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Debate: Rebuilding New Orleans

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Should New Orleans be fully rebuilt and restored?

Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

The effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were shattering and long-lasting. As the center of Katrina passed east of New Orleans on August 29, 2005, winds downtown were in the Category 3 range with frequent intense gusts and tidal surge. Though the most severe portion of Katrina missed the city, hitting nearby St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, the storm surge caused more than 50 breaches in drainage canal levees and also in navigational canal levees and precipitated the worst engineering disaster in the history of the United States.
By August 31, 2005, eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded, with some parts under 15 feet (4.5 m) of water.

Following the disaster, a debate began regarding whether to rebuild and restore the city. The debate has been revived in almost every subsequent summer with the prospect of new hurricanes striking New Orleans, and with the possibility of washing away efforts to rebuild the city. In the summer of 2008, Hurricane Gustav was particularly threatening to New Orleans, generating a series of new editorials for and against rebuilding the city.

Many questions frame this debate: Is New Orleans culturally important? Enough so to justify rebuilding the city? Is its location important, or was it poorly chosen and a mistake that should not be repeated? Does the federal government have a responsibility to rebuild the city? Does it owe it to the people of New Orleans (both those that died as well as the survivors)? Or does the government have a responsibility not to rebuild because it may put future residents at risk? Are markets and the demands of individuals and communities better than government at determining if and/or how New Orleans is rebuilt? Is there a desire among the displaced to return to New Orleans? Is rebuilding the city economical? Is it a vital port city? Will rebuilding the city cost too much? Do the past socio-economic and crime problems in New Orleans make it undesirable to rebuild? Is restoring New Orleans important to US race-relations? Is it environmentally important, or is the city itself an environmental hazard?

Culture: Should New Orleans be restored for its cultural value?

Yes

Barbara Gelinas. "Rebuilding New Orleans is essential, if not practical". The Shorthorn. 28 Aug. 2007 - "While it may be impractical to rebuild New Orleans, we should do it anyway. The city is an important part of our cultural identity. Without New Orleans, America is not what it used to be. [...] What ties us together is our shared history and belief in the future. If we don’t rebuild New Orleans, aren’t we giving up a little of both?"


No

  • Cities are not forever; New Orleans is no exception "Don't Rebuild New Orleans". Watch Blog. 17 Dec. 2005 - "Cities are not forever. Been to Carthage lately? Miletus? Troy? Babylon? Nineveh? Persepolis? Jungles swallowed some cities. Deserts covered others. Some are underwater. Trade routes shifted. Harbors silted. Climates changed. Technologies made them obsolete. People moved away [...] New Orleans has experienced several of those things. How stupid would we have to be to spend billions of dollars to restore a mistake? Let's make a comparision."

Location: Is New Orleans located well or was it a mistake?

Yes

  • New Orleans is well located at the head of Mississippi Mark J. Clayton Associate Professor Department of Architecture Texas A&M University. "The view from the levee." 2005 - "there are very good reasons for New Orleans to be where it is [...] The urban geography of New Orleans is defined by the river. The Mississippi is the 14th longest river in the world (Geohive 2005a). If measured from the headwaters of the Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico, it would be the fourth longest. It has the third largest drainage area among world rivers, stretching from New York to Montana and draining over 40% of the land of the 48 contiguous states (Wikipedia 2005a) [...] The mouth of the Mississippi is a globally unique natural feature. One of the longest and richest river systems in the world empties lazily not into an ocean or sea, but into a relatively tranquil gulf. The deposits of silt form an enormous alluvial plain stretching from Illinois to the gulf that is some of the richest farmland in the world."

No

Government: Is the US government obligated to refund rebuilding the city?

Yes

  • New Orleans should be rebuilt out of respect for tragedy. Katrina was certainly one of the greatest natural disasters in US history, killing roughly 1,500 people. Out of respect for such a tragedy, New Orleans should be rebuilt, and the memory of both the city and those that lived and died in it should be honored.
  • Government is obligated to rebuild NO levees and infrastructure. The government has a responsibility to ensure the integrity of a city's infrastructure and protect its citizens. Since people are returning to New Orleans, the government has a responsibility to protect them by building the necessary levees and infrastructure to ensure their safety and liberties.


No

  • People, not government, should naturally rebuild New Orleans The rebuilding of New Orleans should not be "forced" by any organizing body, but should occur only according to market demand. If people want to live in an area, they should be allowed to do so, but without any government or organized support.
  • Government should fund residents, not rebuilding New Orleans The people of New Orleans need to be the focus of all federal funding. Many displaced families will not return to New Orleans, and may not benefit from the rebuilding of the city. In general, people will spend money most efficiently in rebuilding New Orleans.
  • There is little desire to return to New Orleans and rebuild Jack Shafer. "Don't Refloat". Slate. 7 Sept. 2005 - "Few uninsured landlords and poor home owners have the wherewithal to rebuild—or the desire. And how many of the city's well-off and wealthy workers—the folks who provide the city's tax base—will return? Will the doctors, lawyers, accountants, and professors have jobs to return to? According to the Wall Street Journal, many businesses are expected to relocate completely. Unless the federal government adopts New Orleans as its ward and pays all its bills for the next 20 years—an unlikely to absurd proposition—the place won't be rebuilt."


Economics: Is rebuilding New Orleans economical?

Yes

  • Rebuilding New Orleans is not too costly for America Save Big Easy.org - "Some even use the argument that the U.S. government cannot afford to strengthen the New Orleans levees beyond a Category 3. This is simply not true. Monetary issues have never stopped the U.S. government, or the American people, from pursuing a course that they know to be right [...] From 1948 to 1951, the U.S. spent $13 billion on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe. That is equivalent to $100 billion in 2005 dollars. [...] In the FY2006 federal budget that President Bush submitted to Congress, requests were made for $8.2 billion for core development assistance to other countries [...] This is not to say that any of these causes are undeserving of the funds they are receiving or received in the past; indeed many of them are very worthwhile. However, they do provide some perspective into how much money the government spends on foreign ventures. They also expose the immaturity of the argument that we cannot afford to spend the necessary money to upgrade the levee system design in New Orleans"
  • Much of New Orleans survived Katrina; not rebuilding from scratch. "Rebuilding the 'Big Easy' — Not So Easy". National Building Museum. 15 Nov. 2005 - "It is [...] becoming clear that a significant percentage of the city’s buildings are either intact, only modestly damaged, or substantially salvageable, meaning that some of the early calls for “moving” New Orleans greatly overstated the extent of the destruction."
  • Rebuilding New Orleans can be funded by cutting pork. Jay Ambrose. "To rebuild New Orleans, D.C. should forgo pork and corporate welfare". Desert News. 25 Sept. 2005 - "This nation is going to rebuild a major city -- New Orleans -- and that won't come cheap. Some say the federal government's contribution alone could end up being $200 billion, and some also say there's just one way to come up with the money: Raise taxes. [...] That's wrong, even though worries about the federal deficit are right. [...] You can start, in fact, with corporate welfare, a favorite target of the liberals as well as of many principled conservatives. [...] You can then move to pork, which used to be a specialty of Democrats until Republicans took over both houses in Congress."


No

  • Building and maintaining levees in New Orlean is very costly. Joel K. Bourne, Jr. "New Orleans: A Perilous Future". National Geographic. August 2007 - "FROM ITS INCEPTION, the project was beset with technical problems, litigation, and political tinkering. What was supposed to be built in 13 years for 85 million dollars became a never ending 740-million-dollar project that was still ten years from completion when Katrina hit. The Government Accountability Office—the watchdog of Congress—had a field day, regularly criticizing the corps for cost overruns and delays."

Socio-economics: Can rebuilding New Orleans improve its socio-economics?

Yes

  • New Orleans can be rebuilt to address its social problems Thomas Campanella, an urban planning professor at the University of North Carolina and co-editor of "The Resilient City.", said to the Christian Science Monitor in October of 2005, that rebuilding "is going to take tackling the socioeconomic problems that bedeviled the city long before Katrina. There's going to be billions and billions of dollars thrown at this, and it should be spent to fix the preexisting conditions that led to this massive underclass being in such a bad condition."[2]
  • Rebuilding New Orleans is important to rejuvenating America. Toni McElroy and Kevin Whelan. "Rebuild New Orleans, Rebuild America". Tom Paine, Common Sense. 5 Feb. 2007 - "Rebuilding could be powerful theme for members of Congress who want to take up the striking mandate delivered in the last election and rekindle the dreams of making the county a fundamentally better and fairer place. Finally getting down to the work of rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast would be a great place to start. But why not get busy rebuilding America, as well?"


No

The city's romance is not the reality for most who live there. It's a poor place, with about 27 percent of the population of 484,000 living under the poverty line, and it's a black place, where 67 percent are African-American. In 65 percent of families living in poverty, no husband is present. When you overlap this New York Times map, which illustrates how the hurricane's floodwaters inundated 80 percent of the city, with this demographic map from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, which shows where the black population lives, and this one that shows where the poverty cases live, it's transparent whom Katrina hit the hardest."


Race: Is rebuilding New Orleans important to race relations?

Yes


No

  • Not rebuilding New Orleans has nothing to do with race. Stan Guthrie. "Don’t Rebuild New Orleans". 12 Sept. 2005 - Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, speaking to the National Baptist Convention of America, noted what he called 'the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.' Unfortunately, loony conspiracy theories are nothing new for Dean, or for a significant percentage of the nation’s African American community[...]Such irrational fears play into the hands of a Democratic power structure ever eager for an excuse to bash the president, and looking for ways to keep African Americans on the liberal plantation. They are also a significant hindrance to many African Americans ever getting a realistic shot at the American Dream. While some discrimination still exists, the bigger problem for many blacks is their worldview."


Environment: Can rebuilding New Orleans be environmentally friendly?

Yes

Barbara Gelinas. "Rebuilding New Orleans is essential, if not practical". The Shorthorn. 28 Aug. 2007 - "We can take this opportunity to learn from our mistakes. In rebuilding New Orleans, we can reinvent the way we plan our cities and meet new engineering challenges. Hurricane Katrina can teach us new ways to plan for natural disasters."

No

Pro/con sources

Yes

No


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