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Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 23:39 GMT 00:39 UK
Plans afoot to rebuild New Orleans
By Adam Blenford
BBC News

They say New Orleans will never be same again. And they mean it, too.

Aerial view of flooded areas of New Orleans
Vast areas of New Orleans may be reclaimed as natural wetlands
Even with vast swathes of the city still swamped by Hurricane Katrina's toxic sludge, plans are afoot to use billions of dollars in federal aid to construct a new city with an old heart.

In the hurricane zone, the historic French Quarter survives largely intact.

General Andrew Jackson still rides his horse from a plinth in Jackson Square. Other key areas built on relatively high ground have also escaped major damage.

Now property developers, urban conservationists and city planners are expecting schemes that once competed for funding to find a new lease of life.

Politicians hope to have New Orleans back on its feet within two years. Those who left the city will be showered with generous incentives to start again.

When they return, they are likely to find their old home a vastly different place.

"We are certainly going to rebuild," Michael Olivier, Louisiana's Secretary of State for Economic Development, told the BBC News website.

"But this is building anew, and sustainable growth principles are going to be very important to how New Orleans and the river region is rebuilt."

New approach

Initial fears that the city might simply be abandoned have eased: damage to the vital river port was minimal, and large areas of suburban New Orleans did not flood at all.

A man sits outside a bar in New Orleans' French Quarter
In New Orleans' French Quarter, the streets are dry but empty
Instead, support appears strong for a substantial rethink of the city's urban geography. Impoverished areas wiped out by Katrina may not simply be rebuilt as they were.

That may please the US public, 54% of whom now think flooded areas of the city should not rise again, according to an Associated Press opinion poll.

"Building New Orleans where it is was a poor choice to begin with, but it was a poor choice made for a reason," Bruce Sharky, professor of landscape architecture at Louisiana State University, told the BBC News website.

"But politically, sociologically and emotionally, abandoning the city entirely is not on the cards."

New Orleans expanded in rhythm with trade along the Mississippi River, where much of the nation's grain is shipped out, and much of its oil shipped inland.

But it was the sweaty heart of the Big Easy, not the low-rise suburbs wracked with poverty and ravaged by Katrina, which brought people to the city.

Now the hope is that the French Quarter's lure of history, food and music can become a catalyst for regeneration.

Plans are being drawn up to retain historic areas of the city while rebuilding residential areas on higher ground and regenerating old wetlands to reduce the risk of future flooding.

If you don't install some type of substantial hurricane protection along the Gulf coast it's going to be very hard to re-assure people
Al Naomi
US Army Corps of Engineers

High quality transport links and projects to improve the quality of life and reduce poverty in New Orleans are high on most agendas. Bringing business and tourism back to the region is equally important.

There is a sense of optimism, but one tinged with caution.

Mr Olivier, the politician, is bullish about the future. Bruce Sharky, the academic, is hopeful, but nervous that a "unique opportunity" could go to waste.

Others share his fear.

"We need to be very careful about rebuilding very low areas of the coast. Nature has told us that we should not be living there," Larry Schmidt, Louisiana director of the Trust for Public Land, told the BBC News website.

Before the storm, Mr Schmidt's national, non-profit organisation co-operated with the US Army Corps of Engineers on a plan to regenerate a mile-long strip of post-industrial riverfront, at a cost of up $85m.

With good management and a clear chain of command, Mr Schmidt, who lost his own home in the storm, believes Katrina could offer a "once-a-century chance to build a city of the future".

Rebuilding the walls

Yet little of consequence will be built in New Orleans without extensive input from the US army engineers who build and maintain the city's flood defences.

A pipe pumping water out of New Orleans at the 17th Street Canal
Slowly, the filthy water is being pumped out of New Orleans
Despite the failure of New Orleans' levees to hold back the water, little blame has been attached to the engineers, who have faced ever-tightening budgets in recent years.

Before the hurricane, the engineers had begun considering how to provide New Orleans with protection from a category-five hurricane. They also voiced fears about the increased rate of coastal erosion.

A preliminary study was completed, but a more detailed survey - which usually takes five years - needs to be carried out before any final plans are laid. The engineers expect to be asked to speed up their work.

"If you don't install some type of substantial hurricane protection along the Gulf coast it's going to be very hard to reassure people," said Al Naomi, senior project manager for the US Army Corps of Engineers in Louisiana.

"There were some very sound military and economic reasons for the city to be where it was.

"Now the policy-makers have to decide whether those reasons are enough to keep it there."



What plans do you think should be drawn up for New Orleans? Should the city be rebuilt exactly as it was? Or is the low-lying location simply too dangerous to live in?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

The city could rebuild, but low lying areas which flooded should be not used for habitat, unless constructed above predicted water levels. This could be done on rafts or stilts. Services should be constructed to cope with potential flooding. It may be more economic to simply move the bulk of habitats to higher ground.
Angus Geddes, Swindon UK

The river must be allowed to find a new channel. Nature must have its way. Having ship keels above house tops is doomed to fail again and again. The city is sinking.
Bob White, Stafford, CT, USA

Considering the fact that places in New Orleans that lie on higher grounds were not so badly affected by Hurricane Katrina, it will be better to either neglect the low-lying section from redevelopment otherwise a serious reclamation to make such places habitable should be done. Definitely the city cannot be the same again in all ramification.
Wole Akinyeye, Ibadan, Nigeria

It's so Darwinian to even contemplate rebuilding in a major flood and storm surge area. It's time for a reality check, relocate the city to higher ground, abandon the flooded areas to be the de facto toxic waste dumps they are now for the oil corpses.
Fred Makelfrond, Martha's Vineyard, USA

Some of the newer suburbs should have never been built in the first place. The land was never drained properly, and the streets would flood after an insignificant shower. Some sidewalks buckled, because of the poor foundations. I know people that had to reinforce their homes' foundation with a truckload of soil every three years, so that the home wouldn't sink. Strict building codes and no bribery of any officials or contractors should be enforced this time to avoid problems.
Isabel, New Orleans, LA, USA (now in Texas)

I certainly support the idea that this offers a unique chance to build a city for the future. It would have to be done based on sustainability and socio-economic as well as cultural justice for the majority of underprivileged people that lived in the now floods sections of the city. Whatever it takes to provide the entire region with protection from a category five hurricane would have to be put in place as a precondition, and its long term maintenance would have to be absolutely guaranteed.
Fritz Stuber, Switzerland

Build all apartments at lease 30 feet from the ground and use the space for parking.
Godfrey Webster, Georgetown, Guyana

If they surround the coast with off-shore wind farms and wave-power generators then not only will they get sustainable electricity but the next time the wind and waves will be diminished by the energy being removed from the storm in much the same way that a hurricane quickly dissipates when it makes landfall.
Andy, Reading, England

Why spend billions of dollars of taxpayers' on a high-risk environment to benefit a political agenda. Rebuild the city but draw the boundary at the current flood lines. Any reconstruction below sea level is a waste of resources.
Jim K, Atlanta, USA

I think it would be fine as long as you build the dikes to withstand almost any foreseeable hurricane, otherwise there's no point in building again what could be destroyed next year in the same way. Get the dikes in place first, then start building - that way you won't again have the loss that the hurricane caused this time.
Daniel Strubhar, Landmark, Manitoba, Canada

Get in touch with the engineers in the Netherlands, they are experts in keeping the sea at bay and they also spent the money to do it. That's what it needs - money up front. You can't sit on the wall all the while.
John Houghton, Aldridge Walsall, West midlands

It seems that some areas should be completely off limits, but it would be an incredible waste to completely abandon the city. Those hoping for the city to be rebuilt exactly as it was would be foolish. I hope all parties involved take the opportunity to do something wonderful, as they say, "building a city of the future."
Cameron, Atlanta, USA

This work should have been done many years ago and this disaster illustrates how slack the Americans can be about their own nation's infrastructure. The Thames Barrier is designed to withstand a one in one thousand year event and Dutch flood defences are designed to withstand one in four thousand and one in eight thousand year events. The New Orleans flood defences were only meant to withstand a category three hurricane and a one in two hundred year event. This was a disaster that was waiting to happen. The Americans should also be shamed by the Cubans who last year completely evacuated part of their island that was threatened by a hurricane and they got all of their crops in.
Richard Finnigan, London, England




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