New Orleans

Rebuild New Orleans?

New Orleans does not need to be rebuilt. It exists every time someone thinks of time spent there, or a song by Fats Domino, or hears Louis Armstrong, or "When the Saints Go Marching In," or smells chicory roasting. New Orleans cannot be destroyed by flood waters or toxic chemicals, or by complacent politicians serving the interests of avid developers. New Orleans exists and will always exist, in places where no one even recognizes her name. She exists in all the people, many now scattered to the four winds, for whom New Orleans is home.

What needs to be rebuilt, then, is not a home, but houses. Yes, the hotels and casinos may need to be rebuilt, for the important tourist industry; the port must be rebuilt since it is vital to the nation; and businesses need to be rebuilt, the airport reopened, highways pumped dry and made passable again. But if the people of New Orleans - ALL her people - are unable to return for one reason or another, then a city will have been rebuilt, but New Orleans will not have been reconstructed.

Anyone who resided in the city must be guaranteed the opportunity to return, especially the most disadvantaged, because they are also the most vulnerable because they have the least choice over where they will spend the rest of their lives. And because every citizen of New Orleans carries within herself and himself a part of the real city, a part of what New Orleans is famous for, a part of what tourists go there to see. The city that will be rebuilt if the people of New Orleans, all her people, are not allowed to decide what and how to build, and do that building themselves, will not be New Orleans. Thousands, hundreds of thousands of her citizens will never be able to return there. Firms close to the Bush administration are already taking their places for the distribution of the profits to be made from rebuilding. This is wrong. The rebuilding should profit the city's own people, and that profit should take the form of a better city for them to live in.

Granting of any funds for rebuilding should be tied to:

- The principle that ANY EXPROPRIATION of property by eminent domain would be subject to review by a citizen board including city planners, architects, and representatives of the population of the area in question. At the same time, the legal principles of eminent domain or usufruct can serve as a tool for ensuring that precious high ground is used for the most vital purpose - human housing - and not for commercial purposes or for parking automobiles.

- Adoption of traditional, storm-resistant, energy-efficient construction using sustainable materials

- Participation at every level, from architect to laborer, in design and building by New Orleans citizens

- Affordability of new housing to reflect the city's true socio-economic profile

- A ground plan that encourages travel by foot and bicycle and public transit and discourages individual automobile traffic

- Replacing the lowest-lying built-up areas that were flooded with buffer zones where natural flooding of the river would be controlled but allowed, resulting in land that could be used for proximity cultivation of food and as green space

- Distributing artisanal areas, commercial areas, and residential areas - as well as higher- and lower- income housing - throughout the new areas of the city. This would encourage early contact with trades and crafts for children, later developing into apprenticeships - possibly on the pre-industrial model, with apprentices housed and fed by their "masters" while they learn the trade or business.

- Eliminate urban sprawl by increasing population density, while at the same time guaranteeing a minimum area of green space per inhabitant, regardless of neighborhood, while freeing space in lower-lying areas - at the same time these lower-lying areas, where controlled flooding would be allowed as a way of slowly rebuilding them and to constitute storm buffer zones, would also serve as green/garden space accessible partially even in period of flooding (fishing would be allowed and encouraged).

- Just as public green space would be mandatory, funding of the arts would also be mandatory. New Orleans's music industry, a model for the rest of the world to the extent that it draws on native talent who remain in the city, must be preserved and bettered. Publicly funded salaried positions would be available for musicians and other artists, funded by a tourism tax and a tax on gambling; these jobs and recording contracts would be granted as a result of competitions or "battles of the bands," song contests, poster competitions, etc. All schools would have teaching positions for musicians. Public spaces would be decorated with murals...

- Housing should be owned not by individuals or families but by benevolent associations like those already in place who would administer housing after having participated in its construction, as a way of avoiding the "commodification" of housing.

- Research and develop energy-efficient housing design specific to the environment, and in particular a form of cooling that would be compatible with natural cooling on the traditional pattern (high ceilings, transoms, open galleries, sleeping porches, ceiling fans, etc.) while also using innovative techniques such as convection, pumping cooler underground air over gravel or water masses for "coolth" storage (reversible in winter for heat storage), etc.

-- Require maximum use of the potential for solar energy production.

-- Develop roofing in the form of electricity-generating panels.

-- Study the possibilities of tidal and river-current generation.

-- Attempt to find a pumping solution that would generate a net excess of power.

-- Use sustainable, proximity-produced building materials (e.g. bagasse derived from sugar cane for insulation, with redevelopment of the sugar-cane industry for fuel-alcohol production), etc. Convert farmland now used for inefficient, energy-intensive production to oilseed crops for green fuel production, and use the resulting biomass for energy generation - again generating net excesses of power.

- See to it that small and medium-sized research and development and manufacturing facilities are built in and around New Orleans to ensure that the new housing to be built and the older housing to be reconstructed includes state-of-the-art energy-efficient, sustainable materials and systems while rebuilding the economy in a sustainable way.
In general, encourage talent- and expertise-based industry, including cinema, music recording, publishing, IT, etc.

- Require that the French Market be returned to its historical function as a central market for proximity-grown/caught products; also reopen the other city markets (St. Roch, Poland St., Magazine St., etc.)

- Have television and radio production facilities in each neighborhood, accessible to local residents, with their participation in production (after training by existing professionals), with a channel/station for each neighborhood, producing local news, job-exchange programs, instructional material, etc.

- Flooded houses slated for demolition would not be bulldozed, but dismantled, with all proper protection from toxic substances and hazards, and the lumber dried in sawmill kilns for re-use after verification for the absence of any toxic substances, mold, etc. Roof slates and tiles (with the exclusion of asbestos-containing materials), millwork, window glass, bricks, etc. would also be recovered. Unemployed youth would be employed to do the work.


The attractiveness of NO as a tourist destination is as much cultural as it is historical or architectural. That "cultural capital" has been created by each citizen, past and present, and its value could be calculated in terms of tourist flow per inhabitant. Each citizen contributes to this cultural capital and thus adds value that is calculatable in concrete terms. Compensation should take the form of a tourism tax. Proceeds from such a tax (which all European cities, large and small, levy) would be used to nurture and increase the value of that cultural capital, and logically, to preserve and rebuild the cultural uniqueness of city which makes it attractive to tourists, funding traditional activities and crafts that go into making up this cultural capital - music, art, Mardi Gras, parading organizations, marching groups, bands, etc. - and would also fund contemporary media activities such as music recording, preservation of historic sites, research, etc.