Can we imagine a country without New Orleans? One could argue it will never be the same. Of course this story is not running on CNN all day so public interest in the devastation appears to be waning.
The housing.com post FEMAVille Update makes the point if many of the developers jockeying for reconstruction rights get their way, the whole Gulf Coast may end up not resembling anything like its old self. [NYT]
Some other developments:
FEMA is could cut its federal obligation by counting as in-kind contributions if a proposed law if adopted. [Louisiana Weekly]
Wells Fargo & Washington Mutual are giving an extra three months to storm victims to resume making mortgage payments and possibly longer [WSJ]
I know of an appraiser in New Orleans who lost all of her investment properties – wiped clean off their foundations. How long will they take to be rebuilt, if ever? FEMA wants the properties rebuilt higher off the ground and sturdier. There are many who simply want to rebuild it the way it was [NYT].
Whats the best way to proceed? Its not clear to me what the best course of action is. To simply rebuild the levees to withstand category 3 storms proved to be ineffective and costly in terms of lives and resources. To rebuild at category 5 or 6 strength is signficantly more expensive and would take years. FEMA has encouraged development in flood plains by providing (subsidizing) low cost flood insurance [Matrix] that encourages construction in low lying areas.
What a mess.
What a monumental mess it is. And since nothing like this has every happened, it requires a solution unlike any other. The real danger is time. Too much time and you create a brain drain from the gulf coast states as the most talented individuals and companies relocate. At the same time, neighboring states are overrun with individuals who are most in need and least able to help themselves. I think we need a special quasi agency to over see and “push” through a project of this magnitude. We need to worry less about doing it perfectly and more about just doing it. I think an agency should be created by congress, enacted with special powers such as the ability to override environmental review procedures, local zoning, etc. and have a 5-10 year life span. The agency should spend no more than a few months creating a master plan, through a combination of national, region and local input. This agency could be partly funded by a combination of government backed bonds, grants, tax breaks and a partial forgiveness of debt. We need an all out assault, like their lives depend on it (which it does). The plan has to include all of the devastated areas, not just New Orleans. We in New York have seen four years pass, with almost nothing accomplished at Ground Zero. But the good news for us is Ground Zero represents a small part of a great city and our survival is not contingent on the progress made, or lack thereof. Our issues in New York are now a matter of pride and we (compared to the gulf coast) have the luxury of time to debate the viewpoints of reconstruction, memorials, symbolism, etc. Meanwhile, the gulf coast states are in a life and death struggle and time is not their friend. This is a test that this nation must rise up to. It is a test of the government, businesses, organizations and people of this nation. But most of all, it is a test of what America is really all about, and failure must not be an option. And I think most would agree that up to now, we are failing.
I agree with all of Mr. Mason’s astute observations and ideas. He has my vote to head the agency in charge of rebuilding N.O. I am at a loss at what else to say except that once you have experienced New Orleans and its surrounding areas you never forget it. It is an architectural gem and a large piece of this country’s history frozen in time. If we let the government and developers get their way it will go the way of other great sites, such as, Penn Station and, almost, Grand Central and they were just buildings, this is an entire city. Galveston, Texas was raised 17 feet above sea level after the 1905+- hurricane which wiped it out along with 6,000 lives and a small but historic downtown was saved – the Dutch build massive sea walls which cost billions so why can’t our gov’t find the $ to save N.O.? Let’s send millions of emails and ask them.
I agree with Mr. Mason’s idea. Yes, action is needed to plan, build, and develop. New Orleans is too important to desert. This is also an opportunity to build a better New Orleans with concerted efforts from people, companies, and government.