MainStream Media is going wild with hard news stories, soft personality features and “in-depth reporting” to mark the first anniversary of Katrina.

The recurring theme is: “The Gulf Coast – and New Orleans in particular – are not back to the way they were a year ago.”

Excuse me? Is that not just what everyone would hope? The Gulf Coast – and New Orleans in particular – were death traps waiting to happen a year ago. In many ways Katrina and Rita were only a hint of what might have happened if “The Big One” made a direct hit.

In the early 70s when almost no one was yet talking about Global Climate Change, serious scientists and researchers – climatologist, hydrologists, civil engineers and ecologists all told us that the Gulf Coast had a target painted on its back.

The State of Louisiana paid us hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a long-term strategy to fundamentally change human settlement patterns on the Gulf Coast, around New Orleans and in the upland urban agglomerations such as Monroe and Shreveport.

The governance practitioners put those plans on the shelf and ignored the advice. They proceeded with Business-As-Usual and Politics-As-Usual. See “Down Memory Lane With Katrina,” 5 September 2005 at

Now no one we have observed – not Brookings who is documenting the recovery effort, not the MainStream Media, not the well intended volunteers, not the well fed government contractors, not the everyday carpet baggers, on one – is paying any attention to the shape of future.

Collectively millions of hours and billions of dollars are being spent on the “recovery” effort, but nothing is being done to implement strategies to Fundamentally Change settlement patterns. It is imperative that human’s ecological footprint shrink at the regional and community scale.

Some houses are being rebuild on raised foundations, there are plans to build higher and better levies. There are no strategic plans for making the New Orleans New Urban Region or the rest of the Gulf Coast more bad weather proof or to create Balanced Communities in the Coastal or the Upland areas of the State.

The Gulf Coast is not back to the way it was? Thank goodness. But it has not moved toward a more sustainable settlement pattern at the regional and community scale either.

Did someone mention Ernesto?


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7 responses to “THE WAY WE WERE”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ed, interesting comments. If you were named Governor of Louisiana tomorrow, what three-to-five steps would either implement or recommend to the state legislature? What would you like to do; why; and what would be the likely costs and savings/benefits?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    It doesn’t appear that anyone else has learned much from Katrina either. Virginia seems to be tightening up its emergency preparedness, but hasn’t given the first thought that I can see to the steady intensification of development along the waterfront.

  3. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Great questions!

    If I were Governor, I would answer them and the first step would be to ask my staff to prepare a draft for my review.

    S/PI’s staff is fully occupied with current responsibilities.

    After you have reread “Down Memory Lane With Katrina” and RBA’s 1970s reports (I was VP Planning and Design for the firm) to Lousiana which are in the public domian, what would you do?

    You may get some clues from tomorrow’s column.


  4. Anonymous Avatar

    I’d bulldoze the levys and make flood insurance a requirement for anyone foolish enough to still want to live there.

    Then I’d find a higher site for a “New” Orleans.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think – to a certain extent – no one has to do anything.. about rebuilding decisions – as long as folks have to decide if they are going to have to buy insurance.

    So… can one afford to buy it now that the insurance companies are going to insure that they collect enough premiums to pay for another Katrina

    .. and then.. if one did buy it.. how strongly do they believe that a future loss will actually be covered.. vice the companies once again.. pointing out the “small print” after the fact…

    .. finally.. how many will build without buying insurance?

    At the end of the day – most private folks will have to confront these economic realities and I’m betting that it will have a dramatic effect on future rebuilding.

    The big, ugly, fly in the ointment, is, as usual, the government and pork barrel spending… so elected officials will be “rewarded” by their constitutents.

    The absolute worst thing that will be done, in my humble opinion, is for the government to give unrestricted money away.. to contine to encourage settlements that would never be built if folks had to do it with their own money.

    But.. presuming that the government does not do such a foolish thing (wishful thinking on my part I’m sure), it COULD be an opportunity to encourage and incentivize more sustainable settlement patterns… aka.. like the Levitt Subdivisions of long ago… but in a more modern implementation.

    and remember.. I said encourage/incentivize.. NOT govt-build and maintain… we don’t want/need anymore of ghetto style housing.

  6. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Anonymous 8:50 PM demonstrates the dark underbelly of anonymity. This mindless, meanspirited post puts in perspective the value of the right-of-privacy and showcases why secrecy – governmental and non-governmental – may be the poison that kills civilization as we know it.

    Larry on the other hand brings real insight to the table. He has not, however, worked for public agencies in either New Jersey or Lousiana. For the reasons he states we have by-in-large avoided working for public agencies for the last 30 years. There are exceptions but most are the cause of problems, not the solutions.

    As opposed to the comment of 8:50 PM, the Style section of WaPo demonstrates the positive side of Blogging – avoid Politics As Usual.


  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I’m surprised to hear you say that, Ed. Didn’t you say previously that New Orleans had a bulls eye painted on it for over a hundred years, and that it should not, in fact, be rebuilt?

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