Stella! What have you heard about me? (Perception of New Orleans)
March 2, 2006 3:09 PM   Subscribe

What do non-New Orleanians think about the city and the damage? Is it worth rebuilding? Are you really sick of hearing about it? What do people say about it?

In New Orleans, we don't really know what the rest of the world thinks of the situation. It occurs to me that we really have to figure that out if we're going to get, say, levees.

I'm a native New Orleanian and I met a first-time visitor over Mardi Gras. She was amazed by the extent of the damage and how much we're still struggling in weird ways (like not having any stores open at night due to labor shortage), and she said she really had no idea what it was like. The reaction kind of blew me away; she honestly was horrified.

So what do people actually think about New Orleans? How broken do you think it is, and how likely is it to come back, from an outsider's perspective? Is it being over or under-publicized? I really just don't know anyone who hadn't heard constant rants from New Orleans anymore, and I really have no idea what the rest of the world thinks.
posted by honeydew to Society & Culture (45 answers total)
Well, I for one am horrified at how badly you've been treated. The continued ineptitude of FEMA shocks and appalls me... kicking people out of hotels when there's no where else for them to go. I think, if they don't have the trailers, they should be putting people up in apartments. I can certainly understand not putting them up in hotels... but since they can't provide trailers, it seems to me they ought to help SOMEHOW with housing.

From an admittedly uneducated stance, it seems to me that builldozing the parts of New Orleans that are lowest would be a good idea.... perhaps turn them into parkland. Something useful, but undeveloped, so that if it floods again, nobody loses their homes.

I realize that this will mean New Orleans will shrink, but in all honesty... even with a GOOD Federal government, I'm not sure it would ever completely recover. With the inept horror that the Republicans have foisted on us with their crony political jobs... I just dunno. Could it be the first American city to ever outright die?

I don't really watch TV much, so I don't know how under- or over-exposed it is. Given the magnitude of the disaster and the incompetence of the response, I have trouble imagining that it could be over-covered.

Is there a labor shortage there? I was under the impression that people were flocking down there in droves to work on reconstruction?
posted by Malor at 3:19 PM on March 2, 2006

I'm kind of amazed that anyone is really there. What's the current population?

No, we're not particularly sick of it, although Bush Supporters might be.

I think the whole thing is kind of fascinating: A whole city nearly destroyed and yet people just hopped back over to live and work (and rebuild it).

All very interesting.
posted by delmoi at 3:23 PM on March 2, 2006

I'm in Los Angeles, have never been to New Orleans. I get most of my news from NPR, and there has been what seems like constant coverage this week, due to Mardi Gras. Honestly, I did get a little tired of it this week, mostly because the "news" was that very little has changed and the city has a long way to go. I noticed a few articles in the LA Times but nothing like the saturation coverage NPR had. (Previous to this week, I probably heard updates about once a week or so.)

What do I think? I think it's a sad, terrible situation, and even though I've heard alot about it, I'm sure I can't really comprehend what it is like to live through that and to be living there still. So I have great sympathy for those who have been affected, mixed with incomprehension because I've never been through a natural disaster like that.

I admit, though, to not really understanding the zealots who want to rebuild all of N.O., exactly the way it was. It seems dangerous and foolhardy to be tempting fate by building in an area that has already been wasted by a natural disaster that could easily happen again. Why should I, as a taxpayer, bear the burden to rebuild your city when you're setting up certain areas to be damaged all over again?
posted by Bella Sebastian at 3:24 PM on March 2, 2006

I think it's under-publicized in a way. I am pretty sure that most people do not have a clue of the devastation that occurred, or if they do, they think it's the entire city, not realizing that some areas were on higher ground than others. But I think most people probably don't understand what it is like down there. I read a blog or two by people from New Orleans so I have seen more of it than your average person, but I know I don't really have a clue either -- there are some things that are just hard to truly comprehend.

I love New Orleans, though, and I want to see it rebuilt... and yet, it almost seems like any rebuilding will be somewhat artificial, and this breaks my heart. As for how likely it is to come back -- I don't know. I hope it can.

(I am from Seattle, have visited NO twice for about a week at a time, and found it to be an amazing place. I wish I had been able to spend more time there.)
posted by litlnemo at 3:29 PM on March 2, 2006

In 1998 I had an oceanography class (in Minnesota, near the other end if the river) where the professor spent a day enumerating reasons why New Orleans is a lousy place for a city.

I know the river wants to shift down a different estuary - the engineer in me things this is as good a time to let that happen as we're ever going to have, but realistically, I can't imagine New Orleans really being abandonded - it means too much to too many people.

I guess I see the rebuilding of New Orleans as inevitable, even though I have no idea how messed up things are. That's my uninfromed Californian's perspective.
posted by aubilenon at 3:29 PM on March 2, 2006

"Well, I for one am horrified at how badly you've been treated. The continued ineptitude of FEMA shocks and appalls me..."

And let me second this as well.
posted by litlnemo at 3:31 PM on March 2, 2006

Global warming is going to melt the ice on Greenland and Antarctica, within quite a short period of time - like 20 years at the most. This will cause world sea levels to rise significantly. New Orleans, as well as coastal cities worldwide, are going to be underwater. Something on the order of a billion people are going to be flooded out of their homes. New Orleans is going to happen over and over, as high-intensity hurricanes (what will the news call them? Supercanes?) strengthening over extremely warm water pulverize coastal areas around the world. New Orleans will have the honor of being mentioned in Chapter 1 in hundreds if not thousands of books on the macroscopic effects of global warming.

New Orleans is not worth rebuilding. What might be worth doing is to start building sea walls around other coastal cities. Not all of them, since not all of them can be saved. But some of them, certainly.

I've been to New Orleans. Nice place, and I love the pralines. But they should take their copper kettles and their po' boys and move to higher ground.
posted by jellicle at 3:31 PM on March 2, 2006

I don't feel like it's overexposed. The news periodically mentions the latest attempts to kick people out of hotel rooms, and the effort to pull off Mardi Gras. That's about it. I'd prefer to see Katrina's aftermath given much more coverage. It feels like there are so many stories that never got finished.

Personal feeling? On the one hand, that all of those billions of dollars would be better spent re-building on higher ground. And the Mississippi/Gulf environment will be better off for it. Yet...if some politician dared tell me not to ever come back to my family's home and that it would be more fiscally prudent to let generations of neighborhood ties/history be shattered by mass re-location, HELL NO. *shrug* I wish we knew more about what residents think. It must be a highly charged topic of conversation.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:35 PM on March 2, 2006

I get the vibe that New Orleans will end up being rebuilt, with higher levees. And a newly gentrified 9th Ward.
posted by atchafalaya at 3:44 PM on March 2, 2006

it's underexposed....the port in n.o. is essential to moving food from the grain belt to ports all over the's an essential transportation port for this county...not to mention a hell of a place to party....
posted by jamie939 at 3:48 PM on March 2, 2006

I was surprised to hear that people were actually going to celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I thought it would still be war-zone like.

I think rebuilding is really important for the people that lived there, and for people to learn from. Rebuilding cities is what people do. In my country, we built the Delta Works after the 1953 flooding. That was important and good. But I do not know enough about the severity of the problems to have an informed opinion and from what I have seen, I am not sure if the US government wants to do all it takes to prevent a new disaster. It would be useless to rebuild if another hurricane devestates the city within ten years.

I (and many people I know) am absolutely shocked by this. We cannot imagine that a rich, western country handled this so badly. I do not get tired hearing about it, but of course, we do not hear much about it anymore. Today there was an item in the news that Bush talked with Brown about the devastating effect Katrina would have, even though he said that nobody expected the levees to break.
posted by davar at 3:54 PM on March 2, 2006

By warzone, I do not mean that I thought there would be looters and guns etc., but I did think not many people would live there, and the people that did would not be celebrating, much less inviting others to come celebrate.
posted by davar at 3:57 PM on March 2, 2006

I was surprised to hear that people were actually going to celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I thought it would still be war-zone like.

The (main) areas used for mardi gras are, for the most part, fine.

but I did think not many people would live there, and the people that did would not be celebrating, much less inviting others to come celebrate.

More people = more money. Besides, if anyone needs a party to give reality a break it's the people of new orleans.
posted by justgary at 4:02 PM on March 2, 2006

Sadly, I think New Orleans is toast. Wet Soggy Toast. Hurricane seasons like '05 are likely to be the new norm for the next couple of decades. The American people I think will be unwilling to spend billions of dollars in reconstruction money when there is another large hurricane that hits NOLA and floods it *again*.

Remember: Hurricanes are natures way of moving heat from the tropics to the poles. More global warming == more heat that has to get moved.


posted by ccoryell at 4:06 PM on March 2, 2006

Also horrified by how little the government has done - and by how little of the hundreds of millions of dollars the people of America have given seems to have gone into the city. Where'd it go?

I think you have to rebuild it once, build it better, stronger, higher than it was - with the understanding that if it happens again, you're on your own. The country can't afford to do this over and over again, and if we're at the beginning of a 30-year cycle of mega-hurricanes, we could be wiping out one or more major coastal cities every year.

So yes, rebuild, and then say a little prayer to whatever deity you choose that future-canes go east or west of New Orleans.
posted by clarkstonian at 4:15 PM on March 2, 2006

Not only am I not sick about hearing it, I'm appalled by how much it had dropped off the radar screen till Mardi Gras (and how much it will drop off the radar again, now that Mardi Gras is over). My friend/coworker's dad died there during Katrina, so I've gotten a sense from her about how broken the city is (she hasn't been back yet, but still has family there), and even then I'm dumbfounded when I see pictures today.

And hell yeah, I think it should be rebuilt. The (further) abandonment of New Orleans would be a social, cultural, and historical crime.
posted by scody at 4:28 PM on March 2, 2006

(Not that it isn't already, of course)
posted by scody at 4:35 PM on March 2, 2006

I don't know what the country as a whole thinks, but I can tell you what I think:

What happened was an embarrasment to the whole country. However that was half a year ago and it's time to get over it and get to work making a safe place for all those people to live and work.

It's not clear to me what the Feds plan to do there, I don't know that they know themselves. I don't particularly trust them to make sound decisions about it.

What I know about the state is that they asked for a huge amount of rebuilding money from the Feds and got laughed out of Washington.

The city and parish would have solid motivation, but I don't know what kind of resources they have available for a project of this size. Louisiana also has a long and solid rep for graft and I have to wonder if any funds would mysteriously dwindle away.

The former residents have a solid interest, but they have been scattered across the country, they have no organization that I have noticed, and I think they are mostly waiting around for someone to tell them what to do. I do hope I'm wrong about this.

I have the vague idea that various companies are interested in building a sort of corporate disneyland in what used to be NOLA. It would have a cajun theme about it and actual cajuns might be allowed to wait tables or tend bar or something. I get the impression that the area is also being hispanicized because they are considered less troublesome workers than the locals.

My personal concern is that all the plans and statements I've seen seem to be based on sentiment, on custom, on continuing existing habits, on making statements that sound nice on TV. Who's working on the question of the underlying physical reality? Has anyone spoken to the Dutch? There are perhaps half a dozen ways to build a floodproof New New Orleans, but is anyone seriously considering them? Are they just going to stand that ridiculous skinny cement wall back up and send the engineers home? I don't mind paying to rebuild your city, but I don't think we'll do it twice.
posted by Ken McE at 4:39 PM on March 2, 2006

I don't know the devastation, but I'm going down to New Orleans this week [first time I've been anywhere near that area of the country] to do volunteer work on my spring break.

This will be done through the Common Grounds Collective, I have a feeling this trip will be a significant moment in my life.
posted by cloeburner at 4:47 PM on March 2, 2006

I have been to New Orleans once, and my wife spent a good portion of her childhood and adolescence in Kenner. I have pretty much nothing but a good vibe from that city in my head.

I was repeatedly stunned at the ignorance, ineptitude and utter disregard expressed by the Bush administration and the "homeland security" (hardly worth capitalizing and definitely worth putting in quotes) department. And FEMA and Michael Brown... complete, total, 100% unmitigate fucking disaster in itself. While an American tragedy raged in front of them they worried about how they looked on camera. The pathetic lack of concern and the total and complete failure of the human spirit should have had us rioting in the streets. But we're not. And when I keep seeing the FPP over and over again about the repeateded idiocy and brutal callousness of the Bush people, it makes me start to think "What the HELL is going on?!" along with "Maybe Vancouver would be a nice place to live."

Icing on the cake of this is listening week after week to Harry Shearer's Le Show and hearing how everything before, during and after Katrina was a catalog of complete disregard for the city of New Orleans. Harry lives there, and loves that city. He's moved Le Show there permanently, and I applaud him for it.

As was pointed out earlier, you can dismiss and predict disaster all you want for the place, but for the United States, it's a hell of a lot more vital that you every imagine when you start reading about both the history of the place and the current importance of the place. Of course, New Orleans gets screwed, over and over again when it comes to just about everything to do with the oil industry. When you drill offshore in Texas, Texas gets plenty of cash for that, but not so in New Orleans. And that's just one example of the complete and utter disregard for the city and the state from every oil company in this (and certainly other) country.

Do I care. More than I can keep going on about. More than I can type about. I'm pissed and angry and hoping the god damned fucking second coming will happen so that Jesus finally takes his boy home from the White House and we can get someone in there that can actually get some god damned WORK done.
posted by smallerdemon at 5:03 PM on March 2, 2006

New Orleans should be rebuilt. Period.

I'm not tired of hearing about it. New Orleans is part of our national heritage and we shouldn't be crossing off places because of natural disasters. Should we permanently cut and run everytime a hurricane, flood, wildfire, tsunami or whatever strikes? No way.

The potential conflict between N.O. and water is no different than that in the Netherlands or Venice or numerous other places. There have always been cities built in inhospitable places, particularly for the benefit of trade. If you want the benefits of a location convenient to waterways, there will periodically be problems. This should come as no surprise.

New Orleans problems, IMHO, stem from not dealing with a crumbling infrastructure. Whether that's the federal, state and/or local government's fault is up for debate.

Take a good look at this picture and you'll be shocked. I know I was. And we could learn a few things from the Dutch and their experiences holding back the sea.

Instead, we get platitudes and ineptitude from our elected officials.
posted by bim at 5:17 PM on March 2, 2006

I visited NOLA for the very first time this Mardis Gras and

a. was horrified by the damage

b. was blown away by the fact that FEMA and the feds still haven't come up with a plan to rebuild the area and renovate damaged houses

c. talked to dozens of locals, both folks who had stayed throughout as well as those who were still displaced but had come back for mardis gras, and was struck by the fact that not one of them said, "nah, we can't do it. There's no point. We won't rebuild." Everyone's attitude was remarkably positive and resilient. Great people--I was inspired by everyone I met.

d. despite item c., noticed that SO MANY houses had "for sale" signs on them...

I really think its important to keep NOLA in the news. I'm not sick of it; if anything, my interest has been renewed after my visit to this remarkable place.
posted by missmobtown at 5:22 PM on March 2, 2006

New Orleans for a leftist, gay friendly, culturally open, literate, non-fundamentalist kid growing up and coming of age in the deep south, a refuge, an island in the storm. There was booze, sex, art,,food, freedom, fun, all with a little taint of corruption and filth. The whole atmosphere was "live now, for tomorrow we die" surrounded by a sea of "repent, the end is near."

Then the end came. I've cried and cried. I've dusted off my old EP's, LP's and 78's of 'fess and listened to them in the darkness of my musty basement until the needle ran through the vinyl.

New Orleans may be rebuilt physically. Some people may come back. Basically though, what was is gone. What does give me hope for the future, what is the ray of hope for me is the diaspora. Hopefully, a little part of New Orleans will take root in every community where displaced New Orleneans hang their hats. Po boys will start to taste right outside a 100 mile radius of the city. Music will have start to have a tuba and base drum keeping beat. Politicians will take bribes and people will say, "boys will be boys." You'll hook up in a bar one night and come to find out the girl's a Chappellette. You'll walk home one night and a gay clown will follow you home to make sure you don't get mugged.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:22 PM on March 2, 2006

As a child I lived in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, from the 5th through 8th grades. My family is Japanese, and my dad worked in Gulfport. Since the only decent Japanese food store at the time (about 25 years ago now! I feel so old) was located in New Orleans, my parents used to take my brother and me there on weekends to stock up on stuff they needed. Our school took field trips to NO, and I still remember things from that particular day that we took a school bus there. So, although I've never lived there, a lot of my fondest childhood memories are associated with New Orleans and, of course, the Mississippi Gulf Coast area. I love the place; the fondness I feel for what I remember about the entire area is just one of those inexplicable emotions that are deeply assiciated with having been fortunate enought to have spent a happy childhood somewhere. So what I'm going to say might not be very reasonable. I was devastated to hear what had happened last year.

Since I'm not American, and I don't have enough knowledge to really comment on the U.S. government's initial reaction to the disaster and the subsequent relief efforts (or lack thereof), I can't say much except to repeat what others have said more eloquently that it looks very flimsy from an international viewpoint also. And since I'm not a resident, I can't really say whether or not New Orleans should be rebuilt where it is, because what happened last year could have happened any time in the past and it could happen again in the future. Reasonably speaking, from the standpoint of safety, the people should probably relocate.

But, so much of what makes New Orleans what it is, what makes it so different from other American cities I've been in, is that swampy, humid, WET feel it has... I could see it even as a child, and even as I'm writing this, it's like I can smell the air. There's something there that's found nowhere else. If New Orleans relocated, it wouldn't be New Orleans anymore, so you might as well call it by another name. I think that if your tax money and technology is going to be invested in something to help your city recover, it should be invested in building more effective levees.

Last September, still in the wakes of Katrina, Dr. John played live at the Blue Note Tokyo. Yeah, he traveled halfway across the world with his band to play for us here, even though his hometown was still a total wreck. He was, as always, amazing, but he wasn't his usual party-loving self, if you will... the entire set was more intense, angry almost, than what I'd seen before. He changed the lyrics to one of his songs in what I think was the encore (or the last song in the set?) and expressed his love for his hometown and the fury he felt towards the government and that New Orleans was going to rise again, no matter the odds against it. It was probably one of the best live performances I'd ever seen in my life. If New Orleans is the home of such strength, and music, I think it will rise again. I hope. I apologize for the rambling, but I wanted to let people know that it's just not Americans who are feeling the loss of such a great city. I don't know you, but I wish you well. It's my dream that I'll be back there again at least once more before I die.
posted by misozaki at 6:04 PM on March 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

I know I'm repeating myself, but it is an important distinction for everyone to remember:

The major damage to New Orleans was not caused by the hurricane. It was caused by the breach of the canal wall. This was not a "natural" disaster. It was caused by the ineptitude of the Corps of Engineers a certain extent, the dredging of the canals.

The city was a bit bruised by the hurricane, but it was the flooding that did almost all of the death and destruction. Yes, the hurricane led to to collapse of the levee, BUT it was not the hurricane that suckerpunched us. It's an important distinction to make.

No, you can't fight nature, but as many people have mentioned, you can make stronger defenses.

Whenever you hear anyone discussing the hurricane and the aftermath, do as I do: remind them that this disaster was man-made.

This weekend, I also went down for Mardi Gras and it was my first return to some of these areas. And even though I've followed all of it, I, too was shocked by what I found there. In some places, the homes looked like those you might see in a warzone. But the people I saw there are not beaten. They are resilient.

And another shoutout to Le Show. Harry's the man these days. Everyone should be listening to his show. They should show it on Fox instead of "American Idol." The man speaks the truth.
posted by ColdChef at 6:10 PM on March 2, 2006

Make Levees, Not War
posted by ColdChef at 6:14 PM on March 2, 2006

I'm not tired of hearing about New Orleans though I think the type of news I've been hearing is getting old. The situation is horrific but frankly that's pretty much the extent of coverage. In the whirlwind goose chase to finger responsible individuals to blame for improper preparations and readiness, the media and much of America seems to have forgotten about the actual reconstruction plans and efforts for the city. After the events of 9/11, people couldn't stop talking and debating about the best way to fill the WTC space. No offense to those who lost their lives there, but it was and still is commercial office space. New Orleans is an entire city of residences, communities, and people's livelihoods!

I'd like to see the federal government and FEMA give the state and city the financial and manpower support it needs to clear the devastation, rebuild infrastructure, and restore human necessities. I want the media to put Brown, Chertoff, Bush, and the Corps on the backburner for a second and start raising awareness and debate about what's being done now in NOLA and who's involved. I want real urban planners to help the process (high-profile glass-skyscraper-designing celebrity architects need not apply). I don't want to see federal contractors anywhere near the city (I'm looking at you, Halliburton) and instead have state and federal recovery monies go to local employers to invigorate the economy. Clean it up, restore the foundation, and let NOLA citizens get back to living.

It's taken a long time but I don't think anyone can say that modern San Francisco is any less vibrant than pre-1906 San Francisco. San Francisco planners took steps to prevent a similar disaster from ever happening again. NOLA planners need to do the same and I have no doubt they will. Sure, the rebuilt New Orleans may never match memories of pre-Katrina New Orleans. But the majority of citizens are staying and because of them, the culture and spirit of New Orleans will restore itself to its former grandeur.
posted by junesix at 6:18 PM on March 2, 2006

A question for you, honeydew. The only way I'm tired of hearing about it is the sense of frustration and helplessness. I live pretty far away. It's not like I can bring a casserole, or a case of water, or a washing machine. To hear repeatedly about the devastation without being able to do something just raises my blood pressure.

Is there something we can do to help? What would that be?
posted by clarkstonian at 6:27 PM on March 2, 2006

Ok, I was in New Orleans this last week as part of a journalism trip. I interviewed the managing editor of the Times-Picayune, a couple of reporters, some neighborhood activists, a member of the historical society, and some people coordinating clean-up.
First off, a lot of New Orleans is being rebuilt, but there's a lot of flux regarding overlapping plans. You have to remember that there was flooding in a 35 by 10 mile strip, meaning 350 square miles had some damage. The lowland areas, which unfortunately are the poorest part of the city, are not coming back the way they are now. The talks of rebuilding are simply not going to be feasible in terms of the amount of capital that it will take. The slab-style houses that dominated the ward simply can't be put there, because that area will flood again.
However, there are also neighborhoods like the one around Ursuline and Miro where a predominantly poor, black neighborhood has a really high amount of reconstruction. The Lakeview area (where the levees burst) has much less, even though they're having a real estate speculation boom (you can sell your place in an afternoon). A lot of the white landowners are holding back, seeing exactly what the package they'll recieve is, while a lot of the black neighborhoods are used to not getting a lot of help from the government and are a lot more proactive.
So, much of New Orleans will be rebuilt. A fair-sized chunk really shouldn't be, and likely won't be. That'll mean a shift in population centers, but I think that New Orleans will survive and survive well.
(I'll have more as I write up my notes).
posted by klangklangston at 6:45 PM on March 2, 2006

Clarkstonian— A lot of neighborhood reconstruction projects need wood, sheetrock, paint and tools.
posted by klangklangston at 6:47 PM on March 2, 2006

i Live a 5 or so hours from new orleans, and from what i've heard, i'm suprised at how far its come, considering how many people just had their backs broken by this disaster.

i just know its going to be a really slow process. i'm seriously considering moving there soon myself to do what i can to help, since i have family there as well.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:40 PM on March 2, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone, this is actually really interesting stuff.

I'm kind of amazed that anyone is really there. What's the current population? The last estimate I heard was just over 100,000 in january, but I know for a fact that people are beginning to move back.

Mardi Gras was a lot less crazy than last year or the years before it, but it was pretty happening. The Indian parades even happened in the Ninth Ward. It really made me feel like we were gonna be okay.

A question for you, honeydew. The only way I'm tired of hearing about it is the sense of frustration and helplessness. I live pretty far away. It's not like I can bring a casserole, or a case of water, or a washing machine. To hear repeatedly about the devastation without being able to do something just raises my blood pressure.

Is there something we can do to help? What would that be?

Eat Louisiana shrimp. Send a New Orleans public school $20. Go see the Preservation Hall Band, or Dirty Dozen, or any other number of incredible nola artists on the road. Check out our Jazzfest lineup. Read the next New Orleans Review. Donate to a church, synagogue, temple, or shrine - we have them all and we're very fond of them all. Let any natives in your city know that we miss them. Vote.

Most importantly, listen to the stories and don't forget them. That's really all we can ask the rest of the world. That's all I'd require of anyone.
posted by honeydew at 7:50 PM on March 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have to say that I have the impression that the hurricane wiped out most of what was good: the people, the city they made, their culture. If a giant earthquake destroyed the entire SF Bay Area, it would still be a beautiful piece of land with many geographical attributes offering economic and esthetic benefits (ports, 2 gorgeous mountains, water, an excellent regional location). I honestly don't know if this latter part is true of N.O. or not. If the land itself is viable, by all means, people will always be there. If what made N.O. great was a set of cultural phenomena, then it may have seen its end already.

No matter what ever happened, I'd be willing to stick around and rebuild the place I live rather than live anywhere else. If I had to live the life of a construction worker for years it would be worth it to be a part of recreating something wonderful (who knows, maybe making something even better). If people are equally inspired to do so in N.O., they have my absolute support.

I do have to say that our earthquake readiness out here is better than the levy system seems to have been. Retrofit is no laughing matter out here, and I doubt anyone would say that our infrastructure is in shitty shape (something they'd been saying about N.O for years). The building I live in has had non-imperative seismic work done on it in the last year, for example, and the bridges have been through the whole deal constantly for as long as I can remember. It's a constant process, but my point is that even though there's no immediate deadline to get it done TOMORROW, the work carries on nonetheless. No one's ignoring it. There's no monkey business about earthquake readiness here (probably because we have constant small earthquakes as reminders, and we've already had our cataclysmic disaster in 1906, plus a nice fat warning shot fired across our bow in 1989).

If you're going to rebuild, for fuck's sake: put a stake in the ground and demand it be done right.
posted by scarabic at 8:06 PM on March 2, 2006

It's totally worth rebuilding, but please fix the levees properly first!!
posted by easternblot at 8:50 PM on March 2, 2006

The continuing travails and devastation of New Orleans and the Golf Coast are recent memories for most. However, the continuing reporting of Anderson Cooper on CNN and Brian Williams on NBC Nightly news keep the reporting “alive and current.”

Should New Orleans be rebuilt? Absolutely. It is one of our most unique cultural legacies. IMHO, New Orleans is to the United States as Montreal is to Canada – legacies of European roots which were and continue to thrive.

I treasure my many visits to the ‘Big Easy’ – New Year’s, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and Southern Decadence.

The culture, the people, the food, the music and the spirit are matched by none!
posted by ericb at 9:00 PM on March 2, 2006

New Orleans may be rebuilt physically. Some people may come back. Basically though, what was is gone.
posted by Pollomacho

I have to say that I have the impression that the hurricane wiped out most of what was good: the people, the city they made, their culture.
posted by scarabic

I read comments like this and then thank god they're in the minority. It seems most of the time they come from people who have never been to new orleans (in general, I have no idea about anyone in this thread).

New Orleans should be rebuilt. It's unique to america. San fran, new york, both great cities. Not the same feeling as new orleans.

The city will go on. Yes, some people won't be back, and that's too bad. But much of new orleans is already ok. The french quarter, the garden district...still there. Magazine street? The only business that hasn't reopened is starbucks.

There are problem areas. But you know what? New Orleans had problems before katrina. Now some of those problems are finally out in the open. Poverty, a shrinking music scene, the disneyfying of the city. They were all there before the hurricane. Now that they're in the open maybe somethings might actually improve.

The people and culture is WHY new orleans will be fine. It's going to take a long time. But the culture, the music, the food, will all be there. I don't think people who think a single hurricane can wipe it all out really understand new orleans, and the depth of its culture, at all.

Jazzfest is coming up. Can't wait.
posted by justgary at 10:26 PM on March 2, 2006

100 years ago the city that I now have the privilege of inhabiting looked like this.

The history of New Orleans has (ironically) not been easy. The city is now living through one of it's most difficult times but it will inevitably be rebuilt. You're in the position to help determine how the reconstruction will happen. I don't envy the work this will require but I support the city's perserverance.

My assumptions: Anyone who has visited New Orleans and fallen in love with it wants to see it rebuilt. Anyone who lives in one of America's great cities wants to see it rebuilt. Anyone who has experienced a natural disaster wants to see it rebuilt.

There's no such thing as over-publicizing a disaster of this magnitude. Keep at it. It's the only way remind people of what happened. That means gratuitous coverage during Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and yes - when storms hit again later this year.
posted by quadog at 10:43 PM on March 2, 2006

Being a devils' advocate, with all the warnings about future global warming and super-hurricanes that will demicate the Gulf and Atlantic coast over the next century ... why rebuild New Orleans exactly where it is now?

The spirit of that unique place can still be captured if you move it, say, a bit further away out of harms way.

Also, in this unfortunate era of "the managers have taken over the asylum", is it worth it? How much does New Orleans uniquely contribute to the almight American economy that other cities couldn't provide equally well? I bet the beancounters at wherever are quietly trying to figure out how *not* to rebuild it.

Ob. disclaimer - I've only been there twice. It's a uniquely American/European city, but by God, the heat! the poverty! the riches! It's got its work out cut out, that's for sure...
posted by badlydubbedboy at 5:39 AM on March 3, 2006

I think that "rebuilding" means different things to different people. I certainly don't think that my tax money should be used to recreate pre-Katrina New Orleans. I think that there should be a city there, but a smaller, more manageable, better protected one than there was before. I think this will probably happen naturally when some evacuees stay wherever they were evacuated to, but some people seem to have this idea that everyone should come running back to live in NO.

I think we should clean up the mold, get some of the hospitals and roads and levees and police departments and schools and economy back up and working, and get on with it.

(This is the perspective of someone who went to NO once pre-K and didn't think it was as great as everyone made it out to be.)
posted by srah at 5:58 AM on March 3, 2006

Honeydew, I'm going to circulate your suggestions. These are things that I CAN, and almost anyone can do. I can't truck sheetrock & paint there. Wish I could.

I doubt whether anyone can forget the people waiting on rooftops for help that doesn't come, the story of the woman who held her mother's head above water, hoping help would come - it never did, and her mother drowned.

Of the National Guard (many of whom are in Iraq instead of here, guarding us, where they are supposed to be) finally marching into the city half a week too late. Of the clips of the trailers, bought to support some buddy of the president or pay back some political favor, rotting in Arkansas at our expense while people do without.

New Orleans has had a profound impact on our psyches. We now know the government really won't be there for us. I'm a little surprised, because I always thought the government WAS us.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:03 AM on March 3, 2006

i think it should be rebuilt ... i also think a lot of poor people are getting screwed in the process

what worries me is what happens when l a or san francisco gets hit by an earthquake ... or what happens when cities in the west run out of water and can't support the number of people they have living there

our government is not prepared for any of this ... and it looks to me like it's more than willing to give some crappy trailers and some crappy payments to the survivors and then tell them they're on their own
posted by pyramid termite at 9:19 AM on March 3, 2006

I think that people have been so focused on NO that the rest of the gulf coast has been neglected. I have a friend who was from Biloxi MS that moved north, saying he never wanted to see the gulf coast again because it is so strung out, so scary.

That being said...I'd love to see NO be great again. But as with previous horros such as the tsunami and Iraq...people grow weary of all the coverage (thanks to the media blanketing things) and 30 second soundbites.

You want real coverage on whats going on there? Watch Oprah's on location show from about 2 weeks ago. Heartbreaking. It made me give again.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 3:09 PM on March 3, 2006

I think that there should be a city there, but a smaller, more manageable, better protected one than there was before.

This is basically my take as well. I think the practical matter is that maybe as many as 100,000 people will never be back. The ugly truth is that many of those people are black, and added a depth to the local culture. But even before the hurricane, there were no jobs for them there: the port businesses used fewer people and were increasingly based farther outside of the city. The tourism business wasn't able to support who was left.

It's cruel insult added to injury as some view it, but I think it is wise to just mark off swathes of the lowest areas as unbuildable parkland.

The greatest shame of the Bush presidency is ... well, hard to pick, but this is surely a top nominee. The saddest thing is that they had neither the interest nor the credibility to appoint a rebuilding czar who could make hard decisions like this.

Other things NOLA needs include a storm surge barrier like the Thames Barrier, to keep Lake Pontchartrain from filling with water next time (this does seem manageable, if it's done). The "levees", though -- there shouldn't be any more of those floodwalls. The Japanese use a system of fill where the land is gradually built up to the height needed, then buildings are on top of that. Raises up the city, eliminates those ugly concrete things looming over houses, simplifies many of the engineering challenges. I fear this idea will never be tried here, though, even though it seems tailor-made for New Orleans. This will take years, though. In the meantime NOLA needs to have an emergency levee-break fix should this happen again -- something like a barge designed to sink in a canal and block it off. The Dutch considered doing something like this 50 years ago during the great storm that led them to build their outer defenses; I don't know why nobody in this mess was thinking outside of the box like that. It seems like nobody was prepared at all to really respond to a broken levee/floodwall.

There will still be low areas, and there should be federal help for people who raise their houses up -- who build as if they were on a barrier island, which is really appropriate considering they're below sea level now. There should have been more thinking ahead given what happened in mpast 'canes -- attics should be treated as emergency refuges with a public information campaign. A rainwater capture system, air vents, an escape hatch (burglarproof, of course). A rescue beacon. These won't be expensive and could save lives (of course, they also have the ill effect of incentivizing people to stay instead of evacuate).

Evacuation. It should be handled the way Cuba does it. Every neighborhood has a designated gathering place, the same way school classrooms do. The neighborhood and the safety zone develop a relationship. People know where to go; and they know they'll be welcomed when they do. I imagine that race or class issues might make this impossible, but it seems like it should be tried -- obviously "run like hell and stop when you run out of gas or coffee" isn't working too well.

It also seems like there should be a plan for something like TIF districts -- hurricane recovery districts, say, where there's special zoning allowing housing on an SRO or effiency basis that has a ten-year deadline to be converted to full-fledged apartments, or federal grants/loans get pulled back. It's got to be enforced, though, so it doesn't become junk housing. But it would help the businesses recover; I get the impression that NOLA right now has about 250,000 people living in housing for 150,000.

Anyway, those are some ideas I've had; I don't really have any "in" with anybody, nor do I know how they'd be received locally. I just wish there were more evidence of vigroous problem-solving, rather than the reactionary mess that seems to be happening and seems like it will achieve half the benefits at twice the cost, just like usual.
posted by dhartung at 11:54 PM on March 3, 2006

"There will still be low areas, and there should be federal help for people who raise their houses up -- who build as if they were on a barrier island, which is really appropriate considering they're below sea level now."

Raising every $30k home the 11 or so feet it would take to make them sea level would cost over $150k each. Not gonna happen.
posted by klangklangston at 7:46 AM on March 4, 2006

i was in NOLA last week, volunteering in st bernard parish, so i guess i missed out on this conversation.

i was amazed and disgusted by the devastation. i cant believe that the infrastructure has been completely wiped out. there were no traffic lights in most areas, and most businesses are still closed. jobs, however are not an issue. apparently some fast food restaurants are paying $12+ an hour with up to $10k in signing bonuses.

st bernard parish was particularly hit bad. our project (the st bernard parish cleanup effort, by samaritans purse, the local government, and habitat for humanity) was gutting houses so that the homeowners can rebuild. the house i worked on had 16 feet of water in it. there is some hope there, in the fact that we were working, and that there were some residents there rebuilding.

i fell in love with the town almost immediately. mardi gras is a fantastic party that i will go to every year from now on. the city is so full of culture. definitive culture at that. the culture defines the city. not too many other cities exist like that in america. new orleans is defined by its architechture, its language, its food, its parties, parades, voodoo, jazz music, and hospitality. these things are very distinctive and i think they are worth sharing. you cant really get po-boys anywhere else, or good jambalaya. the jazz there is amazing and different. there is nowhere else like new orleans. it has french influence, but you can't get their food or understand their language in france. it is southern, but their food is completely different, and they dont have southern accents. its a sort of galapagos.

i dont think think the city itself is worth saving. its sinking. it stinks. it is likely doomed to have this happen again.

but i think the people and the culture are worth saving. so i say rebuild the levees, build them 3 times better, offer incentives to the former residents (for they are truly the city!) and keep history alive.

i applaud you, honeydew, for staying in your fair city.

and i will see you next mardi gras.
posted by kneelconqueso at 12:02 PM on March 8, 2006

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