September 8, 2005

Rebuilding New Orleans as Venice?

Rebuilding New Orleans as Venice? -- Most of the tourist districts like the French Quarter are above sea level, so they should be back in business reasonably fast, unless the EPA shuts the whole place down permanently for contamination. But the poor neighborhoods were built below sea level and have been sinking even farther down over decades, so rebuilding them as they were seems irresponsible.

Assuming that much of the below sea level housing is unsalvageable, what shall we do? Maybe it doesn't make sense to rebuild New Orleans at all, but, then again, America is so lacking in other cities with urban charm that New Orleans has a chance to become economically viable, although perhaps on a reduced scale. If so, then it might be smart to rebuild it as a city that embraces water rather than merely tries to huddle away from it behind levees.

Maybe we should rebuild the flooded part of town near the tourist district as an American version of Venice, with canals instead of streets. Over the generations, this American Venice would merge with the old part of town to create a tremendous tourist attraction, which, frankly, seems to be the only plausible economic future for New Orleans.

You could bulldoze the ruined houses down, then dredge the streets out deeper into water courses with a decent draft for pleasure boats. Take the mud you've dredged up from the streets and heap it up on top of the rubble so the next generation of houses are built above sea level. No streets, just canals and big sidewalks. (I'm sure an engineer would know a better way to do it. but you get the general idea: instead of everything being 5 feet below sea level, make half of it 15 feet below and half of it 5 feet above.)

In Los Angeles, the Venice neighborhood near the beach south of Santa Monica was built with canals instead of streets in the early 20th Century. It proved to be a bust, and many of the canals were paved over, but in recent years, the main canal has made a comeback and is now lined with new luxury homes with a big boat tied up to each dock. Similarly, Orange County's residential islands for boaters like Balboa are doing very well.

As for the rest of New Orleans, dig out a big lake for pleasure boating and fishing (which is huge down there, as Humberto Fontova's books illustrate), and use the dirt to elevate other areas. In the more outlying working class and middle class neighborhoods, build five story high apartments buildings and townhouses, so residents can outlast the worst floods by going up to the top stories. Put the parking garage on the street level of each five story townhouse so a ten foot flood wouldn't do much damage.

By raising the density of residential neighborhoods, you can make a lot of ruined below sea-level neighborhoods into parks and golf courses that can afford to be flooded. For example, the only way the San Fernando Valley came through the two big rainstorms last winter without significant damage was because the 1400 acre Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area, which contains 54 holes of golf and lots of other outdoor attractions sorely needed in overpopulated LA, filled up ten feet deep with water for a few days. Golf courses are a lot cheaper to fix after a flood than are buildings.

Anyway, I'm just spinning ideas off the top of my head. The way to check out whether any plan makes sense is to see how much private investment they can attract. I suspect private interests would invest a fair amount of money in a plan to turn New Orleans into a smaller but wealthier city.

Of course, the political response might be highly negative to this, not just from Democrats, but from the general public in surrounding states, who, I suspect, will want the underclass refugees to go home to New Orleans as soon as possible. I've already gotten a half dozen emails from people concerned about schemes to put up refugees in their hometowns, and what their impact will be on crime, schools, and taxes (in a word, negative).

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

1 comment:

The EdleSons said...

Thats wild. I googled "New Orleans rebuilt like Venice" and I found your post. I agree that the city should embrace water and make that an attraction. They could also harvets some hydro power and lead the sustainable building movement in America. There's an idea, do something that we can be proud of.