Monday, February 19, 2007

What would you do with a crippled city?

A week ago Pete Abel asked his readers to identify five critical, governance-related questions that, should be asked of each of the candidates vying for the presidency. A draft list is now posted at his site Central Sanity. I don't have a list of 5, but there is one specific question I think should be answered by every candidate running:
What should we do about New Orleans?
In particular:
Should we commit to rebuilding New Orleans within its pre-Katrina boundaries?
Should we relocate all or part of the population to higher ground?
Or, should we allow nature and market forces to determine where we build and what we abandon?
This goes straight to one of the fundamental jobs of a national leader. What do you do when entire communties are destroyed and the people left stranded and homeless? Many have an opinion about New Orleans. It was built largely below sea level in an area prone to hurricanes and the risk was known for years. Some think the government was corrupt or unprepared. Some think the people took a gamble and lost.

But decisions need to be made, now. Few will invest in rebuilding their homes until they know the answer to that question. Will we commit to rebuilding a city below sea level, and grant it protection from the elements, like the Dutch or Venicians? Will we tell the people that we will no longer insure their financial safety if another storm comes? Will we even guarantee that we'll rebuild water and power systems for those who live in the highest risk areas?

This is an issue much bigger than New Orleans. Floods threaten communities all along the coast and up the Mississippi River, earthquakes threaten virtually every city on the west coast, fire and drought threaten more. If we're willing to abandon one city to its fate, are we willing to abandon all of them?

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