When President Bush stood in Jackson Square and promised a sweeping recovery, the city of New Orleans cheered. It was a touching moment where politics were pushed aside, hope was restored in a city without a future and, if but for a fleeting second, New Orleans breathed again.
Now that promise is just one of the many broken ones New Orleans is trying to piece together. Much like the levees that could withstand a category three hurricane, the buses that never came, the government loans cut short and the insurance money that, for many, will never come, the promise of sweeping recovery and massive government aid is just a ghost that continues to haunt the city as it tries to move on.
Worse still, many are debating whether or not the city should be rebuilt at all and, if it is, whether any Federal money should be spent on it. In their minds, the city invited trouble by existing below sea level. After all, they say, this type of disaster was inevitable and will just happen again, perhaps worse, if it's rebuilt. They've already taken to calling New Orleans "America's Atlantis" and have written off the city as a footnote in history.
New Orleans, however, is not dead, but it is living off of a steady diet of MREs and broken promises. Promises fed by the government, at all levels, and promises that we now need to collect on, one way or another if we hope to survive.
Many wonder aloud whether or not the city is worth being rebuilt. It's a well known fact that the city is slowly sinking, that nature is quickly trying to turn New Orleans into an island and that much of the city was built upon poorly engineered soil. Though other countries, such as the Netherlands, have little problem dealing with such challenges, people still say that New Orleans is doomed and that no amount of repair work is going to change that.
Furthermore, they say that what happened to the lives in New Orleans is the fault of those who made the choice to live there, not the engineers who told them that the levees were safe or the officials who were tasked with making sure the city was prepared. They want to look for any reason to avoid spending federal money on the city while dodging the guilt and shame that would come with ignoring the cries of thousands of needy people.
If one wants to skip on giving Federal aid because the disaster was "inevitable" and is likely to happen again, that's fine. But one has to apply such a policy fairly and that means not giving any funds to San Francisco when another earthquake hits, any Midwestern city that get struck by a tornado, any village along a river that gets flooded, any coastal city when a hurricane strikes, New York City or Washington D.C. when another terrorist attack hits, or any other city with a disaster that was in any way predictable and likely to be repeated.
If you think that such a policy would be cruel but that, somehow, New Orleans is an exception, you have to ask yourself why. Aren't all of the above disasters just as predictable and at least as likely as what happened to New Orleans? It is a bitter pill to swallow, but it is the cold truth.
The fact is most people who want to abandon the city, want to do so not because it's impractical to sustain it, 14 billion dollars to shore up the levees and protect the city against erosion is well within the reach of the world's wealthiest nation, but because of Katrina burnout. With the startling images off of our TVs and the memory of that dark September fading, people don't want to foot the bill for major disaster relief. The heartstrings are exhausted and the minds have long since forgotten.
In short, people just don't care anymore and the excuses for why it is ok not to care have already started. Much of the nation wants to move on and is willing to leave New Orleans behind in the process.
It makes you wonder though, exactly what country am I in?
Reasons Not to Leave
Though no city should ever have to justify its existence, New Orleans does have an easier time than most in doing so. In addition to being one of America's most unique cities, especially in terms of culture, being a famed city of both song and literature alike, being an integral part of American culture and being one of the nation's most popular tourist destinations, New Orleans has a lot to offer the country in more practical terms.
The Port of New Orleans, for example, is the world’s largest port system and the only deepwater port in the country with proximity to six “class one” railroads. New Orleans business district, known as the CBD, is one of the country's largest and was ranked by Expansion Management Magazine as being the fourth biggest "hot market" and Inc., a popular business magazine, also ranked the city itself as the eighteenth best market for doing business.
New Orleans is also critical for the production of oil and natural gas; many large oil companies have critical facilities, including refineries and pipelines, in and around the city and use New Orleans as a base for their offshore activities. The state of Louisiana, spear-headed by its New Orleans facility, produces 1.62 million barrels of oil a day and leads the country in natural gas infrastructure.
Finally, New Orleans is one of the few places in the country where manufacturing is still thriving, especially in the shipbuilding industry with large companies such as Northrup Gruman and Bollinger Shipyards employing thousands of workers.
In the end, even if you don't agree with the humanitarian reasons for investing in New Orleans, it's plain to see that it makes good financial sense. When the local economy offers so much to the state and to the country, much of it due to the city's location and history, it's easy to see why investing in it is not just the right thing to do, but also good business.
One would think that our government, if nothing else, would understand money well enough to know a good deal when it sees one.
Apparently though, that is simply not the case.
Trying to Move On
Despite the promises, the humanitarian needs and logical reasons, New Orleans is having to press on largely without federal aid. As FEMA caps aid to the city and bills to rebuild the levees and protect the city sit idle in Congress, New Orleans tries to move on. Its residents, those that have returned, have begun the process of rebuilding with their own funds, what insurance money they are able to get and what federal assistance is available.
Though jobs are plentiful in the city, there is little housing to sustain them. Most of those who are in the city now either sustained little damage to their homes or are workers here solely to do hurricane repair.
While the city is certainly alive and coming back into its own, that heartbeat is being sustained by locals, here and scattered throughout the country, that are keeping it going. We are not America's Atlantis yet but, without help from our countrymen, we very likely will be.
It's time for the government to fulfill the promises that they made, both before and after Katrina, and for all of us to band together and help rebuild one of the country's greatest and unique cities.
We can do it, the resources and plans are there to make it happen, we just have to be willing to work in order to make it happen.