Saturday, December 08, 2007

Making it right or wrong?

I applaud Brad Pitt's commitment to making environmentally sound homes for the non-wealthy. You can read more about the project at Make It Right 9. The project plans are very exciting from a design standpoint. See some of the drawings in the NY Times Architecture article. You can even buy a low-flow toilet for someone who needs one, instead of buying more stuff for people you know that already have more than what they need.

But, I can't help wondering if we should be rebuilding in the middle of a flood plain. The reason that the lower 9th ward was built later than the French quarter and the garden district is because it is lower in elevation. The place is more flood prone and dangerous. Should we really encourage people to resettle there?

In fact, the area is more risky than when it was originally built. The land is settling so that the elevation is actually decreasing. Storm intensity is up for global, regional and local reasons. E. g., beachfront development has reduced the acreage of saltwater marshes that absorb the impact of storms. The levee system prevents natural processes such as sediment build up that gradually raises ground elevation. Urbanization (paving over) has made the area less porous to rainwater and more prone to flooding. Irrigation of crops between storms has decreased the ability of the soil to absorb rainwater. Increases in the temperature of offshore water intensifies the energy of hurricanes. The list goes on and on.

The only rational argument I have heard for resettling the area is to rebuild the social fabric of the neighborhood. Mark and I can attest to the friendliness and worthiness of the neighborhood first hand. When we visited New Orleans, we escaped the crowds and the Disneyesque atmosphere of the French quarter and gravitated to the lower 9th ward.

What if the populace of the lower 9th ward were to pick up and rebuild together on higher ground? It has been done in the past. Whole towns, or subsets of towns used to move together to new territory in the pioneer days. (Are the pioneer days gone or do we still have some pioneer spirit left?) Think of the residents of Salina, Kansas moving west and founding Salina, Colorado. Recall the Mormon pushcart emigrants. Think big.

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