Will there be a big debate about rebuilding New Orleans? Hopefully, yes, and the bigger the better. House Speaker, Dennis Hastert, was quickly condemned when he suggested it made no sense to rebuild NOLA. Asked whether it made sense to spend billions of federal tax dollars reconstructing a city that sits below sea level and remains vulnerable, Hastert said: "It doesn't make sense to me."
As Speaker Hastert quickly found out you won't make many friends if you bad mouth New Orleans as it is still reeling from the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breach. Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, demanded an immediate apology from Hastert. She added:
"To kick us when we're down, to destroy hope when hope is the only thing we have left, is absolutely unthinkable for a leader in his position."
George W. Bush, who is trying to overcome the impression that he was asleep on the job regarding the disaster response, gave a more politically correct response:
"I want the people of New Orleans to know that after rescuing them and stabilizing the situation, there will be plans in place to help this great city get back on its feet," Bush said. "There is no doubt in my mind that New Orleans is going to rise up again as a great city."
However, is New Orleans really a "great city?" Any city that is over 300 years old has certainly proven that it is important. New Orleans is a vital port and it has a world famous historic district - "The French Quarter," 70+ small city blocks which sit 5 feet above sea level. But, other than the maritime transportation infrastructure and the historical "theme park" what is so great or economically important about New Orleans? The Louis Armstrong Airport is small and under utilized. Only one Fortune 500 company (Entergy Corp. the area utility) calls New Orleans home.
The Waterbury, Conn., Republican-American newspaper wrote an editorial Wednesday, August 31, 2005, entitled, "Is New Orleans worth reclaiming?" It said:
"Americans' hearts go out to the people in Katrina's path," it said. "But if the people of New Orleans and other low-lying areas insist on living in harm's way, they ought to accept responsibility for what happens to them and their property."
Additionally, no one yet is addressing the following issue: was the quality of life that existed in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina worth restoring?
The AP reported the following facts about the City of New Orleans and its growing crime problem two week before Katrina hit:
Last year, university researchers conducted an experiment in which police fired 700 blank rounds in a New Orleans neighborhood in a single afternoon. No one called to report the gunfire.
New Orleans residents are reluctant to come forward as witnesses, fearing retaliation. And experts say that is one of several reasons homicides are on the rise in the Big Easy at a time when other cities are seeing their homicide rates plummet to levels not seen in decades.
The city's homicide rate is still far lower than a decade ago, when New Orleans was the country's murder capital. But in recent years, the city's homicide rate has climbed again to nearly 10 times the national average...
Homicides hit their historic peak here in 1994, with 421 dead more per capita than any other U.S. city that year...
There had been 192 [homicides] this year by mid-August, compared with 169 at the same time in 2004. Adjusted for the city's size, those numbers dwarf homicide rates in Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Baltimore; Atlanta; Chicago; Los Angeles and New York City.
Only one in four people arrested in the city for homicide is eventually convicted, according to a recent study by the New Orleans Police Foundation, a private nonprofit group.
According to the study, 42 percent of serious crime cases reviewed by prosecutors - about 22,000 - were turned away between 2002 and 2004 because the cases were not deemed suitable for court.
District Attorney Eddie Jordan said the lack of eyewitness testimony was one reason for the dropped cases. New Orleans has had such a problem with retaliation against witnesses that the district attorney's office started a local witness protection program.
Witnesses may also be reluctant to talk to police because of the department's struggles with allegations of brutality and corruption.
As a side issue it appears that the criminal element in New Orleans will be moving on. It will be interesting to see if this exodus of refugees (politically correct: evacuees?) and the associated parasitic criminal element from New Orleans turns out anything like the 1980 Mariel Boat Lift. As cubanet.org described it:
Floods of refugees crossed the Florida Strait in 1980 during the six-month Mariel Boat Lift, when Fidel Castro temporarily lifted restrictions preventing his people from leaving their Caribbean homeland.
More than 125,000 people left Cuba; among them the "undesirables"--people from the nation's prisons and insane asylums...
In June 1980, the refugees rioted and set several base buildings [at Ft. Chafee, Arkansas] afire. About 300 escaped and ran through the streets of nearby Barling before being captured. Clinton mobilized the National Guard, and officials from the Carter administration flew down to help.
By the time the last Cubans left the base in February of 1982, law enforcement officials estimated that at least 450 assaults had occurred. Two Cubans died in the 7 attacks on the base.
"The people of Barling and all that area were carrying guns," said J. Fred Patton, 94, a historian and lifelong Ft. Smith resident. "They were scared to death."
He said the town divided into two groups--people who sympathized with the Cubans and those angered at their presence. In the end, he said, it was a lesson about patience and tolerance.
Returning to the future of New Orleans - the oceans are getting warmer, sea levels are rising, hurricanes will become more severe. Why invest in rebuilding a city in harm's way and why rebuild a crime infested city? Additionally, dealing with the hazardous material contamination is a problem that dwarfs all others.
"This is the worst case," Hugh B. Kaufman, a senior policy analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency, said of the toxic stew that contaminates New Orleans. "There is not enough money in the gross national product of the United States to dispose of the amount of hazardous material in the area."
The economic bottomline: rebuild a smaller and safer New Orleans - make it safe from category 5 hurricanes and crime. Make New Orleans a great port with a great historic and arts district. Help relocate and reestablish the majority of the victims. Do not reclaim or rebuild the cesspool - the parts of the city that are currently below sea level. Go green and turn the low lying areas back into protective swamps and wetlands - naturally barriers to hurricanes. The lowlands are lost.
A Reason to Rebuild New Orleans Where It Is [tpmcafe.com, Sept. 1, 2005]
Extraordinary Problems, Difficult Solutions [washingtonpost.com, Sept. 1, 2005]
Should New Orleans rebuild? [abc-tv]
Hastert: why rebuild New Orleans? It's just gonna get flooded again. [dailykos.com]