A Smaller Big Easy

Your call to action about rebuilding New Orleans [“Notes from Metropolis: New Orleans on Our Minds”] needs to take on a broader perspective. The wetlands surrounding New Orleans need significant work, particularly if we hope to lessen the dangers of any future Katrina-scale disasters (which affected an area the size of the United Kingdom). For example, the Ninth Ward—which housed mainly the black poor—is completely devastated. One idea is to make this area an urban park, with an underground network of gigantic tunnels to return water to the wetlands and the lakes around New Orleans.

In any case, the situation calls for a comprehensive plan, one conceived not in haste, but in deliberation. This will take time, and New Orleans officials seem to want instant results. This approach often leads to disaster.

What city officials—and others at the local, state, and national level—need to realize is that the future of New Orleans may be as a smaller Big Easy. Of course, some will say this means a whiter, more middle class city. This isn’t necessarily so. The city needs not only physical planning and brilliant architectural ideas, but some kind of social engineering as well. This is entirely possible—but only if those in charge resist the usual way of thinking.

A favorable example can be found next door in Mississippi, where Governor Haley Barbour appointed former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale as chairman of the Commission for Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal. The commission has already held meetings and is planning to have its report finished by the end of the year. One wonders if Mayor Nagin ought to follow Barbour’s lead and draft first-rate minds from outside his administration to take the lead in the effort to rebuild New Orleans.

Dr. R.D.B. (Ben) Laime
CEO and Chief Wonderer
Albuquerque, New Mexico

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