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Abandon New Orleans

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We need to do everything we can to rescue people still trapped in that annihilated city, but beyond that I think it’s time to face facts: New Orleans should be almost entirely abandoned. Let everyone collect their insurance checks and spend their money how they will, but I don’t think 1 single dollar of public money should be spent rebuilding a coastal city that is 80% below sea level. That’s just insane. Experts had been predicting this distaster for decades, and now that it’s finally come it’s time to cut our losses and pull out. No tax dollars should be spent rebuilding or repairing any structure less than one foot above the high water mark.

Nicole Gelinas has an article in City Journal in which she points out that New Orleans was collapsing before Katrina, and the job of reconstruction will be nearly impossible.

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah’s. But the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed?

A city blessed with robust, professional police and fire forces, with capable government leaders, an informed citizenry, and a relatively resilient economy can overcome catastrophe, but it doesn’t emerge stronger: look at New York after 9/11. The richest big city in the country in more ways than one mustered every ounce of energy to clean up after 9/11 and to rebuild its economy and its downtown—but even so, competing special interests overcame citizens’ and officials’ best intentions. Ground Zero remains a hole, and New York, for all its resources, finds itself diminished, physically and economically, four years on.

In New Orleans, the recovery will be much, much harder. The city’s government has long suffered from incompetence and corruption.

We need to help the survivors rebuild, but somewhere else. The WaPo has an article explaining why most ex-residents won’t bother waiting around.

First they have to pump the flooded city dry, and that will take a minimum of 30 days. Then they will have to flush the drinking water system, making sure they don’t recycle the contaminants. Figure another month for that.

The electricians will have to watch out for snakes in the water, wild animals and feral dogs. It will be a good idea to wear hip boots and take care of cuts and scrapes before the toxic slush turns them into festering sores. The power grid might be up in a few weeks, but many months will elapse before everybody’s lights come back on.

By that time, a lot of people won’t care because they will have taken the insurance money and moved away — forever. Home rebuilding, as opposed to repairs, won’t start for a year and will last for years after that.

Even then, there may be nothing normal about New Orleans, because the floodwater, spiked with tons of contaminants ranging from heavy metals and hydrocarbons to industrial waste, human feces and the decayed remains of humans and animals, will linger nearby in the Gulf of Mexico for a decade.

Who would want to return to that?

(HT: James Taranto for the City Journal link, Orin Kerr for the WaPo link.)

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About Michael Williams

  • Rich

    The rebuilding has started.

    If this country was built on nay sayers we would never survived the first pilgrim settlements.

    Read some history.

  • steve

    I say bulldoze it to the ground. It was negligent to build a city there in the first place. this will only happen again…buildings destroyed, etc. the only difference is…people will listen when they cry wolf

  • Steve, when you think about a history and a culture — perhaps the most unique in the United States — that dates back hundreds of years, a place where generations have lived and died and prospered and suffered, you might consider that it’s not as easy as saying “bulldoze it to the ground.”

  • steve

    The only thing I can really credit New Orleans for is being the birthplace of Jazz. They should have known that it wsa a bad idea to have a city here. The only reason why it was settled was to control the mississippi delta during the revolutionary and civil war. people should have never settled N.O.!!!

    This life is about the survival of the fittest. sometimes less intelligent people fall short to social darwinism.

  • mnc

    while I can understand your concern for our tax dollars, you have to understand that these are these peoples home and think how you would feel if your family lived there for numerous generations – would it be so easy to uproot yourself and family?

    also, there is a VAST history behind this part of America and I really suggest anyone who does not know about this history (other then just Jazz) educate yourself before they talk

    lastly, do you have any idea how much money New Orleans makes from tourism? the government does not want to cut off that cash cow – and who makes New Orleans work? THE LOCALS!!

    again, I understand where you are coming from but it is not so cut and dry

  • Don’t build it over. Build it smarter.

    Higher levees? Well, if New Orleans was a bowl to begin with, and you make the bowl deeper, will it hold more water or less when breached?

    I don’t think it’s set in with a lot of the New Orleans residents just how bad this hurriflood was. Since many of them are staying in their houses, they haven’t listened to the TV or read on the Internet the magnitude of the damage. Once they find out how bad this was, will they really want to rebuild there?

    It has to be up to the residents. Granted, much more of New Orleans will be rebuilt towards the mainland, giving people a chance to make a new start, but I’m sure more than a handful will take their chances with their old property.

    But — beyond the possibility of a hurriflood or tsunami, that land is sinking into the ocean. In a century that land won’t exist, and neither will much of Florida, notably Miami.

  • T. Nichols

    I totally agree. Maybe this is a wake up call. Maybe it’s just not a good idea to build on land below sea level and the city is still sinking 1 inch every 3 years. It might just be a good time to throw in the towel.

    If people want to rebuild, let them. They can do what they want. Just don’t waste the taxpayers money on a below sea level and sinking investment.

  • Shark

    Who cares. Fuck the Future.

    I voted for Bush.

  • New Orleans should and will be rebuilt. It’s too wonderful a city to lose.

    But I do hope that the city is built smarter this time.

  • That’s the best and most succinct version I’ve seen of how I feel, Phillip!

  • steve

    The animals already started to burn it to the ground. Might as well bulldoze the city.

  • I refer you to comment #3 and #9, steve. Why don’t you do some reading and lots of thinking and rejoin this discussion down the road.

  • Steve, your animal comment reminded me of the comment I heard on Bob & Tom this morning regarding the New Orleans Zoo making it intact:

    “They put the animals on the high ground and the people on the low ground??”

    Rather absurd from the armchair perspective. But in a lightning storm, them cute koalas would be the first to go. So who’s really insane? Probably me.

  • Rich


    If your last comments fit your thoughts of Darwinism and intellegence, get a gun and shoot yourself.

  • m jordan

    you are saying the same thing i have,ever since i read a disturbing article in National Geographic.at that time i realized just how fragile that entire area is-canals dug to relive flooding have allowed salt and freshwater to mix freely,which in turn devastates marsh wildlife,flauna & flora,which leads to erosion.they are fighting a losing battle against mother nature.oil drilling is only speeding up the sinking process…it is not fiscally or environmentally sound to rehabitate New Orleans

  • steve

    thank you for your thoughts m jordan. I strongly agree with you. New Orleans was used as a stronghold against the british during the revolutionary war, as well as a stronghold against the rebel south during the civil war.

    by no means should it have even been settled. who’s idea was that? the people who live(d) there knew the risks. ’nuff said.

  • Maybe they should keep what is mostly intact and build further inland. I’ve read that the original settlers were told not to build there (presumably by Indians?). I tend to think we should have a zone around bodies of water with no buildings so the water can flood and move around if it needs to.

  • I just find it refreshing to see an issue on which leftists aren’t in lock-step. It’s probably only because their masters haven’t issued talking points yet, but it almost resembles original thought.


  • All of this irresponsible talk about abandoning New Orleans was started by House Speaker Dennis Hastert whilst so many inhabitants of this historically rich city were still dying in the streets.

    This is a very convenient smoke screen to take the focus off the federal government. The Bush administration in all its wisdom chose to destroy the FEMA’s effectiveness.

    These so called leaders just aren’t serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don’t like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures.

    The South East Louisiana Flood Control Project, or SELA, was established in 1997, two years after a storm inundated the city with 460 millimetres of rain in 48 hours, causing millions of dollars in damage. Among the authority’s jobs was to upgrade and replace the infrastructure that kept the water out.

    The US Government was to provide 75 per cent of the money. That stipend, renewed annually, has been steadily dropping, from $US75 million in 1999 to $US10.4 million ($13.7 million) next year. The money has run out in the meantime.

    The authority is overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers, which in turn is run by the huge Department of Homeland Security. Funds that have previously gone to the corps have been allocated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to increasing national security, and to paying for massive tax cuts.

    One of the most neo-conservative governments in history has spent $40 trillion in the past 5 years in the so called war on terrorism….how many people has terrorism killed in that time….maybe 5000 lives. This government couldn’t spend a few more $$ on the levees in New Orleans…..how many lives will have been lost on the Gulf Coast because of this ineptitude and complete lack of respect for one of America’s poorest cities.

  • John Tofflemire

    A lot of people believe that money sufficient to restore and protect all of New Orleans should be spent. This would be disasterous folly both for the US as a whole and for New Orleans. A major part of the city was not financially and environmentally viable before the flood and would not be afterwards regardless of how much is spent. New Orleans should to some degree be restored, but the spending should be focused on the core areas of the city that will be financially viable in the future and that can be defended for a reasonable amount of money.

    This will probably not happen though. Political pressure will force massive amounts of money to be spent to restore and protect areas of the city that will produce little or nothing in return for the investment, money better spent if focused on those areas that can produce a return to society.

    The only way to avoid this bleak picture is to insure that the money is spent to restore and protect those parts of the city worth saving now and in the future. People who say they care about the place should make sure that spending is targeted. If not, our money will be wasted and New Orleans destroyed anyway.

  • Brian Jo

    I think John is exactly on point. Pumping tens of billions of federal dollars into a total reconstruction of the “old” New Orleans is ludicrous, and I’d be willing to bet that if you could read the minds of the American people, you would find more naysayers than supporters. Nevertheless, it’s going to happen regardless. Too many politicians care too much about their careers to express a dissenting point of view on the subject.

    On the other hand, simple economics will ultimately undermine the effort. Skilled residents will have little trouble finding jobs in their new locales and will only return to pick up their belongings, especially if their kids have already started school. This results in a big loss of skilled labor capital in the city. Insurance companies will charge huge premiums for new businesses and homes in the disaster region. Corporations that were formerly in the area will factor into their financial projections the potential costs and probabilities of future hurricanes (something no politician seems to have done). As a result of all this, the new business environment will stay crippled for a long time. Tax breaks and subsidies may be quick fixes, but they will contribute nothing in terms of the “infrastructure improvements” that Bush mentioned in his speech. Ultimately, the question is not whether the government should spend money to mitigate the disaster; the real question is, what is the best way to spend that money? It seems to me that it’d be far more effective to spend it towards relocation expenses for displaced people and their new communities than to spend it on a complete rebuild of New Orleans.

  • Tom

    I object to having my tax dollars spent on rebuilding areas that could easily be destroyed again!
    I don’t mind using them for emergency rescue assistance and, possibly, relocation, but, from an environmental engineering viewpoint, the city of New Orleans should not be where it is. Also, anyone who builds or lives in any coastal area must know they are at risk of losing everything; why should MY tax dollars be used to bail them out?!

  • Dave Johnson

    I am saddened for all the residents of New Orleans – but it does seem like rebuilding the city and the levees that ‘protect’ it is a waste. Similar to re-building on the side of Mt St Helens… if people want to invest their own money, fine – but not public funds. Let’s bring the troops home and redistribute that funding to let the New Orleans populace relocate to newer homes and safer areas..

    I mean – how badly does America need the Mardi Gras??

  • I would agree that the money being collected and petitioned for from the government should go to help the new homes of the people who used to live in New Orleans.

    The last estimate that I heard said that the population of Baton Rouge has doubled since the hurricane and they are counting on most of the excess population staying. The current infrastructure of that city is not ready to handle that large an influx of people. Why not spend the money there?

    Houston has been another site where many of the people have gone. Many of the children have started school there (until they were evacuated again because of Ms. Rita). Shouldn’t a good deal of this money be put into the Houston school districts to pay for more teaching and to ease the overcrowding?

    New Orleans can still survive as a tourist attraction. A tourist attraction of what happens when you ignore the signs of nature and continue to erode what protected you from catastrophes like these. Make the tourism money from duck boat tours. Of course, it will take a few months or years like Mr. Williams says for the water to clear itself up naturally.

    I sympathize with those who have lost their family homes of generations, but at some point you have to interject logic into the equation. Sorry to sound like Mr. Spock and uncaring, because I do feel bad for some of these people who have lost everything. But they too should understand that this can and will most likely happen again. Even Rita will show them that their city, once compromised can be hurt again by the smallest of problems.

  • John Rupp

    rebuild New Orleans ? yes. But not where it is now. Put it on higher ground, inland. Save the streetcars, ironwork etc. duplicate the street plan. We can do this. But it is not worth the cost, to rebuilt it in a sinking hole, below sealevel. Give it back to nature & the storms.

  • Nancy

    How many hurricanes & floods is it going to take to convince stupid, blind people that re-building in a swamp – where nothing should have been built to begin with, if it weren’t for the venality & corruption of politicians & developers alike – is no longer an option?

    I for one am getting sick & tired of my tax money going to bail out all the half-assed fools who insist on living on the beach, on the volcano, on the canyon edge, in areas of regular forest fires, etc. I will no longer support any of them – or you, if you’re one of them – by donations, and not with my taxes, either, if I can get the crooks in congress to realize that enough is enough is enough! There are points at which stupidity becomes downright criminal, and this has been long breached.

    By all means, keep the historical areas of old New Orleans – for the tourists. That’s small enough it can be readily protected, for the most part. The rest of it? Abandon, restore to wildlands (which would help the ecology anyway), and rebuild in a more livable, intelligent spot. Either that or grow gills & stop whining & looking to the rest of us to pull your cookies out of the water every time it rains.

  • Nancy

    I’m mad because on the radio they were interviewing people who were refusing to leave – after all this w/Katrina, these shitheads are refusing to leave?! Why aren’t the cops there rounding them up at gunpoint & physically throwing their stupid asses on the buses, w/notes to prosecute them later for endangerment? And these are the same fools that are going to be marooned on their roofs, crying for rescue, housing, food, jobs, medical attention, etc.

    If I were the gov. of Texas, at this point I’d tell those who are refusing to go: fine, you stay – but you’re 100% on your own, even afterwards. We will not come looking for you. If we see you, we will not risk our lives to come get you off your roof. If you make it to high ground later, you will not be fed, housed, or looked after medically at state expense. You had the chance, you were warned, you have the example of New Orleans before you, and you still refused to go. Die then, because you are NOT worth saving.

  • Spinks

    Preach it Nancy. You’re bang on.

  • …You had the chance, you were warned, you have the example of New Orleans before you, and you still refused to go. Die then, because you are NOT worth saving.

    Right on, Nancy! Now’s the time to dump Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Perhaps they can spin off into their own country. Lord knows the Federal Government would treat them better. They’re great when it comes to responding to crises outside of the States. We’ll make it retroactive to 1980 and then George W. can be declared unconstitutional.

  • spinks

    Oh Silas, I love the left wing like you, throwing in huge amounts of sarcasm and thinking they’re putting something over on someone. So what if Nancy is a little melodramatic, her point is right. If you’re stupid enough to stay because of whatever point you’re trying to make or you think your civil rights are being violated, you’re begging for it.

  • Spinks, you give me too much credit. I am completely in synch with Nancy on this one. This time around there’s little room for excuses. As the Governor in Louisiana said, let those who remain behind write their social security numbers on their skin in indelible ink for identification purposes. My sarcasm is directed at those who remained behind. Let’s take care of those who escaped Nature’s fury this time. Those that remained in defiance were lost to begin with so don’t say I’m from the left on this one.

  • spinks

    My mistake Silas. It looked like sarcasm. My apologies.

  • New Orleans is a unique place with its own unique cultural heritage. The benefits of rebuilding New Orleans are large. The costs are large too. A limited rebuilding effort, including the French Quarter, which is not covered with water, and other resources necessary to support the tourist industry, has been suggested. This strategy might maximize the net benefits of rebuilding while minimizing the future damages of hurricanes.