Sunday, September 2, 2007

Rebuild New Orleans?

In the Big Easy, it isn't easy to understand the rationale for building a large city in a swamp below sea level. This is particularly true if, unlike the Dutch, your country has plenty of land above sea level. Next, when large parts of that city are destroyed by a hurricane and flood (think Katrina), it isn't easy to understand why the ruined parts should be rebuilt in perilous locations.

Much of New Orleans was not destroyed, for example the tourist-magnet French Quarter stayed dry. Now, two years after Katrina, the people of New Orleans whine about the fact that we haven't rushed in to rebuild their flooded neighborhoods. I find myself asking why people whose houses sat below sea level didn't have flood insurance? I ask why the city hasn't taken responsibility for its own levee construction and maintenance, that is, its survival? I wonder why the State of Louisiana hasn't shared this responsibility for its largest, most historic city?

The adjacent state of Mississippi suffered similar damage but has done a much superior job of pulling up its socks and getting damange fixed. Meanwhile the New Orleans mayor who presided over the Katrina debacle managed to get reelected. Unfortunately, New Orleans and Louisiana are notoriously corrupt and inefficient political entities. The widely circulated photo of hundreds of yellow New Orleans school buses half submerged in a flooded parking lot makes that point more clearly than I ever will.

I think it is time for New Orleans, and perhaps Louisiana, to take responsibility for its own fate, for its own outcomes, and stop waiting for more handouts from Washington.