21
Jun
07

A Call for Planning

On Monday, as the M.A.S. and I set out from the Hamptons to ride our three ferries back to Connecticut (that would be (South Fork-Shelter Island-North Fork-New London), I grabbed the free newsletter of the environmental advocacy organization, Group for the East End from its storefront in Bridgehampton.  On ferry ride #1, I read aloud to him from the editorial, “Growing Pains,” in which a local activist-resident warned of the risk of overdevelopment to Sag Harbor and called for

“a deliberative process conducted by both the board and the public in an atmosphere that includes a little breathing room [from speculative development].” 

“Why, it’s a call for planning!” the M.A.S. exclaimed in mock seriousness.

True ‘dat, my handsome urban planning Swede, true ‘dat.

As I prep for a trip next week to New Orleans, I’m pleased to see a similar mandate rise like a phoenix from the wreckage of the 2005 hurricane season.  The Louisiana state legislature has just passed a resolution that considers establishing a state office of planning, per public sentiment as reflected in the state-wide planning process over the last two years.  Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) has released a “Risk and Reliability Report” comparing past and future flood risk to Orleans Parish following its repairs of the levee system (Note: modest upgrades are part of these repairs, but a levee system able to withstand a 1-in-100 flood will not be in place until 2011.  Katrina was considered a 1-in-400 flood according to ACE calculations).  The head of civil works for the Corps described the report as “a good tool for planning.”  In fact, it is the only risk analysis tool of its kind made available to the public ever, giving New Orleans “‘a huge advantage’ no other city has.”  How’s that for putting New Orleans on the cutting edge for a change!

Though it often feels like there are few recovery objectives locals can agree on, modernized, sufficient levee protection is one.  Yet, rightfully so, federal Recovery Czar Don Powell and local residents acknowledge that New Orleanians will be taking the information available in the plan with a sizable “grain of salt.”  (The Army Corps blew up a portion of the levees along the Lower 9th Ward to divert water from other parts of the city during the 1927 flood.)  Powell explains, “It’s that tension…betwen trust and reality and history” that is the fundamental obstacle to using this new data. 

True ‘dat, Don, true ‘dat.

Despite the earned mistrust of the Corps and all things government down in LA, there is no denying this is an important analytical tool for residents and municipalities to have to guide their recovery decisions.  Imagine if all disaster-prone communities had similar public access to detailed risk information like this.  I’ve no doubt the government would devise a clear and easily available system for accessing such materials, likely with snappy, appealing titles like those in this report:

“Volume II. Geodetic Vertical and Water Level Datum”

and the absolute page-turner:

“Volume VI. The Performance – Interior Drainage and Pumping.”

Oh I can just see the M.A.S. and I snuggling up together tonight with a couple beers, Menino on the tube, and these excellent reading materials!

(Who am I kidding, I think the environment = BORING!  Just like space.  Absolute Dullsville.  Oh, and sporting goods stores.  Snooooze.)

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5 Responses to “A Call for Planning”


  1. June 22, 2007 at 10:37 am

    The thing is, from what I’ve read, the history of levee systems in Orleans is just not great; they’ve never had – and I suspect never will have – a levee system that can really solve the fundamental problem of a city below sea level. This is where, not to raise an old argument, the question of how best to rebuild New Orleans meets a hard reality. And I think one has to accept that a city like New Orleans will have to live the prospect of destruction on a scale few other cities face in day to day living.

    And oh dear, here I am commenting on yours instead of posting on mine. 🙂 Better go take some more Erridia.

  2. June 22, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Actually, the levee system was state of the art in the 1960s, so much so that the Netherlands came and modeled their own levee system after ours (when in doubt about the “future” of NO, please look to the Dutch for a useful comparison).

    The problem is politics – the levee board system was fractured, politicized, and wasteful, as was the federal process of funding and upgrading the levees over the last 40 years (i.e., federal funding has systematically declined over time).

    The levee boards have since been consolidated, the levees will be modernized to withstand a 1-in-100 flood, the government had ample warning of prepping for a Katrina-esque storm (indeed government worst-case-scenario-hurricane-modeling was a Cat. 5 hurricane striking NOLA – the hypothetical “hurricane pam”), and at the end of the day, I believe only half or so of NO is below sea level.

    Yes, the city is at greater risk for flooding than other parts of the country, but so, apparently, is NYC (if you listen to Bloomberg and environmental scientists, etc.). And what about earthquakes in CA? And the precariousness of living all along the Gulf Coast? FLA is hit by the most hurricanes annually, yet NO strives to be more prepared like a “city in FL.” And again, the Netherlands is almost completely below sea level. I know it’s a flight of fancy to compare the U.S. to W. Europe, but you’re point is valid but not particularly useful, nor unique to NO.

  3. 3 bigshot
    June 22, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Leigh, thanks for educating weboy about the truth about southeast Louisiana’s levee system. What most of the country fails to understand is that most of the water that inundated the city of New Orleans during Katrina should not have happened. While it is true that St. Bernard Parish and the 9th Ward likely would have had the severe flooding anyway, the majority of the city simply would not have flooded if the 17th Street and London Avenue canals had not been negligently designed, constructed and maintained.

    People nationally should understand that most of the destruction we saw from Katrina was not natural. Quite the opposite, it was a man-caused disaster. We don’t blame the collapse of the Big Dig tunnel on gravity. Instead, we rightfully look at the engineers and construction companies responsible for the ceiling. Similarly, the nation should be focused on the problems with the Army Corps of Engineers and the funding needed to maintain the nation core infrustructure.

  4. June 23, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Right on, Bigshot. Thanks for backing me up on this one.

  5. 5 bigshot
    June 23, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Thanks to you Leigh. As a former New Orleanian, I appreciate your work for the city. I happened across your blog after reading the Brighton Centered posts about the BC-Brighton campus controversey. Who knew upon stopping by here that I’d find a fellow Brighton resident so well versed in NOLA’s need for an adequate levee system. I’ll try and stop by here more often.


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