Friday, September 02, 2005

We moved into uncharted lands

Today was probably a bit too early to broach the subject, but it's not as if Denny Hastert and others questioning the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans exactly as before are essentially wrong: WASHINGTON - House Speaker Dennis Hastert dropped a bombshell on flood-ravaged New Orleans on Thursday by suggesting that it isn’t sensible to rebuild the city. "It doesn't make sense to me," Hastert told the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago in editions published today. "And it's a question that certainly we should ask." Hastert's comments came as Congress cut short its summer recess and raced back to Washington to take up an emergency aid package expected to be $10 billion or more. Details of the legislation are still emerging, but it is expected to target critical items such as buses to evacuate the city, reinforcing existing flood protection and providing food and shelter for a growing population of refugees. The Illinois Republican’s comments drew an immediate rebuke from Louisiana officials. “That’s like saying we should shut down Los Angeles because it’s built in an earthquake zone,” former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said. “Or like saying that after the Great Chicago fire of 1871, the U.S. government should have just abandoned the city.” If - God Forbid - Southern California ever suffers an earthquake causing comparable devastation, and is left by changing faultlines even more prone to subsequent seismic activitiy, then yes, it might make sense to hold back on full-scale rebuilding in the most-affected areas. If Chicago was, for some reason, exceptionally and inherently flammable - say, if it was atop a large natural gas deposit or coal seam - then, yes, it might make sense not to rebuild. There's defying the vagaries of nature with the wondrous works of man, and then there's just plain tempting fate. Considering its location and geography, reports would seem to indicate New Orleans has been fairly lucky for the nearly 300 years it's existed as a city, and spectacularly fortunate for the century or so that's seen drainage-pump-facilitated expansion into lower-lying areas of town. Is it worth throwing the dice, and betting that future hurricanes won't cause as much damage? By the time the city can be fully drained, cleared, disinfected, etc., how many of the now-refugee citizens of New Orleans will have moved on, re-establishing their lives as best they can in Houston, or Baton Rouge, or Pensacola? Will residential construction to replace all homes destroyed or made unliveable by the storm even be necessary? Ten or fifteen years from now, will New Orleans' population numbers recover? It's too soon to tell right now, but might it not make more sense to rebuild the city as a theme park-cum-industrial port - a Reedy Creek Improvement District with better shipping facilities and refinery infrastructure - than to insist, for no reason better than sheer (admirable, if a bit thick) defiance, that more than a million people ought to return to living on one particularly vulnerable plot of land below sea level? (Via Drudge.)

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