World Changing has an exciting essay on the possibility of an innovative rebuild of New Orleans. Please pass this along wherever you can. This kind of radical rethinking is the only way that we will get our city back to where it belongs as an esteemed metropolitan jewel for all to enjoy.
Here are the cliff notes for the attention disabled:
What needs to happen in order to build an economically viable, socially progressive and environmentally sound New Orleans?
The end of fatalism. People have to get optimistic about the city again. This seems especially challenging right now. I'm optimistic right now, which won't be surprising to anyone who knows me but other less New Orleans obsessive folks may give up wholesale on the city. I think we can rebuild a better city but we need everyone's support to do it.
The worst has already happened. Our city, like a terribly addicted alcoholic, has hit rock bottom. There's no place to go but up from here. We have a rare opportunity to rebuild EVERY aspect of our city from the ground up.
Principles for Rebuilding a Bright, Green, Safe New Orleans:
1. Work with nature, and technology, to protect the city from future worst-case scenarios
If there is to be a New Orleans, it must be first and foremost be made completely safe from flooding in any conceivable worst-case scenario. If it cannot withstand a Category 5 hurricane churning straight up the mouth of the Mississippi, few will dare to live there.
Is such a thing possible? The short answer is: it must be. But it will require assembling the smartest engineering minds on the planet. That is why the rebuilding effort should call in the Dutch.
There is no one in the world smarter at managing land and water than the water engineers of the Netherlands. They have a thousand years of cumulative experience. New Orleans' famous pumps, which worked adequately for many years, were actually of Dutch design, and early on in the Top 10 by 2010 process, I brought in a leading Dutch economist to try to strengthen the bonds between these geographically and even somewhat culturally similar regions. (It is not hard to think of New Orleans and Amsterdam in the same sentence.)
2. Use rebuilding to lift the poor to safer economic and social ground
t is a bitter thing to view the photographs and videos of the refugees left behind in New Orleans, and to see that most of them were obviously poor and black. An anonymous email from a rescue worker noted that those who did not evacuate were those who could not afford to evacuate: those who had no private car, no resources, no people to turn to. Katrina was not alone in her killing; her accomplice was terrible poverty. That poverty turned the city into a living hell of random shootings and suffering for the refugees still trapped there, days after the storm.
A New New Orleans must be a city dedicated to the genuine well-being of all her citizens. Poverty had been reduced in the 1990s; but pockets of terrible, entrenched poverty were still far too common in that city prior to its deluge. Those pockets are the one thing that must not be restored; instead, the city must charge into rebuilding with an eye to reducing poverty drastically, by reducing the conditions that create it. The now-destroyed, once-crumbling houses in the 9th Ward (the poorest section of the city) must be replaced with decent, modern, and yes green housing (see below). The people who live in New Orleans must be employed in rebuilding it, thereby gaining marketable skills in the process.
3. Create an economy of creativity
Another surprising finding of our initial research for Top 10 by 2010 was the lack of significant strategic contact between the region's economic development efforts and the arts community. New Orleans is known around the world for its music, food, and cultural life generally; but as in most US cities, artists and arts organizations had not been brought into serious discussions about the future of the region, until Top 10 by 2010 invited them. (This was also true of its environmental advocates, who had been trying, in measured tones, to awaken the leadership to the dangers of coastal erosion and storm threat.)
New economic visioning processes had, after Top 10 by 2010, resulted in the inclusion of arts and environment leaders in economic strategic planning. This is a trend that must be sharply strengthened. New Orleans cannot hope to revive as simply "a place to do business." It must again become something special, something truly wonderful; and that means embracing creativity in all its forms, with a passionate ferocity. It means envisioning the city as a whole as a work of art -- one that cannot be restored exactly as it was, but that can be recreated.
4. Become a clean, green showcase
Recreating a beautiful, vibrant, successful city will require a new environmental ethic as well. The environmental problems that plagued city in advance of the storm -- including exposure to toxic chemicals and even simple litter -- had already caused at least one major company to decide not to move there. The environmental damage caused by the storm and the flooding is now incomprehensible. The rebuilding process offers a once-in-lifetime opportunity to clean up the city, in every way imaginable.
But cleaning up the now-magnified problems is just a small piece of what can, and I believe must, be envisioned. Currently the City of New Orleans exists, in part, to service the oil and gas production and distribution infrastructure that now lies in tatters in the Gulf of Mexico. It is likely inevitable that this infrastructure will also be rebuilt -- massive economic and security interests will see to that.
But it would be nothing short of criminal to rebuild the city of New Orleans and not aspire to run the place on renewable energy. The sun shines mercilessly there; solar panels need big markets to push their development curve up and prices down; and so New Orleans (not to mention its sister cities like Biloxi or Mobile, also terribly affected by this storm) could provide a tremendous opportunity to spur the nation's energy independence.
New Orleans could become a living laboratory for solar roofs, mini hydro generators, architecture that creates cool buildings without air conditioning, electric and fuel cell vehicles ... the whole list of green dreams for technically sustainable world. These could become the basis of new industries to replace the gas and oil revenues, and be partly financed by them, as well as by the general reconstruction funds that are already on their way.
5. Dare to dream
These are days of despair and sorrow for the great City of New Orleans. Those days will not end soon. And as anyone who has weathered the death of loved ones or the loss of a home knows, there is no way out of grief except through it.
But what pulls us through grief is the knowledge that, while what is permanently lost cannot be restored, new things can be created.
The people of New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf region will need tremendous amounts of practical help, money, and psychological support to come through this. But they will also need dreams -- and not just their own.
It takes courage to dream in the face of catastrophe. And courage often comes from being encouraged, with the thoughts, wishes, hopes, words, and yes, the dreams of others. We can all contribute to the recreation of New Orleans. We can all dream for her, and help her residents to dream. They have now lived through a nightmare -- one that many feared would one day become reality, and has. We can all now help her to dream a beautiful dream of recovery, restoration, and renewal, and to make that dream become real as well -- for herself, and for the world.