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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Don't just grease the wheels

There are a number of very vocal folks (including me) who support the total rebuilding of New Orleans. It strikes me as incredibly discriminatory to tell one group of people they can rebuild, while discouraging another.

I am speaking with emotions rooted in my love for the city. It has never been clear to me, though, just how to accomplish this while avoiding intermittently occupied houses that have limited neighborhood and city services. Urban blight is a very real threat to the redevelopment of New Orleans.

Additionally, the dangers to the residents of the city in the event of another major hurricane are real for some years to come – particularly in the lower-lying areas. The last thing I would ever want is danger to again threaten the thousands of New Orleanians who came home, thinking they were “safe”. Even if the government authorized today levee improvements to Cat 5, it will take many years to bring them up to that level. In the meantime, will people be at risk?

In the current issue of The Nation, Ari Kelman tries to oh-so-gently describe this problem, and the related concerns held by many. Although Kelman misstates a few things (the levees and pumping stations are not all “repaired” and “back online”), he raises a very real point when he writes (my emphasis):

The call now for improved levees is predictable. Joe Canizaro of the mayor's commission worries that nobody will return until they "feel safe." He's right. But what if people feel safe yet aren't? Before Katrina, disaster amnesia and denial allowed people to ignore the danger. Past disasters, says engineer Robert Bea of the University of California, Berkeley, were "alarm bells, but New Orleans kept hitting snooze." The city now has to rethink flood control.

The victims of the failed levees in NOLA deserve so much: the right of return, fair treatment, financial and social aid, security, safety… How does one pull all this into a brightly wrapped and beribboned package?

I’m not sure it can be – and it’s really starting to bother me. The T-P has an interesting article that includes an actual problem-solving approach:

"People need to know what the yardstick is and that it applies across the board fairly," Howard said.

The BGR and the planning panel agree on that much, Watson said. A major purpose of the planning meetings he described would be to glean such information, he said, helping residents make up their minds about what to do. In addition, the commission has begun soliciting such data from displaced New Orleanians via a one-page form that asks respondents where they lived, whether they plan to return and factors that will affect their decisions.

The form soon will be available online at www.nola.com, a commission spokeswoman said. The Web site is affiliated with The Times-Picayune.

What a concept. Don’t just grease the squeaky wheels (there are SO many). Ask the people.