A New New Orleans
I want to start out by saying that you shouldn't think I'm insensitive. This is a terrible event that has a occurred and I'm sad to lose so much of such an interesting city. I never had the chance to go to New Orleans, but I would have loved to visit.
Hurricane Katrina will have an interesting effect on the economy. Experts are already predicting a large decrease in future economic growth. The price of oil is hovering around $70 per barrel. I'm surprised it hasn't gone higher. Gas prices, however, have skyrocketed. There was a big jump in Seattle today. It wasn't as bad as some areas, though. Fortunately, I have a nice amount of biodiesel pre-ordered at $3/gallon. Who would have thought that diesel prices would so quickly catch up with biodiesel? Now biodiesel is actually cheaper. It will probably remain cheaper in the near future, since winter usually brings higher diesel prices (it is similar to home heating oil, so if they make more home heating oil, they make less diesel). I might have to order a few hundred more gallons, since there is no limit to how much you can pre-order. My mom is actually considering not selling El Pres (our 1985 Mercedes) and instead running it on biodiesel (a plan that gets my approval). Anyway, the gas price conundrum will be interesting. Historically, Americans' gas usage has not been stalled by higher prices. How long will it take before people start to change their habits. Perhaps we'll start seeing more car pools in the near future.
Back to New Orleans. The current location of the city is very unsustainable. The storms are only likely to get more powerful and more frequent in the future. We can't keep water out of a city below sea level, surrounded by lots of sources of water. This is not a once-in-a-lifetime event, as many people are calling it, this will happen again if we rebuild in the current location. The French Quarter can stay because of all the history, and there could be a tourist industry around that, but the rest of the city should be located farther inland. Here's the thing, the rest of the country doesn't want to bail out areas that are continuously being destroyed. Parts of Florida are hit by hurricanes quite often. When we know these events come again and again to the same areas, we shouldn't let people use tax payer money to rebuild in those areas. I don't mind money being spent on helping people get back on their feet, as long as they don't build in the same place. It was a freak accident like a tornado, then that would be different. However, hurricanes wipe out large areas, and in the case of New Orleans, create lots of secondary damages. In the wake of this disaster, we are presented with a great opportunity. We can rebuild New Orleans on higher ground, and build it better. We can build a New New Orleans. A New2 Orleans, if you prefer. There will, of course, be opposition. Governor Blanco was offended when Dennis Hastert suggested it would be unwise to rebuild the city below sea level. JH Crawford, who is familiar with New Orleans and authored the Carfree Cities book, has a wonderful suggestion. We are basically rebuilding a city of over a million people from scratch. This would be an excellent time to practice New Urbanism and the ideas from Carfree Cities. Rebuilding the city with fewer roads and higher density would substantially reduce infrastructure costs. Sprawl takes a lot of infrastructure, and it would just be too expensive when starting from scratch. LIving in a dense environment would save money for citizens in the long run as well. Many people lost their livelihood, so the more money they save on utilities (high density living substantially reduces heating/cooling expenses, and less infrastructure means lower cost) and transportation, the better. Finally, having a large car free urban area in the United States would be an enormous tourist attraction. People would travel from all around to spend a week there relaxing and walking the streets, free from the danger, noise, and pollution of cars. Mardi Gras/Carnival would be amazing in a car free city. A booming tourist industry would instantly help their economy and would allow people to return to their normal lives quicker. New Orleans, I imagine, had lots of tourism before the flooding. A rail line could be built from Old New Orleans to New New Orleans to easily allow tourists and residents to travel between areas like the French Quarter and the new car free districts.
While it is true that Katrina brought a huge disaster on one of America's most unique cities, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. For the sake of our economy and future lives and livelihoods, we must not rebuild in the same area. For over 60 years America has been building autocentric cities. These areas are failing us and will become less desirable as energy prices continue to rise. It is time we realize our mistakes, repent our sins, and try something new. But in fact, it is not new; cities were built in this style for hundreds of years. Out of tragedy, New Orleans is presented with an amazing opportunity, as long as it can break the social norm. The city has an opportunity to become not just unique in America, but in the whole world, by becoming the world's first modern car free city. It can be done. It should be done. But will it be done? That is the important question of the day.