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Jan 10, 2006

Source: The Harvard Crimson

The Big Uneasy

The Big Uneasy
Strategy to rebuild New Orleans is recipe for yet another disaster
Published On Tuesday, January 10, 2006 11:19 PM
By THE CRIMSON STAFF
Crimson Staff Writer

Today, the New Orleans rebuilding commission will release an official blueprint report recommending a strategy for the revival of the city. Appointed by Mayor C. Ray Nagin, the commission will recommend that residents be allowed to return to the city and rebuild wherever they choose, regardless of how vulnerable or devastated the area. Following a 12-month period, those neighborhoods that have not sustained an undefined “critical mass” of inhabitants will likely be returned to marshland; those residents who have settled in the interim will be required to leave the region, costing the federal government millions in a buyout program and causing the again-displaced citizens much unneeded heartache.

The commission’s report is not an appropriate response to the current situation in New Orleans. The debacle that was the horribly handled relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina must not be repeated, yet the current proposal threatens just that. As Janet R. Howard, chief executive of the Bureau of Governmental Research, told The New York Times: “There are some very tough decisions that have to be made here, and no one relishes making them. But to say that people should invest their money and invest their energies and put all their hope into rebuilding and then in a year we’ll re-evaluate, that’s no plan at all.” There must be more governmental guidance in relocation at the expense of some personal choice in where to settle.

Referring to a RAND Corporation study, Joseph C. Canizaro, the primary author of the commission’s proposal, told The Times that the hurricane “could spell the death of more than one New Orleans neighborhood” as it is expected that by 2009 “the city would have a population of no more than 275,000, down more than 40 percent from its pre-hurricane population of 465,000.” Considering those predictions, it is not unreasonable to disallow residents from resettling those areas that numerous independent parties have deemed most vulnerable or unlivable. In the spirit of saving millions of federal funds on regions that are particularly prone to flooding as well as preempting the logistical and emotional nightmare of future relocations, the government should forgo those expenditures and focus on more viable and essential regions of the city.

Of course, ignoring the cries of the several lobbyist groups that have balked at such a ban will not be easy. Those areas that would likely be barred from resettlement would comprise New Orleans’ hardest-hit eastern half—namely New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth Ward, and Lakeview. Citing the injustice in barring the resettlement of this predominantly black eastern half, many groups have argued for the need of these residents to return to their native neighborhoods in order to rebuild the social and cultural foundations that were swept away in Katrina’s wake. Yet while we sympathize with these residents, it is not in the interest of the government—or the well-being of the citizens themselves—to attempt to repopulate regions that are unsafe and unlikely to maintain the report’s undetermined “critical mass” of residents. Social and cultural foundations can be revived regardless of geographical locale; the federal funds lost cannot be.

Because the report does not call for rebuilding in designated areas, there is no method in place for establishing a critical mass of residents in an area. Without a concentration of neighborhoods, many areas will not have convenient grocery stores, neighborhood schools, or other critical resources. If an area fails to attract a critical mass within 12 months, which many of the districts likely will not, residents will be forced to desert their homes. The federal government buyout program—which would compensate residents at pre-Katrina market value for their property—would foot the bill for relocation and convert the region to marshland.

Mayor Nagin’s approval of this report will be an invitation for catastrophe. The government cannot afford to be careless in this critical period of rebuilding and must be meticulous in its planning efforts to bring the hobbled city of New Orleans back to life.

Jan 10, 2006

Source: The Harvard Crimson

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