Tuesday, September 06, 2005

For what it’s worth, New Orleans is America’s Venice. It's main industry is tourism, who flock there because of its historical allure. That same allure also keeps an indigenous city population there; the city has History. But it is also a city whose feasibility is in question; it simply should not be, anymore, as it has sunk into the ground so much that it will constantly have to battle the elements to survive. But the city holds so much allure, especially as a major center for African-American culture (practically the birthplace of jazz) that’s it’s abandonment is untenable.

Thus man tries to fight nature with dams, levees and dikes. And, just like in Venice, and in Holland, dam politics enters the picture. I don’t know how many of you have seen that excellent documentary about the dams engineered to save Venice (with the nice, computer-animated depiction of the dams that would rise from the seafloor, pumped with air, once a storm approaches). The documentarians make the point that the idea, - deemed the best one ? remains just an animation, as it got mired in local Italian politics, with the communist mayorality unable to get the backing of the entire country for such an expensive engineering project. The hope now is that the EU would finally kick in some funds to save Venice; I’m sure Finnish taxpayers won’t mind that one bit.

If we examine the history of the failings for state spending on New Orleans’ levees, then it mirrors in longevity to that of Venice. The debate has stretched for decades, long before this administration, and long before the previous one. The arguments of coulda-woulda-shoulda, of course, enter the picture once the Big One actually happens.

As to all the current political recriminations, that is to be expected. People feel a need to blame authority for every natural disaster. Look how many silly Finns took their anger out at the Finnish foreign ministry, for not being somehow more? responsive? to the tsunami. The ministry’s role in tsunami relief is open to question, but in this case it wound up serving as the needed scapegoat for a public still reeling from the scale of the disaster.

The sad fact is that every one in office at the moment of a natural disaster will be somehow blamed for the natural occurrence. It does not matter that money for the levees were turned down even during the Clinton administration, when there was a budget surplus. And it doesn’t matter that it would take some 30 years to actually update the levees for a category 5 hurricane. People need to find a scapegoat, and the present officeholders wind up serving that purpose.

Now that all the houses in the below-sea level area have been pretty much destroyed, New Orleaners have some new options on the table. The historic district in NO has always been on higher ground than the later development (NO forefathers had experienced enough floods to have the common sense to build on top of landfill). It is the later development that can now be built up, so that residents don’t have to live below sea level. Doubtlessly such a project would take years to develop should it be left for governments. Private developers, however, could do a better job, as they have the necessary capital, and as the storm just provided an opportunity to start with a fairly clean slate.


Post a Comment

<< Home