Dutch civil engineers would say is necessary to properly rebuild New Orleans and keep it safe from future disasters of this kind.

According to my newspaper (in Dutch, sorry) the US Army Corps of Civil Engineers has called for the help of the water management experts of the Technische Universiteit (Technical University) Delft. They think that after the pumping there should be a national plan with open and closed dykes (like the Oosterscheldekering, but with a different kind of rebuilding. More room for the wetlands, to keep the pressure of the water lower, that kind of thing. We are facing some of those choices in the Netherlands too; building close to water changes the pressure and adds the risc of floods, unless you create more room for water elsewhere. We are thinking about using parts of the national parks as 'drowning grounds' for instance, but discussions are still taking place.

"That's the spirit, sid. If people want to live there, they can rebuild the levees and pump out the water on their own."

What are you talking about? The flooding is going to be removed at the very least to save peoples' lives, help with the cleanup, and manage the massive environmental problem that's developing.

The question is whether, after New Orleans has been dried, the US should go full bore into rebuilding a city fit for however many million people, or wait to find out how many people actually want to live there. Personally, I think we should divide aid among the displaced residents over and above whatever they might get from insurance. . I can't even guess at the numbers. . something like $50,000 each. . that seems in the range of the 10s of billions that people are talking about. If they want to return to New Orleans with that money, so be it. If they want to move to Indianapolis, so be it. If the number that want to return to New Orleans is small enough to turn it into a small-size industrial city rather than a major metropolis, so be it.

For clarity: "They" in my post refers to the Dutch guy from the Delft Hydraulics.

I hate to be the bad guy here, and I especially hate to even give the appearance of agreeing with Tacitus, but I think that it does need to be given more thought than just "of course we must rebuild!"

Don't get me wrong, despite the fact that I've never managed to get there (closest I ever got while bumbling about the South was East Mississippi), New Orleans remains as much a part of my own mythological conception of the United States as New York, Chicago and Boston (and those cities kicked my ass). Seeing it flooded before I've had a chance to visit really does break my heart, and I know that that's shallow and callous when there are people dying, but it's true and I can't help it. The city of New Orleans is as potent a symbol of America as the twin towers were, and everybody knows that That Tuesday left scars even above and beyond the massive human cost involved.

My heart that loves America and the rich culture of the South especially says damn the cost, damn the feasibility, damn the entire planet. I don't care what you think you can throw at us, planet Earth, with your big ideas above your station and your airs and graces, we are gonna rebuild and you can kiss the New New Orleans shiny metal

That's what I want to say.


I'd advise everyone to look at this post and followup by Stentor Danielson before unequivocally saying that we should and must just rebuild on the old site.

Note, the argument here is not that we just up sticks and move away. As Charles has pointed out, America needs a port at the mouth of the Mississippi. But the planet Earth itself has been trying to move the mouth of the Mississippi away from New Orleans for a long time now, and, while I am not saying that we should definitely look to relocate the city, when we're looking at a multi-billion dollar investment (it's not unreasonable to assume that the total costs of this disaster will end up being the thick end of a hundred-billion dollar sized wedge of both public and private funds), it behooves us to not just rebuild like Canute and dare the planet to try that again, because it will.

Are we willing to rebuild New Orleans, only to lose it again in forty or fifty years? Can anyone take that kind of heartache? We'll have young people who have seen this and who will come back into the city, build up their lives and families from the rubble, live the very essence of the American dream, and potentially see it swept away a second time. That's a hard burden to lay on people, no matter how big or wonderful the dream is.

Of course we need to save what can be saved of the city, and of course we need to rebuild New Orleans. But, as unromantic as it is, and as much as it pains me to have to suggest it, I think we should give serious consideration to not embarking on a Sisyphean task, and rebuilding New Orleans in a different place. I mean, we'll still rebuild New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi, it's just that that mouth will have changed its location on the coast.

No, it won't be the same. But it won't anyway. Let's take this opportunity to think clearly and decide with our heads as well as our hearts. And, if the people of America and Louisiana decide that the risks and the costs are worth it to keep the city where it is, then let's do it and I'll fully support however I can. But let's not take that decision lightly.

For some reason, I forgot to type ass. Shiny metal ass. The planet Earth can kiss my shiny metal ass.

Ah, whatever.

Allow me to be cynical: If New Orleans was not mostly a city of poor blacks, if the refugees we saw on TV were white, there would be no question of what to do with New Orleans.

Watching the utter difference in response to Florida's hurricanes in 2004 and Katrina in 2005, you can't help but notice a staggering difference in attention, resources, competence, and overall result.

There are only two differences: 2004 was an election year, and Katrina's victims were a lot less white than Florida's.

So which is it, really? Is the Bush White House only competent in election year or is he only competent when the right-colored folks are in danger or need? Or, I suppose as a third alternative, does only only car when his brother is the one asking for help?

Jonas wrote:
If they're rebuilding all infrastructure anyways, it would be nice if some state-of-the-art internet technology was built in. The major cost of such things is not usually in the equipment itself, but rather digging holes and putting it in the ground.

Interesting point. When I was in Minneapolis, there was discussion of offering citywide wifi, but companies that had already started providing it were complaining, which might not be the problem here. Still, the notion of a gleaming technopolis of the banks of the Mississip strikes me as a bit of hubris. (cf. McDuff's post)

Being the liberal that I am, I think that there needs to be some marsh/wetlands remediation therapies, because one of the problems was that projects done by the Corps had acted to remove the land barrier that had alleviated the impact of hurricanes. Unfortunately, the work done on behalf of the oil/gas industry has functioned to increase subsidence and functioned to remove wetlands through dredging and the construction of waterways.

I also think that the Corps of Engineers is about to be raked over the coals, not only because of the poor response to the crisis, but because of cuts that took place. I'm not altogether convinced that the Corps has the ingenuity to craft a forward looking solution, though I admit to the bloggish tendency of googling for a few hours and then thinking that I am an expert on the subject, so take any of these comments with a grain of salt.

As for relocating New Orleans, I don't think there is any other place (at least in Louisiana). Any city that performs even a portion of the functions that NO does(it is the 4th or 5th largest port in the world)cannot be located further up the river because it cannot be consistently dredged to allow oceangoing vessels access. It can't be moved to the northern shore of Ponchartrain because the lake has an average depth of 14 feet or so, and moving functions to the Mississippi Gulf Coast are not possible because there isn't a lot of deep water access.

A further problem is the makeup of the transportation network. Goods that were offloaded in NO were generally trucked out if they weren't sent upriver (I think that raw materials, such as grain and soy beans were generally sent down river) When I was home 2 weeks before the hurricane, I was struck by the number of three trailer rigs streaming to and from New Orleans. Looking at the map (I was using map.google and can't figure out how to get a link showing the resolution, so I can't give a link) really highlights how much the hub of NO is dependent on trucking rather than rail, and Baton Rouge, which is the next likeliest hub, is at least 100 miles up river.

One possibility would be to make Houston the port of choice (it is ranked 5th or 6th), which would obviously be problematic from a political point of view, but could be done if virtually all land transport were done by truck and/or train, and either arrangements for transferring loads that go down the mississippi be made or that ships that are not normally oceangoing make the trip to Houston. This would massively disrupt the economy in most of the Southeast and increase costs for agricultural products in the Midwest.

sidereal wrote:
If the number that want to return to New Orleans is small enough to turn it into a small-size industrial city rather than a major metropolis, so be it.

But this is the problem. New Orleans was not a major metropolis. The population was half a million for the city and 1.3 million for the greater metro area. This doesn't seem to me like a "major metropolis", (I say this not to dismiss the city, but to get a clearer picture)

The idea of a flat fee is interesting, but given that the US economy depends on access to that port, are we going to pay those who choose to return a 'bonus' (in the form of protecting their homes and livelihood) or are we going to claim that it was their choice?

Furthermore, the per capita income of the city was $17k and the median family income was $32k. I find it hard to believe that some are going to be able to countenance paying first of all, paying some people the equivalent of three year's salary. I really don't know how we calculate a figure like this and it seems that any figure would be a problem.

I should note that this is not meant to be snarky, I think we are going to have to deal with some really hard questions. The fillup of people wondering why federal money should go to a 'local' disaster (again, not directed at anyone here) makes me deeply pessimistic that anything good will come of this.

I am with Charles. And with McDuff and Tacitus. We need a port on the Mississippi, but the nature of what is rebuilt there deserves careful analysis. I am frankly too ignorant of wetlands and environmental problems...both as in protection and practical exploitation...to discuss those problems.

But global warming and sea-level rise is a fact. It will happen, and it is too late to reverse. And I can't imagine the New Orleans that was surviving it at any cost worth paying or politically plausible.

South Florida is in the same position.

It's not even global warming, which is still technically debatable inasmuch as it hasn't happened yet (possibly). The danger to Nawlins is undeniable by dint of the fact that if we weren't spending a significant amount of money building big-ass walls along the river, it would already have happened. And the big-ass walls are damaging it in different ways that we can measure because we need more big-ass walls. And, in general, we're a little dutch boy sticking our fingers in a dyke (hurr hurr hurr).

I wish it weren't so, but it is.

You know, on every blog I've been to the past couple of days, whenever anybody says 'maybe we shouldn't rebuilt NO where it is right now' someone else comes on and says 'I suppose we should abandon San Francisco too, and maybe Florida while we're at it! And how about New York, too, after all you never know when mroe places will hit it!' or statements to that effect.

Can we all just please grow up?

I have seen nobody, not one person (and I'd welcome a link that proves me wrong) seriously say 'let's just abandon the fucking city, no rebuilding, none.' Even Hastert, the big sack of suet that he is, didn't say that, if you read the entire text of his remarks.

Let's take this by the numbers, shall we?

A lot of New Orleans, not all of it, but a lot of it, was built in an area that wants, desperatly, to be underwater. Now, being the ingenious little monkeys that we are, we built levees to keep the water out. Only, because in addition to being ingenious, we're also incompetent, we didn't build anywhere near well enough. And we saw where THAT led.


If the city were STILL INTACT, nobody but the wildest green crackpot would suggest abandoning it and relocating somewhere else. But it is NOT intact. It's a wasteland that is almost entirely abandoned, and the population goes down by the hour as people either die or flee. Just getting rid of the WATER will take months.

Now, let's keep going. We need a port at the mouth of the Mississippi river. Nobody denies this. Charles outlined just SOME of the reasons why, and pick the major blog of your choice and most os the MSM outlets for even MORE reasons. Port = people to work that port. Biggest port in the U.S = huge number of portworkers, which in turn = a city or at least very large town of some sort. So clearly there also need to be PEOPLE living at the mouth of the Mississippi as well.

But, the question being asked is, do the people need to live EXACTLY WHERE New Orleans is located now, in their little bowl between river and lake, which does not want to be a city; it wants to be a swamp.

Is there a BETTER spot for the Port of New Orleans? One that will function just as well and be much safer and cheaper? If not, is there a better spot for New Orleans itself, where it can still fulfill it's function as a hub of economic and social activity and service the port, where it won't have to worry about getting drowned all the time?

I don't know the answers to these questions. To any of these. I am not a climatologist. I am not a topographer, or a hydrologist, or an engineer. But I -do- know some things.

You can ask these questions without being a classist who thinks that we should abandon a mostly poor city.

You can ask these questions without being a racist who thinks we should abandon a mostly black city.

You can ask these questions without being a small-government wingnut who thinks we shouldn't spend a dime on anything but an army.

And you can ask these questions without being ignorant of the economic and social issues involved, even if you're not an expert in those fields.

So by all means, yes, let's rebuild. But we should examine other options aside from 'lets just put everything back the way it was' before we put everything back the way it was, please. And in the meantime, let's not make stupid-ass hyperbolic attacks on anyone who suggests anything otherwise.


Northern European Social Democrats turn me on!

Dear Mercutio,

I think the nervousness stems from the not so crazy idea that New New Orleans might not be built for the residents of Old New Orleans.

What happens to them? Where do they live? Where will they work? How do they pay for it? We're talking hundreds of thousands of people here most of whom are amongst the United States most impoverished citizens.

It's all very nice to think you can build a nice new shiny storm-proof port for the Mississippi River that has free Wi-Fi coming out the kazoo and MagLev for public transit, but that's only part of the equation.

lj, good points. But:

"Furthermore, the per capita income of the city was $17k and the median family income was $32k. I find it hard to believe that some are going to be able to countenance paying first of all, paying some people the equivalent of three year's salary."

I'd like to see someone try to argue against it in an open forum. You know 10s if not 100s of billions are going to be expended fixing this. I'd rather it be expended on people than buildings. The people can buy buildings if they want them.

Also, speaking of Google Maps, they now have a Satellite view of New Orleans as of (I believe) yesterday.

Here is the Superdome

Here are some levee breaks and the neighborhoods they destroyed. Here's the same area before the break.

I think Hastert was right, although of course it was extraordinarly insensitive of him to voice these views at the height of the crisis in New Orleans.

I think New Orleans should be rebuilt as New New Orleans, although we might find that name change to be unnecessarily cumbersome. It just doesn't make sense to re-site everything in exactly the same illogical spots where it initially sprung up by historical accident. New Orleans should be rebuilt to the extent practical on higher ground, and the part on lower ground that is impractical to relocate has to be better-protected. The lowest ground that is most difficult to protect should be converted into parkland or some other use that can be easily evacuated and abandoned in extremis.

Transit and accommodations in suppot of the use of the French Quarter for tourism should be emphasized.

NNO can be a greater and more fabulous city than what we had down there before--if it's done right.

There's no way under the sun that all the building would be done by then, but I think, whether we go for the NNO concept or just an unimaginative rebuilding, a good goal to set would be to have a big party and a parade in the French Quarter in about 6 months, say, on, I don't know, something like Tuesday, February 28, 2006.

one quick thought to those who want to move portions of the city elsewhere -- marginal investment (aka path dependence, aka stranded investments).

levees are not cheap. so if we're planning on redesigning the city and putting miles of new levees in place, we need to compare that cost to the cost of rehabilitating and upgrading the existing system.

btw, anyone remember the floods on the Mississippi a few years back and the howls of outrage when the corps refused to provide levee protection (after the fact) for one small community that was eventually bought out and relocated?

when calculating what's cheapest, please include the cost of condemning all the land that will be placed permanently under water.




Still, the notion of a gleaming technopolis of the banks of the Mississip strikes me as a bit of hubris. (cf. McDuff's post)

Hubris? Nah. The state of internet infrastructure everywhere in the US is woefully inadequate and is an opportunity for NO to have an advantage, thats all I'm saying. Not that it will solve all of its economic problems, not that it would any way be an argument against all the cold, cold rationalists who suggest not rebuilding. Just one small opportunity in the face of such a large and horrible tragedy.

OK, I agree with Charles and all the facts on the ground, as mentioned above, that there should be a city at the mouth of the Mississppi river.

What I think no one has mentioned yet is that the site of New Orleans contains a vast network of very expensive infrastructure, much of which is likely to have escaped damage from the floding, which would cost a mountain of money to replace.

For instance... the City of new Orleans owns an industrial facility which, in better times, supplies potable water to millions through an intricate network of underground pipes, built at enormous cost, and with minimal effort can be restored to its former glory. The same can be said for the sewer system, the electrical grid, the roads, the sidewalks, and doggone near everything else.

The contrary case is that we could start up a vast city from scratch in the vicinty of New Orleans and provide the civic utilities (to name just one cost) at a net savings to the national treasury.

To my mind, the arguement that we should re-locate New Orleans does not even pass the laugh test. Once the water is drained, htere will exist near the mouth of the Mississippi a network of paved streets and undergound utilities that would cost a fourtune to duplicate.

In short, we need a city near New Orleans, and the cost of making a city like like New orleans from scratch dwarfs the cost of rebuilding New Orleans.

Charles, it is a pleasure to read a post of yours with which I can agree. Thank you.

Just as a clarification, I'm certainly not advocating abandoning or relocating New Orleans.

All I'm advocating, and all I said, was that we shouldn't "re-site everything in exactly the same illogical spots," that the rebuilding should be done "to the extent practical on higher ground," that we should better protect "the part on lower ground that is impractical to relocate," and that we should convert into parkland "the lowest ground that is most difficult to protect." Of course there are a lot of practicalities involved in making these decisions.

What we should really do in the wake of this vast disaster with all the insurance and federal aid dollars that would be available is to try to rebuild New Orleans as logically as possible. I think that would include some pretty significant changes. If the engineers say it's not possible or practical, that's one thing, but we should at least look into what changes are smart and not just automatically go back and build a carbon copy of what was there before.

Breaking news. Rehnquist just passed away. May we live in interesting times, eh?

Strangely, that was almost exactly my reaction, LJ.

Has anybody done any serious cost-benefit analysis of rebuilding New Orleans in a different site?

Obviously, cleaning up and reconstructing the city where it now stands is going to cost billions, but I have a hunch that this cost will be dwarfed by the price tag of starting from scratch 10 miles down river.

I realize there's the near-certainty of another bad storm arriving in the future, so, what I want to know is: is it feasible, and perhaps economically more sensible, to vastly upgrade and strengthen the levee system and keep New Orleans where it is now? Is this possible, and, if it is, how would the cost and feasibility of such a project compare with building a whole new New Orleans on another site. I think if the former costs, say, $80 billion, and the latter $200 billion, we'll have an obvious answer. But I just haven't seen any numbers (I mean, building a whole new city from scratch -- even a modest-sized one of 500,000 souls, has got to be astronomically expensive).

Thanks for the comments. That's a good point, Jonas, that it would be possible to create a lot of things short of hubristic (we might want to look at estonia, but I think there would be some 'mission creep' with any kind of proposal like that.

2shoes, I think some people will argue against it when they start adding up costs and I would be pleasantly surprised if this didn't take place. Slart has already pointed out the scandal of FEMA disaster aid going to parts of Florida unaffected by hurricanes, and it is going to be so difficult to simply give a lump sum to people affected by the hurricane, and it is going to be impossible to calculate the total. It may also take the shape of spending on rebuilding rather than on people, as you noted. It is going to be an exercise in ripping off scabs and it will not be pretty.

One also has to wonder about middle class families who will not have enough flood insurance (2/3rds are uncovered in NO, I believe) and for whom the costs of long term evacuation will bankrupt them, coupled with the new, more stringent bankruptcy bill.

McDuff, the problem is not simply rising waters, it is the fact that sediment has raised the river, and so New Orleans has been simply been subsiding, but the floor of the river and the lake around it has been rising. It gets pointed out every hurricane season that the safest place may be in the swamps because that has become the highest ground. This makes the problem much more 'interesting', in that you have to create a way to allow land to continue to be created (in order to provide a buffer for hurricanes) and provide a stable foundation. Many people opposing oil/gas exploration in Louisiana have pointed out that it is undermining the subground structure and the amount of coastal wetland that has been lost each year is staggering. If that process could be turned around, it really wouldn't be so important if New New Orleans were built below sea level in the same place because any hurricane would lose enough power before hitting New Orleans.

etc's point about infrastructure is also an excellent on. Mercutio says "It's a wasteland that is almost entirely abandoned, and the population goes down by the hour as people either die or flee.", but it is not, there are quite a few places that are not underwater, it is just that security and transportation makes it impossible to stay there right now. This is why I asked Tacitus why he said that the site of New Orleans was "untenable".

The major plan for rebuilding of the Lousiana wetlands was Coast 2050, but the site is down right now, probably because so many people like me are going to it. This article is a discussion of the plan (sign up is free, I think)

I meant to include this NYTimes op-ed that outlines the basics of Coast 2050

As far as "building a whole new city from scratch," I agree with etc. that such an idea is a no-go, not just because of the excellent points s/he makes about the cost of rebuilding and replacing the infrastructure that is for the greater part still in place, but for other reasons as well. New Orleans may need to be adjusted a little, but it can't be moved off to some other place.

Another real reason we really can't consider a wholesale relocation is the French Quarter. It is one of the true cultural jewels of the United States, indeed of the world, unique in history and architecture, the birthplace of jazz, the traditional home of one of the world's greatest annual parties. New Orleans is not New Orleans unless the French Quarter is part of it, and maybe you could even say that the USA is not the USA unless the French Quarter is part of New Orleans,

May be just may be they won't be able to rebuild New Orleans. It's in a vulnerable location and there is nothing but mothing to stop a big storm coming in to the same area next month, next year - every year for the next ten years.

The big re-insurers are going to be looking at this very hard. The biggest, Munich Re, has been talking about not re-insuring risks in unstable climate areas for some time.

Without re-insurance, primary insurance doesn't get written. Without primary insurance banks don't lend for construction.

I am not an engineer but it seems to me that it is highly likely that all underground infrastructure in place before the flood is likely to need replacing. It will have to be at the very least be rigorously tested due to being exposed to saline and contaminated water. The prospects of the foundations of concrete strutures and mortars under attack from the same sources is dubious too.

Perhaps a qualified engineer could post on this point.


"I disagree for many reasons -- not least because the site of New Orleans per se is simply untenable, as we've seen -- but I'll save it for a post later."

How many Iraq War spending months would it take to protect New Orleans against a Cat 5 hurricane? How about a special tax on Iraq War supporters? They owe us for the war, and more (I'm sure) for the crap that will be unfolding in Iraq for the next decade or two.

Northern European Social Democrats turn me on!

Ah, someone who really lusts after the mind and not the body ;). I am a liberal democrat myself, which puts me slightly more to the right in my part of the world ;)

Many of the problems New Orleans faces are familiar for us, as I said earlier. I would be inclined to rebuild, for a variety of reasons, but think and plan properly beforehand. Some things might be improved in the rebuilding, a carbon copy is hardly ever a good thing IMHO and there are a lot of innovations in geo-hydro management.

The question is whether, after New Orleans has been dried, the US should go full bore into rebuilding a city fit for however many million people, or wait to find out how many people actually want to live there.

That's a better question than the one you started with, but it's still made of straw. The decision-making will not be entirely federal and neither will it be entirely local. All the stakeholders, city, parish, state, and federal, will need to get together and make a number of very dificult choices long before anybody actually returns.

The Federal government's role in any rebuilding will be repairing/redesigning critical infrastructure -- levees, roads, communications, etc. They can't very well stand around and wait to see what people are going to do with their $50k before doing so. By repairing the busted levees and draining the city (which must be done regardless), the Army Corps has already set in motion a chain of decisions likely leading to rebuilding NO, in some form, in its present location.

I say let New Orleans die.
It was the city that care forgot.
Let the good times roll elsewhere.

I'm still waiting for the "NewOrleansAid" fundraising concert to be held across America.

What a joke.

It's a rarity when I'm agreement with both Trickster and dutchmarbel.

"I'm still waiting for the 'NewOrleansAid' fundraising concert to be held across America."

There was one on NBC and PBS already; tonight's Jerry Lewis telethon is also for post-flood victims. Yet more are announced for the later in the week. What are you on about?

I've been a little unclear on the details, but my understanding was that while many refinaries were somewhat damaged, they seemed to be very reparable. Those facilities will likely get some subsidies for repairs, but mostly it'll be private funds that will be used to upgrade their floodworthiness.

That's part of the infrastructure that would contribute to a rebuilding of the old New Orleans. I agree with Charles, dutchmarbel, and some of the others here who think that the site is vital, and that rebuilding could be better done in the future. I also agree with those who suggest that at least some part of the residential population should be relocated on higher ground. All hail the commuter rail.

Thanks, Charles, for this post, and I'll be interested to read Tacitus's rebuttal.

Charles: It's a rarity when I'm agreement with both Trickster and dutchmarbel.

Ah, I cherish the moment ;)

I hate their website and think it is extremely unclear, but the initiative of delft cluster is a good one I think. It is a cooperation/partnership of six 'knowledge institutes' (universities, researchlabs) with various marketparties and communes/regions. The latter usually bring the problems and they make projects out of it. How to build tunnels in swampy area's, which kind of beton should be used for roads, how can a system be developped that predicts objectively the effect of verious kinds of building/usage on the water system in that area, is there a practical solution in using bacteria to maintain and strengthen sandbased dikes, etc. etc.

Organisations (ranging from universities to the communities where a similar problem exists) can participate in the projects, or start groups of their own. You than have special groups who adress specific questions and problems with the folk that specialize in that field.

Something like that would be a good thing for that area too I think. A lot of problems are shared between the various population centers and solutions have an impact on all of them too.

I am just not sure wether initiatives like that work well in an American setting. The Dutch have a very different (i.e. less competative, more planning/consensus/consultation oriented) culture.

What are you on about?

Unless I miss my guess, trolling.

While I admit having a thing for Dutch engineers as well, I want to point out that the problems faced by New Orleans are even more complex, I think. Because of the dumping of sediment by the Mississippi River, there is a constant process of creation and destruction, so anything in that area is being built on land that is not quite yet land yet. Perhaps one reason (but not the only one, I'm sure) that the Dutch have been able to develop the political will to deal with such problems is that the problems are fixed problems and solutions proposed would remain. For New Orleans, so much is in a state of flux. I've been reading so many links that I can't find the cite, but one of the many discussions of NO levees had a COE officer saying that they build 5 feet of levee, but the whole thing sinks 3 feet.

Also, the federal system creates a situation where it appears that problems in one state aren't really a problem for other states. Wetlands management, frex, has been a pie that has been fought over by Florida (everglades and aquifer management for an increasing population) and Louisiana (hurricane abatement) Having water available for Floridians trumped Louisianan's need for a once in 30 year hurricane.

This is not to say that there are some more permanent solutions that could be pursued and that the US has been gambling that they could avoid having to do them.

For example, Coast 2050.

liberal japonicus: The Netherlands face many of the same problems, just less extreme. Our land sinks too (due to rebuilding, pumping of gas and winning of water) but not as fast.

Our emphasis is more on prevention, we have lots of different solutions for the different regions (sorry, my info is Dutch, a lot of it is government education for the Dutch). All solutions have their own costs and benefits and weighing those is quit difficult. My own simplified summary of lengthy public discussions:

You can create more 'overflow' room for the water (wetlands & forelands as protection), which leads to sediment on the land (= less sinking). Environmentally usually nicer, it can provide a country with a storage of fresh water for dryer times, but it means that you cannot build there. This seems to be the more popular solution these days.

You can create alternative dikes/canals to lead the water in a different direction. In our case we can destine a nature conservation area as a 'flow emergency' area that will be flooded when breaches are imminent. They are than provided with pumps (used to be water mills) to get rid of the water afterwards. Has the advantage that you can build closer to the river, but you need room for dykes and canals and the impact on the visual environment is big.

You can dredge the rivers/lakes and use the sediment to heighten specific regions with. Big ecological impact, lots of sifting needed (there will be pollution on the bottem, from ships using the rivers), but you don't have to change much in the basic structure.

What is important is to predict which bits will sink and how fast, to decide how to 'layer' the region and find the solutions for specific layers. But also because sinking has an effect on a lot of infrastructure (not just buildings and roads, but also sewers, cables, etc.).

I bet that for quite a number of our engineers/researchers this is a fascinating project. But they probabely can't do very much, the American market is rather protective so AFAIK they can mainly work via American partners. I was suprised to learn that even dredging can only be done by Americans...

In my search for English information I encountered this piece in the National Geographic (oct. 2004) with a beautifull description of the wetlands - and a heartbreakingly correct prediction of the NO disaster, which they deemed inevitable.

Anarch beat me to it, but I have extensive NS article as an pdf. Which also provides another reason the rebuilding might be important:

Fixing the delta would serve as a valuable test case for the country and the world. Coastal marshes are disappearing along the eastern seaboard, the other Gulf Coast states, San Francisco Bay and the Columbia River estuary for many of the same reasons besetting Louisiana. Parts of Houston are sinking faster than New Orleans. Major deltas around the globe— from the Orinoco in Venezuela, to the Nile in Egypt, to the Mekong in Vietnam—are in the same delicate state today that the Mississippi Delta was in 100 to 200 years ago. Lessons from New Orleans could help establish guidelines for safer development in these areas, and the state could export restoration technology worldwide. In Europe, the Rhine, Rhône and Po deltas are losing land. And if sea level rises substantially because of global warming in the next 100 years or so, numerous low-lying coastal cities such as New York would need to take protective measures similar to those proposed for Louisiana.

"In my search for English information I encountered this piece in the National Geographic (oct. 2004).... "

Thanks. I've snatched that, giving you credit.

Hey Dutchmarbel
Thanks for those comments. I didn't mean to claim that the problems you have are totally unrelated, it is just that I personally think that the major differences are the presence of the Mississippi River system, the intense work to remove oil and gas, and the maintenance of deep water canals, which ensure that much of the sediment that should be going to make new land is actually spewing out into the Gulf. In the 90's, over 60 square km a year of land being lost, which would be like losing 1% of the landmass of the Netherlands each year and in the great link you gave, they note that Louisiana has lost the equivalent of more than 11% of the land mass of the Netherlands since 1930.

Unfortunately, wetland remediation has been the province of the environmentalist left, which has put it in direct conflict with the oil and gas industry. One guess who has been winning. Canals for reaching platforms keep getting dredged, with the result of increasing sediment loss. It will be very interesting to see if this creates a backlash.

Here's a pdf from 1987(!) My understanding is that the majority of the projects have been defunded.

Not that anyone is still reading this thread, but here's the first bit of my reasoning on the subject.

"The same can be said for the sewer system, the electrical grid, the roads, the sidewalks, and doggone near everything else."

An engineering-oriented colleague says the submerged roads are, uhh, toast. There's also the question of soil contaminants. I lean towards starting afresh for the non-touristic parts of the city, esp. given that most of the inhabitants will have to start new lives elsewhere anyway.

Grrr, just lost a long comment. thanks for the heads-up and sorry that I can't deal with Scoop. some quick points.

Your post suggests a new site, but your comment says that NO will be rebuilt, though not in the same form. I think the latter is more true than the former, which means that the 'city' will be there, admittedly in a different form.

A new site means new transport links, and new construction on the mississippi. The Atchafalaya is a floodway. The city at the mouth of the Atchafalaya is Morgan City (pop. 12,000) and the port there has a 20 foot draft, less than half that of New Orleans. A New new orleans there would recreate precisely the same problems that NO suffers from, including loss of wetlands which made New Orleans more vunerable to hurricanes. Furthermore, while most cities have been built on swamps (Chicago, Washington, Tokyo are three that come to mind) but this is a bit much. (fun animal fact, there were no armadillos to speak of in Mississippi until the I-10 was built, which allowed them to make there way over the swamp)

At any rate, a new new orleans would require more construction to develop the port facilities for Morgan City than it would for new orleans and you would also have to build the transportation links.

Houston could take on some of the aspects, but not the mississippi traffic or provide a useful gateway for SE US. Interesting article in the NYTimes about the boom in Houston, though suggests that it may happen. I think this would have serious economic repercussions (think of it as placing a tariff on a large percentage of the goods that people in the SE US buy and what that would do)

Rilkefan's point is more doable. Algiers (and the closed military facilities there) were not flooded and relocation might be possible. It has been proposed on and off that East New Orleans be the site of a New International Airport, and there habitation/soil contaminants would not be a problem and there are probably some interesting things that can be done with the ninth ward if someone grasps the nettle. However, the eminent domain cases will be complex.

About New orleans being a failed metropolis. Detroit and Washington have similar murder rates, and even Houston had a pretty horrific crime problem in the 90's. That new orleans has a historic problem with governance (exacerbated by the fact that it has been at the mercy of the state government because it is not the state capital) doesn't create a new site out of thin air.

Sorry about the lost links, but if you need any cites, please let me know.

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