Term Paper: Natural Disaster

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Natural Disasters

Hurricane Katrina destroyed one of America's most vibrant, unique, and historic cities: New Orleans. Rebuilding New Orleans is requiring colossal efforts on the part of public and private organizations and individuals. Not only did the Hurricane cause substantive property damage and loss of life but Katrina also led to the displacement of thousands of residents. The poor were the hardest hit for many reasons: they had the fewest resources with which to mobilize their evacuations and their homes were among the least structurally sound. Katrina left an aftermath of looting, which added to the property damage suffered by local residents and business owners. The hurricane had major repercussions on the city of New Orleans not just by destroying its physical infrastructure and historic landmarks but also by creating one of the most major social catastrophes in recent American history. The hurricane also exposed the root causes of poverty and racial injustice within the entire Gulf region. Rebuilding efforts should move beyond simply financing big budget real estate development and must take into account the special cultural and historical importance of New Orleans, its residents and their needs. Rebuilding efforts will center on local, regional, and federal fundraising as well as corresponding policy changes. Both public and private sector must be proactive.

Friedman (2005) plainly states, "New Orleans is not optional for the United States' commercial infrastructure. It is a terrible place for a city to be located, but exactly the place where a city must exist." Its geographic position renders New Orleans a special place in the American economy. New Orleans played a pivotal role in American economic and political affairs immediately after independence. However, the development of offshore oil drilling throughout the Gulf Region has transformed New Orleans into a major port city integral to the health of America's domestic energy reserves. If the United States is to relinquish dependence on foreign oil, rebuilding New Orleans must address the needs of the oil industry in the Gulf Region. Energy companies should be offered incentives by state and federal governments to invest heavily in the region to maintain their infrastructure and their labor force.

After Katrina hit, real estate developers salivated at the chance to rebuild New Orleans as another Atlantic City. To do so would prove disastrous for the local and regional economies and any short-term benefits to the labor force would be offset by a short-sighted and poorly planned rebuilding effort. Casino and big resort development should be minimal and heavily regulated for several reasons. First and perhaps foremost, the rebuilding effort must be sensible from an ecological point-of-view. The hurricane reminded Americans that New Orleans sits at and below sea level. Its swampy terrain and wetland ecosystem cannot support the extent of land development envisioned by short-sighted tycoons. One of the reasons why Katrina left such a devastating footprint was because the city had not properly prepared for natural catastrophe and had allowed its infrastructure to grow without regulation.

Second, casino and big resort development changes the social and cultural character of the city. Louisiana must keep the gaming community outside the border of New Orleans to ensure sustainable social growth. Casinos provide jobs in many different sectors, and they may be necessary for the region's overall recovery from Hurricane Katrina. To promote social and environmentally sustainable development, city planners and lawmakers should work together to create reasonable but tough regulations on the gaming industry.

In this sense, the rebuilding of New Orleans is more than just an urban effort; it is a regional and to some degree a national effort too. The nation depends on New Orleans as a major Gulf port city and it is in the region's best interest to work as a whole, looking toward New Orleans as a hub. To achieve this objective, clustered economic development should be the core of New Orleans' economic policy. For example, in regions where gaming is permitted, local infrastructure should also permit the proliferation of ancillary services in the tourism industry and in the high tech sector. Similarly, ancillary oil industry-related firms should be offered incentives to invest in the region. New growth will be stimulated if the federal government actively seeks financiers and corporate investors from other sectors too, including the science and technology industries. For clustering to succeed, the federal and state governments must heavily invest in the educational infrastructure of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Universities provide the innovative capacity that can make the city flourish once more. Firms that establish themselves in the region will benefit from the proximity of research labs and institutions as well as revitalization of the workforce. Moreover, universities help create a vibrant and young resident demographic that can also help the city and the region succeed in the long run.

Due consideration should be given to the size and scope of the labor force required to sustain regional and urban development. New Orleans may be a regional economic hub but it has always been the hub of one of the poorest regions in the country. Rebuilding efforts can and must include subsidies for low-income housing not only to help residents resettle but also to mandate that all new construction follows strict building codes. Poverty can be reduced through social services and widespread efforts to upgrade the local labor market. Here again, investment in education is the key. State, federal, and private funding for schools will encourage the displaced New Orleans labor force to upgrade skills and participate in the rebuilding of their historic community. These efforts must be subsidized in a joint effort based on long-term regional development goals. Residents who were displaced by Katrina will be given first priority for subsidized or welfare resettlement funding.

Historically New Orleans has designated the last bastion of French culture in North America south of the Canadian border. It characteristic Creole culture has made New Orleans a cultural and historic point of interest. The city and region should capitalize on New Orleans' appeal by investing in the renovation of as many landmarks as possible. Preservation of historic landmarks is important not only for sentimental reasons but also for practical ones. First, historic landmarks bring in tourist dollars. Second, the presence of such landmarks raises local morale and pride, increasing the likelihood that rebuilding efforts will be successful.

Local committees comprised of residents should offer regular and frequent public meetings not unlike the old Town Hall meetings in New England. Encouraging local and grassroots participation in the political process empowers residents, giving the potentially disenfranchised segments of the population to voice concerns, offer ideas, and steer their city in the most suitable direction for long-term sustainable growth. Regular community meetings will also help minimize class and ethnic conflict during the delicate rebuilding stages, as well as reduce the potential for income disparity. Minutes from the meeting shall be given to the Louisiana Governor's office and officially included as part of the policy-making procedure for local and state redevelopment projects.

Lobbying and fundraising efforts are also important during the rebuilding of New Orleans. Lobbyists encourage the political support the city needs at the federal level of government, entailing judicious allocation of funds and effective legislation that promotes the needs of the city. Community meetings minutes will also help lobbyist groups craft appropriate proposals for policy change. Similarly, fundraisers should take into account the most appropriate sources of financing for the rebuilding efforts. Private donations should be encouraged via tax incentives and stimulated via cultural events. Cultural events also help raise tourism dollars, and the most recent Mardi Gras testifies that New Orleans can gradually rebuild itself after the hurricane. Local universities can also play a strategic role in regional development by offering their services and facilities for international cultural events.

Hurricane Katrina can be used as an opportunity to redress many of the problems New Orleans faced before the tragedy struck. Those problems include poverty, insufficient infrastructure, and poor planning. The geography of New Orleans makes it particularly susceptible to all three of these problems. Located in the poorest region of the United States, the city lacked a scientifically sound public infrastructure. Katrina has therefore been called "the most anticipated natural disaster in modern American history," (King 2006). Hurricanes will, as King notes, continue to hit New Orleans just as they will continue to hit Miami and other coastal cities. Prevention is the key to the future success of New Orleans. A coalition of specialized scientists and engineers should develop a series of task forces that address diverse issues like levees, land reclamation, sewage and waste, and advanced building materials and procedures. Learning from the wisdom of science, New Orleans can rebuild itself on far steadier ground.

Furthermore, the rebuilding effort should include more effective emergency protocols. While warning systems were in place, a large number of people could not afford to evacuate the city. Care must be taken to develop a viable public transportation system that serves inner city and outlying areas. Taking its cue from successful public transportation… [END OF PREVIEW]

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