Saturday, September 17, 2005

Morning Noodles

It is almost as if you were frantically constructing another world while the world that you live in dissolves beneath your feet, and that your survival depends on completing this construction at least one second before the old habitation collapses -- Tennessee Williams

Some observations:

• In a sure sign of recovery, with the litigation gumbo simmering down in Southeast Louisiana, expect the New Orleans population of attorneys and law firms to not only return, but go on a hiring binge.

• Many neighborhoods which were constructed in the 60's through the present must be completely rethought. Explain to me why one would construct a home which is not raised in a flood plain?

• In a similar vein, how quickly we forget the lessons, vision and knowledge of our forefathers. There was a reason that older homes were built raised several feet off the ground, and I and some of my neighbors can completely attest to understanding why historic homes have ceilings of 12 feet or greater in height - the home I have been in, with its 16 foot ceilings had a feeling of natural air conditioning in the midst of no electricity and the sweltering midday sun.

• This city is the second oldest city in the United States and large portions of our historic districts have survived the greatest natural disaster in this country's history. Yet, has anyone noticed, that the real devastation to this area has occured mostly in neighborhoods developed since the 1960's?

Correlation maybe?

Explain to me why one would build identical houses in Phoenix and Plaquemines Parish? Where is the sense and forethought in city planning at all levels of government? Not simply here, but throughout this country.

Where is the wisdom of growing water-intensive crops such as rice in California?

There are fundamental issues rooted in the core of American thinking regarding the environment and how we relate to it that are failing. We proudly herald the productivity of our companies to the world, yet build homes in the desert or homes in the swamps which don't accept the realities of their location, and, in fact, actually go to war with it. Where is the productivity in this?

Will we learn the lessons of Katrina, or will we rapidly rebuild for the sake of rebuilding, and leave this country and region the potential to convulse through this again in the future? It would be criminally foolish to to come back and duplicate the same design for these homes. There are many which if were only raised one or two feet, would have been saved - along with billions of dollars.

That smells productive.


Anonymous Rachel said...

You are wise indeed!! We will hope the planners and developers will be as wise. Unfortunately, greed is what they think of usually.

8:31 AM, September 17, 2005  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Thank you for you insights and keeping us informed - I must say that your blog has been the most informative of all the media -
There are lessons to be learned on all levels not only in New Orleans but throughout the country and the world...

9:21 AM, September 17, 2005  
Blogger Ilaine Upton said...

Absolutely right about the old way of building. This derives from a style developed over many hundreds of years by the Native Americans, especially the Carib Indians.

Raised, high ceilings, hip roofs, galleries outside and a central hallway inside.

Take a look at the Pitot House if you want to see what "works" in the lower lying areas of New Orleans. That's the ideal, anyway.

10:41 AM, September 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As well as not raising houses, one thing I've been wondering is why all the canals? 50 years ago, they worked for commerce, I understand that. But ever since the Eisenhower administration it has been more effective to truck things in and out of cities.

My point on the canals is this... The Levees (against the lake)didn't fail, the canal walls failed. By minimizing the total length of canals through the city, it will minimize the periphery of risk.

Reducing the canal lengths also means re-thinking the location of the rainwater pumping stations. Rather than pumping in the center of the city, and draining from thee pump stations through the canals, the canal right-of-ways should become collection culverts as the lowest points in the city, routing the water to the inlet of pumping stations along the levee.

I think NO can be not only rebuilt, but well-built.

my other fear is that the Haliburton/Bechtel bulldozer mentality might start being put in place. (This would be replacing disaster with disaster)

10:41 AM, September 17, 2005  
Blogger cookie jill said...

We must, as a country, start rethinking the way we build and live.

Out here in CA the only "affordable" housing is out in the desert areas requiring huge amounts of energy to keep cool and hours (often 2 hour drive one way) into the major cities for work.

We simply can't continue the way we have been. We need to listen to Mother Nature when she speaks. We need to look at the bigger evvironmental problems that will only continue to escalate if we don't start addressing

12:06 PM, September 17, 2005  
Anonymous Walt J said...

Having grown up in New Orleans and lived 30+ years in south Louisiana, your thoughts make a lot of sense.

However, we need to find some way to approach those who unthinkingly bought into the idea of living in an untenable part of the city (like those added after 1960).

Their loss is no less important just because of the location of their home.

Apparently the zoning codes in those areas have been reduced to meaningless levels, and city officials need to address immediately-- before reconstruction begins.

Real estate developers with a wink and a nod from city planners, zoning boards, et al are the real villains.

And sadly, in the rush to rebuild, some of the first steps taken are to weaken regulations meant to protect citizens, like EPA regulations, Fair Wage Acts, and many more.

It's a shame the developers who were responsible for those areas cannot be held financially liable.

(Oh yes... at least in some areas, i.e. Phoenix area, there are zoning limits on the square footage of grass planted in new subdivisions... a concession to the serious water shortage.)

2:05 PM, September 17, 2005  
Anonymous Barry said...

I said right after the levee gave out & the 1st calls to not rebuild began that there was a way to come back in a more rational manner

If the reconstruction were to be limited to those areas developed before 1960 and then build a levee system up protect that area the geographic area copvered would be potentially workable.

No, the city would never be as big, but why would we want it to be. just to be among the largest in the country?
Yes, it would mean allowing most of East NO to be reclaimed as swampland. However, this would add to protection from a storm coming up over the lake.

Not that anyone will probably listen, but I grew up out in East NO in the 60s & 70s in the midst of that growth, went to Abramson High. Even then we used to joke about what were these developers thinking. Unfortunately, I am sure politics rather than common sense will rule in the end.

2:16 PM, September 17, 2005  
Blogger Adina said...

I wonder whether insurance companies can provide leverage to persuade developers to put in buildings more likely to survive storms. Insurers are probably taking a huge financial hit right now, and might be interested in disaster-resistant buildings.

This is another area where a few people with good ideas can have disproportionate impact. The previous commentor said: "Unfortunately, I am sure politics rather than common sense will rule in the end." That will be true if the people with good ideas don't take the opportunities that are at hand.

4:05 PM, September 17, 2005  
Blogger bunnygirl said...

One of my New Orleans friends had a second story apartment. The first story was simply a raised-up portion over an area that was once used for storage, carriages or cars. It was later filled in and used as an apartment, also. Guess whose home flooded? Not my friend's in the only part that had been originally intended for habitation!

As more food for thought, my father lives in an adobe home in New Mexico. Even in summer, he almost never turns on the swamp cooler and he needs little extra heat in winter. Those old, thick adobe walls are really all you need in the desert. And yet if you drive around some of the new construction, all you'll see are fake adobes-- wood frame ticky-tacky with a bit of stuccoing overlaid to give the impression of an adobe home with 5X the heating and cooling costs! I won't even start on what this kind of wastefulness is doing to the environment.

We have a lot to (re)learn in this country.

10:19 PM, September 17, 2005  
Blogger Dante said...

You make some good points about historic homes but there's a reason homes are made the way they are now. That reason is cost. 8' studs are the cheapest wood you can get for the quality. The longer a stud is, the less likely it is to be straight. Since it's harder to make good 10' studs, the lumber yards have to charge more for them. Good 12' to 16' studs are a rarity nowadays. Out of an order of 50, you'll be lucky to find 15-20 that will be suitable for a wall stud. Then you'll still need an even better 2X4 for the top plates. Now if you look at most homes made in the last 5 or 6 years, you'll notice that there are 8' walls but the ceiling will be cathedraled to about 14' to 16'. That's technology at work. Once upon a time, cathedral ceilings were a nightmare because they were hard to contruct and a leak would require you to replaster your ceiling. Thanks to the wonder of trusses, relaible cathedral ceilings can be made and put up almost as cheaply as a standard flat 8'. Raising a home off the ground in any way that would actually help in a flood is also a very expensive proposition, and it's one that insurance companies won't cut much slack over. It's really not any easier or cheaper to get flood insurance on a raised home. Most builders don't raise houses properly so the insurance company is figuring that it will have to replace your house anyways after a significant flood. Either that or you'll do something to nullify the benefits of a raised house and not tell them about it (like add a garage or storage area).

12:49 AM, September 18, 2005  
Blogger Janet said...

Excellent insight. I speculated about this with friends, as soon as we heard that the historic districts were not flooded. The original settlers build there for a reason! Modern developers think they can conquer nature with money, but it doesn't work.

I have little faith that developers will listen to this kind of logic.

5:53 AM, September 18, 2005  

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