Monday, January 08, 2007

Constrained By Reality

Some are criticizing Hurricane Katrina victims for rebuilding their homes without raising their homes above potential flood waters.

After Katrina, teams of planners recommended that broad swaths of vulnerable neighborhoods be abandoned. Yet all areas of the city have at least some residents beginning to rebuild. With billions of dollars in federal relief for homeowners trickling in, more people are expected to follow.

Moreover, while new federal guidelines call for raising houses to reduce the damage of future floods, most returning homeowners do not have to comply or are finding ways around the costly requirement, according to city officials.

"It's terrifying: We're doing the same things we have in the past but expecting different results," said Robert G. Bea, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and a former New Orleans resident who served as a member of the National Science Foundation panel that studied the city's levees.

"There are areas where it doesn't make any sense to rebuild -- they got 20 feet of water in Katrina," said Tom Murphy, a former Pittsburgh mayor who served on an Urban Land Institute panel for post-Katrina planning. "In those places, nature is talking to us, and we ought to be listening. I don't think we are."

But someone injects a little bit of reality into this debate.
Mike Centineo, the city's building chief, said, "Legally and morally, we're doing the right thing," but he acknowledged that most returning homeowners are not raising their houses to meet the new flood guidelines. "You wouldn't want to put people through more than they can endure. It's a catastrophe that happened. No one wants it to happen again. But they're just rebuilding as best they can."
People need to realize that we live in a world of constraints. Architects have to live with the force of gravity, building and zoning codes and pain-in-the-arse owners. All of which are hindrances to what we may actually want to do. Rebuilding a city is no different. Many have been critical of Mayor Ray Nagin for having a hands-off approach to the planning process. What they don't consider is that Mayor Nagin is a politician. And as such, he is limited in his power by the City Council who in turn are accountable to their constituents. Thus, none are prone to make decisions that will anger their voters. And telling some voters that they can't rebuild a home that they own is simply political suicide. Ergo, it won't happen.

So where do we go from here? Since most homes and businesses will not be built above the flood level, the government will have to provide the levee protection that we as taxpayers paid for already and are paying for again. For if the levees had been built properly, I wouldn't be doing the blog.

1 comment:

E.J. said...

No manmade anything can be 100% guaranteed to not fail against the forces of Mother Nature. Being a leader means sometimes making the tough decision, like leaders in the 50s did when they outlawed segregation against the will of most of their constituents.

The Corps does need to build protection correctly, but we have to be smart. We need to be realistic about the risks of living here.