Here’s a slightly more reasonable casting of doubt on the prospect of rebuilding New Orleans – reasonable, but still flawed. It underscores well the challenges and immense cultural loss in the area, but still misses the critical point that it’s not a matter of whether or not we build New Orleans, but rather how. Fortunately, this is covered in a rough overview given in a subsequent post on the same blog. Included there is a link to a transcript from Meet the Press with this snippet from Mike Tidwell (author of Bayou Farewell : The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast):

MR. RUSSERT: Mike Tidwell, you´ve written about it as well, and you say that in order to rebuild, there´s going to have to be some serious undertakings in recognition of the environmental realities of what exists in the New Orleans area.

MR. MIKE TIDWELL: Well, the question and the answer is: Why in the world is New Orleans below sea level to begin with? I think the media has sort of accepted it uncritically that this city is below sea level which is why we have this problem. Miami is not below sea level. New York´s not below sea level. It´s below sea level because of the levees. The levees stop the river from flooding and the river´s what built the whole coast of Louisiana through 7,000 years of alluvial soil deposits. And if you stop that flooding, the other second natural phenomena in any delta region in the world is subsidence. That alluvial soil is fine, it compacts, it shrinks. That´s why New Orleans is below sea level. That´s why the whole coast of Louisiana is–the whole land platform is sinking. An area of land the size of Manhattan turns to water in south Louisiana every year even without hurricanes.

You can´t just fix the levees in New Orleans. We now have to have a massive coastal restoration project where we get the water out of the Mississippi River in a controlled fashion toward the Barrier islands, restore the wetlands. If you don´t commit to this plan which is this $14 billion, costs of the Big Dig in Boston, or two weeks of spending Iraq, you shouldn´t fix a single window in New Orleans. You shouldn´t pick up a single piece of debris because to do one without the other is to set the table for another nightmare.

MR. RUSSERT: So if you keep status quo, rebuild the levee and not do the other environmental corrections that you´re talking about, this will happen again?

MR. TIDWELL: I don´t think we should fix a single window in New Orleans unless as a nation we commit to this $14 billion plan called Coast 2050. You can Google it under the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. It´s been on the table since the mid-´90s. The Bush administration has had all kinds of folks in New Orleans and in Louisiana begging for funding for this–the cost of the Big Dig–to restore the Barrier islands, to fix the wetlands because without that, New Orleans is an endangered city forever.

And Mark is not optimistic that will happen:

  1. Rebuilding New Orleans without making it substantially hurricane-proof would be an act of criminal folly. But that’s the most likely actual course of action.