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August 31, 2007

New Orleans as Museum

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A blog I regularly visit is Jim Miller on Politics which can be found here. Even though he lives in the Seattle area, I haven't met Jim who, by the way, has 2Blowhards on his blogroll (and his is on ours). He writes about international, national and local issues in a calm, thoughtful manner.

Since this is near the second anniversary of the Katrina disaster, New Orleans has been getting a lot of attention in the media, including the Internet. Miller has a short piece here titled "Should We Abandon New Orleans?" (it's near the top, but you'll have to scroll down) in which he links to an article by Steve Chapman (here) and offers a few observations of his own.

Miller offers the following from Chapman

Historian Douglas Brinkley, writing in The Washington Post, fears the Bush administration is trying to do to New Orleans what was done to Galveston, Texas, after a terrible 1900 hurricane. "Galveston, which had been a thriving port, was essentially abandoned for Houston, transforming that then-sleepy backwater into the financial center for the entire Gulf South," he says. "Galveston devolved into a smallish port-tourist center, one easy to evacuate when hurricanes rear their ugly heads."

Looking back, that actually sounds like a brilliant choice. If they were given the means to start over wherever they choose, a lot of people displaced by Katrina would embrace it.

and then observes that, though people should live where they desire, if possible, he thinks that "parts of New Orleans are worth protecting, notably the port and the tourist area, but that most of it is not."

I'm inclined to agree, though I admittedly haven't studied the issue.

Moreover, I've only visited the place once -- around 20 years ago, for a Census Bureau meeting and a demographer convention. My impression was largely negative. The drinking water might have had something to do with it, but I felt a strong sense of decay along with a literal bad taste in my mouth that lasted for about two days after I left. I found the above-ground cemeteries, the Crescent and the levee area interesting. Ditto the French Quarter aside from Bourbon Street, which was off-putting to me. Those are my choices of what to preserve.

But if a lot of money is going to be spent, why not spend it creating a New New Orleans that's above sea level and otherwise less disaster-prone.



posted by Donald at August 31, 2007


Because that would be letting the hurricanes win?

Posted by: J. Goard on September 1, 2007 12:38 AM

I wish you had lead with your very sensible "But if a lot of money is going to be spent, why not spend it creating a New New Orleans that's above sea level and otherwise less disaster-prone."

Buried as it is at the end, what comes across is prissy hostility to New Orleans.

Of course I don't believe that we are actually spending very much at on re-building the New Orleans which was actually damaged. Do you have any facts to counter that assumption? I am not including temporary relief in profitable trailer-parks or condos at Bear Bryant Stadium. But $$$ in low-level NOLA itself.

Posted by: Seattle Man on September 1, 2007 1:05 AM

I walked through the wealthy above-sea level part of New Orleans from the Garden District to Tulane last April. It was wonderful.

The newspaper headlines, however, were horrifying -- murders, hospitals shutting, levees unrepaired ..

New Orleans really hasn't been a major league city for a couple of decades. It's going to wind up a boutique city, like Charleston or Santa Barbara, and that's about right.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on September 1, 2007 3:21 AM

One argument you don't hear much (except locally), is that my town of Baton Rouge is the putative "Houston" in the abandonment scenario Miller describes. What commerce and population is lost to New Orleans and not already resettled elsewhere is here, busting the seams of my once-quiet cow town.

Baton Rouge is unrecognizable, even to me as a resident of only eleven years. Development trends well underway five years ago shifted into overdrive after the storm. We remain half-again larger in population two years later; the housing boom has caught up and infrastructural problems abound.

I'm against growth, I'll say it. But there are kinds of growth I could live with in Baton Rouge if the obvious end result was not the remodelling of our city into Houston, Texas.

Have you ever been to Houston? Anyone? Anyone?

I go a couple times a year. That's more than often enough.

Posted by: Matt on September 1, 2007 9:01 AM

When we look at the tchnologies employed by the Netherlands to protect their below sea level land. Or some of the devices in Venice, etc. it seems we're choosing to do the least rather than the most we can to preserve and protect Old New Orleans. Given its place in our history over the past 300 years it woud seem worthy of protection. But then again, New Orleans IS a city of blacks and creoles and cajuns, especially in the low lying areas.

I just wonder whether we shouldn't also abandon San Francisco, what with the earthquakes and all.

Posted by: Chris White on September 1, 2007 9:03 AM

I am a long time-time admirer of New Orleans, and of Creole and Cajun cuisine and music, but I heartily agree with your bottom line. Much of the city of New Orleans was a mistake: it only exists because of a government-built levee system which, we now know, government is not competent to maintain and operate properly. San Francisco can be maintained in existence by people who for one reason or another are willing to spend their own money doing so. Completely rebuilding New Orleans would mean some of us indulging our aesthetic tastes at other people's expense. That's what makes New Orleans a special case. Plus, as I understand it, the parts that are most vulnerable to flooding, that are farthest below sea-level, are the parts that were built after the formation of the modern welfare state -- ie., they aren't the parts that we get all aesthetic about (which is how I would put Donald's above-the-bottom-line point). (Admittedly, I haven't been able to fact-check this last point.)

Posted by: Lester Hunt on September 1, 2007 11:09 AM

Matt, you definitely want to avoid what happened to Atlanta, as well. It seems the guy who designed LA is now doing his work there.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on September 1, 2007 11:38 AM

Here's a link to an article on the geopolital importance of New Orleans:

The article makes an interesting point about how much of the fate of the city will be determined by the individual decisions made the the displaced middle class professionals about whether to move back or not.

Posted by: Bill on September 1, 2007 12:36 PM

Preservation Hall, 1978. "Tourist-trap junk music" I was told. But the music, played by ancients, was quite beautiful. Still, for what it would cost to rebuild New Orleans, you could probably afford to send every US taxpayer on holiday to Venice. Though that might sink the place.

Posted by: dearieme on September 1, 2007 1:48 PM

Dear 2Blowhards Tribe: I've blogged on this issue here.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on September 1, 2007 4:19 PM

Seattle man :
"Of course I don't believe that we are actually spending very much at on re-building the New Orleans which was actually damaged. Do you have any facts to counter that assumption?"

Here's a number for you. 127 billion American dollars.
Found in 2 clicks.

[accidentally, why the link at your signature leads to Seattle's official government website? "The State is me and I'm the State"?]

Posted by: Tat on September 1, 2007 4:27 PM

I understand what you are saying because I felt similarly when I was a tourist to New Orleans. The thing is, you have to keep in mind that the Greater New Orleans area is a place like most others in the United States--people live here like anywhere else. In other words, we're all so tired of people thinking of us as only a tourist destination.

Another thing you are forgetting are the industries here, i.e. oil and gas as well as seafood. We don't just provide the U.S. w/ a fun place to go to see historic architecture and enjoy food and drink. We provide a significant amount of necessary industry to the country.

Posted by: amy kirk on September 1, 2007 8:20 PM

No way we have spent $127 billion in New Orleans!
It's a joke.

Do the math. (There were 188,000 households in NOLA in 2000.)

That would be well over $650,000 per household.

That's a preposterous, absurd figure.

Even Kudlow (hardly a reliable source) says that the $127 billion is for the whole region; and I don't believe even that.

Do the math.

Posted by: Seattle Man on September 2, 2007 3:34 AM

Seattle Man: I see you've changed your residency, this time to Mora (still a gov. site - wassup with the government affiliation?)

As you seem incapable to do a basic research yourself, besides appeals of doing the math, I did it for you, sir.

Here's the White House document Mr.L.Kudlow is talking about; here's the article in Duke Law papers on efficiency of government handling of disaster assistance.

Not a joke. Not at all.

Posted by: Tat on September 2, 2007 12:50 PM

Please read your links again.
The $127 billion number is for the whole region which includes Louisiana, Mississippi and with respect to tax relief, Alabama.

Posted by: Seattle Man on September 2, 2007 2:31 PM

I don't have to read it again, I knew it from the beginning.
New Orleans is only a small part of the problem. problem of government spending, i.e. wasting.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 2, 2007 6:34 PM

Have it your way. You are correct. My question was not about NOLA but about the whole region. I didn't write "Of course I don't believe that we are actually spending very much at on re-building the New Orleans which was actually damaged. Do you have any facts to counter that assumption?" As you insist, I asked about the whole region. I realize now that I shouldn't have written "New Orleans" when I obviously meant several states. Thanks for knowing better than I do what I said.

Posted by: Seattle Man on September 2, 2007 11:23 PM

Still in Mora? Like the tranquil life on government's(i.e. - ours) buck?
Once again: I know you what you said. You requested to be provided with spending numbers on New Orleans; apparently you're unable to do the research yourself. I found you the starting point: if the Gulf Region consumed [largely unaccounted for] $127 billion, you can go ahead from there and find out what part of the waste disappeared in NOLA's maw. But you insist on someone else doing the work for you - and still manage to strike an offended pose!

Oh, I see the connection with the links in your signature.

Posted by: Tat on September 3, 2007 12:03 PM

The underlying question would seem to be are the citizens of New Orleans and the Gulf region "Them" or "Us." A strong position here at 2BH seems to be "they are them and let them deal with it." It seems that many who comment here believe that "all tax is theft" and that the best thing to do about government is starve it until it is weak enough to choke to death. Now, perhaps certain of those making comments rooted in these ideas feel that their life experiences somehow "prove" that all government is fraud, theft and a restriction on their personal freedom. I suppose, in their version of a future utopian USA, there would be no taxes, no government and we'd live quite well and happily in libertarian anarchy. Sort of like areas of New Orleans in the period after the flood, with lone gunmen and gangs (including rogue elements of the police force) imposing their own order in the chaotic void. Gosh, I can hardly wait! The first thing I'm gonna do with the money I no longer have to send to the IRS is get me one of those semi-automatic assault rifles so I can join a local militia and attack the local militia down the highway a few miles. Yep. We're tribal critters, let's accept it and drop the niceties so we can begin the bloodbath because I just know that my tribe is the best and God will make sure we win.

Or maybe, with a broader sense of who "we" are, it is possible to see the folks of the Gulf region as "us", members of the tribe who got tossed a nasty surprise in need of assistance to get back on their feet. The fact that much of the major damage in New Orleans can itself be attributed to badly maintained infrastructure (starving the Corp of Engineers = problems with the levees) and to the steady loss of protective wetlands (hey, we don't want no damned en-virus-mental kooks using the gummint to stop private property owners from filling in the swamps for pricy condos) might also be taken into account.

I can hardly wait to be lectured on my soft-headed, lefty views and told that the idea of "we the people" BEING the real government is so 18th century.

Posted by: Chris White on September 3, 2007 8:37 PM

New Orleans is a dumb location for a city. The rest of the nation should not subsidize its existance. Without human interference, the Mississippi River would likely be flowing into the Gulf of Mexico further to the west down the Atchafalaya instead of through New Orleans and the site of the city would be decaying back into salt water marshes.

Posted by: AP on September 4, 2007 12:22 AM


I am a Houstonian and have been thru Baton Rouge many times. You could do worse that becoming more like Houston. I would never insult someone elses home and I did find Baton Rouge nice, but Houston is a great city with friendly folks and a BIG heart!

Posted by: Carolyn on September 6, 2007 6:46 PM

You're probably having a small town-big town argument. People from New York don't want to live in Podunk. People from Podunk don't want to live in New York.

Posted by: SFG on September 9, 2007 8:08 AM

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