Issue Report: Rebuilding New Orleans

Should New Orleans be fully rebuilt and restored?

The effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were shattering and long-lasting. As the center of Katrina passed east of New Orleans on August 29, 2005, winds downtown were in the Category 3 range with frequent intense gusts and tidal surge. Though the most severe portion of Katrina missed the city, hitting nearby St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, the storm surge caused more than 50 breaches in drainage canal levees and also in navigational canal levees and precipitated the worst engineering disaster in the history of the United States.
By August 31, 2005, eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded, with some parts under 15 feet (4.5 m) of water.

Following the disaster, a debate began regarding whether to rebuild and restore the city. The debate has been revived in almost every subsequent summer with the prospect of new hurricanes striking New Orleans, and with the possibility of washing away efforts to rebuild the city. In the summer of 2008, Hurricane Gustav was particularly threatening to New Orleans, generating a series of new editorials for and against rebuilding the city.

Many questions frame this debate: Is New Orleans culturally important? Enough so to justify rebuilding the city? Is its location important, or was it poorly chosen and a mistake that should not be repeated? Does the federal government have a responsibility to rebuild the city? Does it owe it to the people of New Orleans (both those that died as well as the survivors)? Or does the government have a responsibility not to rebuild because it may put future residents at risk? Are markets and the demands of individuals and communities better than government at determining if and/or how New Orleans is rebuilt? Is there a desire among the displaced to return to New Orleans? Is rebuilding the city economical? Is it a vital port city? Will rebuilding the city cost too much? Do the past socio-economic and crime problems in New Orleans make it undesirable to rebuild? Is restoring New Orleans important to US race-relations? Is it environmentally important, or is the city itself an environmental hazard?

Culture: Should New Orleans be restored for its cultural value?

New Orleans must be restored for its cultural value

Mark J. Clayton. "The view from the levee: a case for restoring New Orleans after the hurricanes of 2005". 2005

“Contrary to popular perception, New Orleans is not a playground for college kids and Midwesterners who want to cut loose. New Orleans is one of the great ports of the world. Based on appreciation of historic value, cultural uniqueness, and simple compassion for those who have lost so much, the case for restoring New Orleans after the hurricanes of 2005 is compelling.”

Barbara Gelinas. "Rebuilding New Orleans is essential, if not practical". The Shorthorn. 28 Aug. 2007

“While it may be impractical to rebuild New Orleans, we should do it anyway. The city is an important part of our cultural identity. Without New Orleans, America is not what it used to be. […] What ties us together is our shared history and belief in the future. If we don’t rebuild New Orleans, aren’t we giving up a little of both?”

Cities are not forever; New Orleans is no exception

"Don't Rebuild New Orleans". Watch Blog. 17 Dec. 2005

“Cities are not forever. Been to Carthage lately? Miletus? Troy? Babylon? Nineveh? Persepolis? Jungles swallowed some cities. Deserts covered others. Some are underwater. Trade routes shifted. Harbors silted. Climates changed. Technologies made them obsolete. People moved away […] New Orleans has experienced several of those things. How stupid would we have to be to spend billions of dollars to restore a mistake? Let’s make a comparision.”

New Orleans doesn't have a soul; only people do

"Don't Rebuild New Orleans". Watch Blog. 17 Dec. 2005

“Places don’t have souls. Only people matter. The displaced people should be fairly compensated for their lost property and advised to move to higher ground.”

Location: Is New Orleans located well or was it a mistake?

New Orleans is well located at the head of Mississippi

Mark J. Clayton Associate Professor Department of Architecture Texas A&M University. "The view from the levee." 2005

“there are very good reasons for New Orleans to be where it is […] The urban geography of New Orleans is defined by the river. The Mississippi is the 14th longest river in the world (Geohive 2005a). If measured from the headwaters of the Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico, it would be the fourth longest. It has the third largest drainage area among world rivers, stretching from New York to Montana and draining over 40% of the land of the 48 contiguous states (Wikipedia 2005a) […] The mouth of the Mississippi is a globally unique natural feature. One of the longest and richest river systems in the world empties lazily not into an ocean or sea, but into a relatively tranquil gulf. The deposits of silt form an enormous alluvial plain stretching from Illinois to the gulf that is some of the richest farmland in the world.”

New Orleans civilization should be maintained despite hurricane threat

Mark J. Clayton Associate Professor Department of Architecture Texas A&M University. "The view from the levee: a case for restoring New Orleans after the hurricanes of 2005". 2005

“the solution is not to abandon a region of the nation, but to find a way to maintain civilization under the threat of the hurricanes.”

City location need not be "logical" to justify existence

Barbara Gelinas. "Rebuilding New Orleans is essential, if not practical". The Shorthorn. 28 Aug. 2007

“Some of America’s most impressive achievements were never logical or practical. Building Los Angeles in the middle of a desert was illogical. Sending men to the moon was impractical. […] Let’s stop asking if we should rebuild and move on to how we should rebuild.”

New Orleans can be a model for all threatened coastal cities

Many coastal cities are under threat around the world now, such as Amsterdam and Venice, and in the future, such as New York and Miami. Protecting New Orleans from its various threats will teach us how to protect these other cities now and in the future.

New Orleans was wrongly built below sea level at odds with nature

St. Louis University professor of earth and atmospheric sciences Timothy Kusky told Time this week, “New Orleans naturally wants to be a lake. A city should never have been built there in the first place,” he said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.”[1]

Why rebuild New Orleans when it will be destroyed again?

Grant Swank, Pastor and Author. "Don't Rebuild New Orleans". 1 Sept. 2005

“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 […] Would we rebuild in order to do a return of same in some year yet to be? Would that be fair to the upcoming generations let alone to our own logical present-tense see-throughs?”

Rebuilding New Orleans would put future residents at risk

Beverly Cigler, a public policy professor at Pennsylvania State University. – “It’s a soup bowl, and it’s not safe […] some places are safer than others […] My own personal opinion is that you shouldn’t rebuild in areas unless you can make them safe. And nobody’s had the willingness to confront these kinds of issues.”[2]

The higher the New Orleans levees, the worse the flooding

Joan Hough. "The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans". Georgia Heritage Council.

“New Orleans, we are told by some, can be stopped from sliding into all of that salt water surrounding it, if only we pile the levees higher and make them stronger. Should we ignore the fact that the higher the levees the deeper the floods that will follow?”

The Mississippi river will shift away from New Orleans

New Orleans sinks further each year, increasing costs/risks

Global warming and rising seas run against rebuilding New Orleans

Global warming & stronger hurricanes will destroy new New Orleans

Original New Orleans settlers didn't build below sea level

US should rebuild only parts of New Orleans above sea level

New Orleans should be relocated farther up the Mississippi

Government: Is the US government obligated to refund rebuilding the city?

US govt. allowed New Orleans crisis so must rebuild city

"New Orleans Needs More Federal Assistance to Rebuild, Panelists Argue". Conference on Public Service and the Law at the University of Virginia Law School. 22 Mar. 2006

“the United States has a moral obligation to rebuild the city. Although Katrina was destructive, the city’s worst devastation came from the flooding that was a direct consequence of the breach in the levies, which ‘is the responsibility without question of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.’ [according to Kim M. Boyle, a member of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission].”

New Orleans should be rebuilt out of respect for tragedy.

Katrina was certainly one of the greatest natural disasters in US history, killing roughly 1,500 people. Out of respect for such a tragedy, New Orleans should be rebuilt, and the memory of both the city and those that lived and died in it should be honored.

Government is obligated to rebuild NO levees and infrastructure.

The government has a responsibility to ensure the integrity of a city’s infrastructure and protect its citizens. Since people are returning to New Orleans, the government has a responsibility to protect them by building the necessary levees and infrastructure to ensure their safety and liberties.

People want to live in New Orleans, so it must be rebuilt

Donald E. Powell, Federal Coordinator of Gulf Coast Rebuilding. "Forward progress; Rebuilding the Gulf Coast". The Washington Times. 25 Feb. 2008

“Each time I visit New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast I am struck by how much has improved since the 2005 hurricanes. The people of the Gulf Coast have shown tremendous determination and fortitude to get their communities and their lives back on track, and I am amazed at their progress.”

People, not government, should naturally rebuild New Orleans

The rebuilding of New Orleans should not be “forced” by any organizing body, but should occur only according to market demand. If people want to live in an area, they should be allowed to do so, but without any government or organized support.

Government should fund residents, not rebuilding New Orleans

The people of New Orleans need to be the focus of all federal funding. Many displaced families will not return to New Orleans, and may not benefit from the rebuilding of the city. In general, people will spend money most efficiently in rebuilding New Orleans.

Louisiana politicians cannot be trusted with federal funding

"Stop Funding the New Orleans Katrina Recovery - for now at least." Dummocrats. 3 Jan. 2006

“Louisiana politicians cannot be trusted with your money. Don’t let them have it. Contact your congressional leadership today, and ask them to turn off the tap for Katrina funding for Louisiana until our politicians are replaced or accept a great deal more supervision in their spending.”

America is vast; there is no need to rebuild New Orleans

There are many places in America where Katrina’s displaced people can reside. There is no need for them to return to New Orleans, even if this is preferred.

There is little desire to return to New Orleans and rebuild

Jack Shafer. "Don't Refloat". Slate. 7 Sept. 2005

“Few uninsured landlords and poor home owners have the wherewithal to rebuild—or the desire. And how many of the city’s well-off and wealthy workers—the folks who provide the city’s tax base—will return? Will the doctors, lawyers, accountants, and professors have jobs to return to? According to the Wall Street Journal, many businesses are expected to relocate completely. Unless the federal government adopts New Orleans as its ward and pays all its bills for the next 20 years—an unlikely to absurd proposition—the place won’t be rebuilt.”

Economics: Is rebuilding New Orleans economical?

New Orleans is an economically essential port city

Mark J. Clayton, Associate Professor Department of Architecture Texas A&M University. "The view from the levee". 2005

Permanent evacuation of South Louisiana does not make economic sense. The river is the reason for New Orleans. If you move the city, you must move the river and vice versa. The simple truths of shipping, commerce, and trade require that there must be a port at the mouth of the Mississippi.

Rebuilding New Orleans is not too costly for America

Save Big

“Some even use the argument that the U.S. government cannot afford to strengthen the New Orleans levees beyond a Category 3. This is simply not true. Monetary issues have never stopped the U.S. government, or the American people, from pursuing a course that they know to be right […] From 1948 to 1951, the U.S. spent $13 billion on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe. That is equivalent to $100 billion in 2005 dollars. […] In the FY2006 federal budget that President Bush submitted to Congress, requests were made for $8.2 billion for core development assistance to other countries […] This is not to say that any of these causes are undeserving of the funds they are receiving or received in the past; indeed many of them are very worthwhile. However, they do provide some perspective into how much money the government spends on foreign ventures. They also expose the immaturity of the argument that we cannot afford to spend the necessary money to upgrade the levee system design in New Orleans”

Much of New Orleans survived Katrina; not rebuilding from scratch

"Rebuilding the 'Big Easy' — Not So Easy". National Building Museum. 15 Nov. 2005

“It is […] becoming clear that a significant percentage of the city’s buildings are either intact, only modestly damaged, or substantially salvageable, meaning that some of the early calls for “moving” New Orleans greatly overstated the extent of the destruction.”

Rebuilding New Orleans can be funded by cutting pork

Jay Ambrose. "To rebuild New Orleans, D.C. should forgo pork and corporate welfare". Desert News. 25 Sept. 2005

“This nation is going to rebuild a major city — New Orleans — and that won’t come cheap. Some say the federal government’s contribution alone could end up being $200 billion, and some also say there’s just one way to come up with the money: Raise taxes. […] That’s wrong, even though worries about the federal deficit are right. […] You can start, in fact, with corporate welfare, a favorite target of the liberals as well as of many principled conservatives. […] You can then move to pork, which used to be a specialty of Democrats until Republicans took over both houses in Congress.”

Rebuilding New Orleans will not return it to economic vibrancy

Edward L. Glaeser. "Should the Government Rebuild New Orleans, Or Just Give Residents Checks?". The Economist's Voice. Vol 2, Issue 4, 2005.

“Could New Orleans, with Spending, Somehow Return to Its Long-Past Glory? […] Granted, some previously great ports have managed to rebuild themselves around new industries. New York is now devoted to finance. San Francisco is the center for information technology. […] But New Orleans was never able to reinvent itself, perhaps because it lacked the human capital that has been so heavily correlated with urban success over the past 50 years.”

New Orleans has been on the economic decline for decades

Edward L. Glaeser. "Should the Government Rebuild New Orleans, Or Just Give Residents Checks?". The Economist's Voice. Vol 2, Issue 4, 2005.

New Orleans is like many great American cities that were built during previous eras and have become somewhat obsolete […] New Orleans began to decline, in absolute terms, in 1960. The port remains important, but increasing mechanization and containerization, together meant that fewer and fewer people were needed to work in that port. Today, according to the 2003 County Business Patterns, less than one-twentieth of the employees in New Orleans are in transportation industries, and more than a quarter of these aren’t even working in the port or pipelines.”

Building and maintaining levees in New Orleans is costly

Joel K. Bourne, Jr. "New Orleans: A Perilous Future". National Geographic. August 2007

“FROM ITS INCEPTION, the project was beset with technical problems, litigation, and political tinkering. What was supposed to be built in 13 years for 85 million dollars became a never ending 740-million-dollar project that was still ten years from completion when Katrina hit. The Government Accountability Office—the watchdog of Congress—had a field day, regularly criticizing the corps for cost overruns and delays.”

US does not have enough resources to rebuild New Orleans

"The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans". The Unplanning Journal. 8 Sept. 2005

“With the recent destruction of New Orleans, will we also have enough energy (and other resources) to rebuild what was lost while protecting from future calamity? […] Again the answer would have to be no. […] Our global energy supplies are stretched thinner than ever, even before Hurricane Katrina struck. […] Secondly, the spiraling cost of oil and other forms of energy would suck the economic life out of the country, depriving the government of the will or the means to pay for an increasingly costly reconstruction effort.”

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