Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Planning for the worst

The Dutch are the recognized experts in “living with water.” As a nation, the people of the Netherlands have struggled to hold back the sea for hundreds of years. Much like the people of New Orleans, they’ve suffered and prospered thanks to their proximity and intimacy with the sea.

And after multiple setbacks, New Orleans and the Netherlands both insist that humans can and should and shall continue to live and work in the low-lying coastal areas of their choosing.

But here is where we diverge: the Dutch take a holistic approach to “living with water.” Yes, they have gates and walls and levees to keep the water out of their homes, farms and cities.

But they don’t stop there.

The people of the Netherlands understand the need to plan for the worst: sea level rise, more powerful storms in the future, and protection system failures.

You get a hint of this in this recent article on the advice Dutch experts are giving to coastal California communities.

“People realize we can't just raise levees forever. If something goes wrong, you have an entire city that will be flooded in an instant. Water is a fact — we need to do something about it,” said David Van Raalten, project manager for the pilot project between the Netherlands and California and a principal in ARCADIS, an international engineering and consultancy firm.

The article notes that the Dutch have been elevating houses and setting aside land for floodplains. They’ve adopted a multi-tiered strategy that effectively multiplies their safety from flooding.

It is sad to note that New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, not even the Federal government have adopted such strategies. Quite the opposite in fact.

In New Orleans, residents defiantly demanded the “right to rebuild” in even the most flood-prone areas of the city. Local zoning and permitting rules made it all too easy to obtain a building permit to repair severely damaged houses. And the Road Home Program actually penalized homeowners who elected to move to higher ground—especially if they left the state of Louisiana.

We say we admire the Dutch. We say we want to follow their example.

But it’s obvious we don’t really mean it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

RT4: Sinking to New Heights

As further proof that we in New Orleans are “Sinking to New Heights,” a group of NOLA Bloggers and others who love New Orleans gathered for the our fourth annual conference on the future of our fair city week. Rising Tide IV was, by all accounts and metrics, a huge success.

For the second year, we gathered at the Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Arts Center on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd on Saturday, August 22. It was a clear and warm day, just right for incubating good thoughts and hatching plans for the new New Orleans. Several speakers and panel discussions ensued to the great delight of all in attendance.

I did not bring by laptop because I knew I would have a hard time sitting in one place all day. I knew I would be moving around talking to friends and fellow bloggers I hadn’t seen in a while, meeting new Internet intermediaries, and of course, helping out here and there as needed since I was on the organizing committee.

So I tried something I’ve never done before: I covered the whole day of activities using Twitter. If you use the hashtag #rt4 you can see all the tweets from me and others who were madly trying to capture the action in reports of 140 characters or less. It was a challenge, but at least I didn’t have to sit in one place all day.

Favorite moments, many captured in tweets throughout the day:

* Author Susan Tucker on the Culture Panel reads an obituary that made reference to the deceased person’s favorite foods and love of cooking. In New Orleans, it really is all about the food.

* Also during the Culture Panel discussion, Ed Buckner observing, “We as a society need to embrace each other just as we embrace the music.” The crowd applauds the radical wisdom of that statement.

* Adrastos, moderator of the Politics Panel, introducing a question about Senator David Vitter by referring to him as, “a human cockroach, which makes him the Keith Richards of Louisiana politics.” (Some would later complain that the panels and indeed the whole conference were loaded with liberals. Thus insulting comments about David Vitter and other Republicans were all too common and obviously popular with the crowd. Okay, conservative bloggers, join us next year and show us what we’re missing.)

* Clancy DuBos from The Gambit newspaper and WWL-TV, comfortably using everyday curse words in his descriptions of how bad things are in NOLA and the political problems we face. Even their own Twitter reporter, @The_Gambit, had to comment on that one: “I think the Rising Tide crowd is amused to hear Clancy cuss like he can't do on @WWLTV.” To me it was a rare show of respect for bloggers from a venerated journalist—talking with us as would neighbors across the fence.

* Leigh, Sharon and Lisa, working tirelessly, selflessly and happily all day at the front table. I helped direct traffic for a bit at the front door, and I just loved overhearing Sharon call friends and strangers alike, “Honey” and “Baby.” We don’t pay them for this and let me tell you, it’s a good thing because we couldn’t afford it.

* Loki, the official emcee of the day, started us off with a Prayer to caffeine. I didn’t write it all down, but it was something along the lines of, “Caffeine is my shepherd, I shall not doze. It maketh me to wake in green pastures. It leadeth me beyond the sleeping masses. It restoreth my buzz.” Loki lit the place up from the moment he took the stage. I would not be surprised to learn that he had been up all the night before drinking espresso and eating chocolate covered coffee beans.

* I wish I could say it was my idea to ask him to head up the program this year, but all I can say is I was one of the unanimous and enthusiastic organizers who said, “Hell yes!” when it was suggested. We’ve already asked him back next year.

* I spent a few minutes chatting with Ethan Brown about his new book, “Shake the Devil Off,” which has been getting great press recently in The Gambit and the local daily. After explaining the subject of his book is the true story of a tortured soul who kills his girlfriend and himself probably because of PTSD from service in Iraq and riding out Hurricane Katrina, I tell Ethan it sounds like a great story. But, I add, I don’t think I will be reading it because it sounds really, really depressing. Ethan is so nice--he doesn’t try to talk me into it. He agrees that it’s a very depressing tale.

* Loki, again showering us with his in-your-face energy, led the audience in shouting out the true meaning of FYYFF following the presentation of the Ashley Morris Award, named after the man who made FYYFF so important to the NOLA Bloggers.

* Finally got to see Patches, the most famous ramshackle rust bucket of a truck on the NOLA Blogosphere, being made less rusty and ramshackley (is that a word? I guess it is now) each week under the love and sweat of Clay, proprietor of NolaDishu. Clay showed me Patches with the pride of a father, explaining all the oddities that made his old red truck so dear to him. Still a lot of work remaining, but I’m thinking Clay is up to the task.

* Our keynote speaker Harry Shearer gave a heartfelt, motivational presentation. One of my favorite quotes was, “If you fight water, water always wins. We need to learn to live with water.” Would have loved if someone from City Hall or any of the spineless politicians who are letting New Orleans be rebuilt in exactly the same ill-planned manner could have heard that.

* Lunch! We got catering from CafĂ© Reconcile which is right across the street from Zeitgeist. I had white beans and rice, greens, spicy corn bread and sweet tea. My yat came out strong after eatin dat—yeah you rite.

* Dr. Elmore Rigamer, speaking as part of the Health Care Panel, wonders, “Is New Orleans insane because of Nagin, or is Nagin insane because of New Orleans?” Nobody seemed to have an answer to that one.

* Chris Wiseman represents for the legions of loyal and outlandish Saints fans on the Sports Panel. He shows off a couple of homemade outfits worn to the Dome on game day. Wiseman notes that the decorated costumes worn by fans of other teams commemorate trophies and titles and winning streaks, but his outfit memorializes losses in the Saints family. That includes Ashley Morris, Buddy D, and Sam Mills. The point is clear: Saints fandom transcends success in the game and draws its power instead from the strength of the fan community.

* Skooks, local blogger and Sports Panel moderator, cannily observes, “The four seasons in New Orleans are Carnival, Festival, Hurricane, and Football.” Did he forget one? Here’s hoping one day there will be a Rising Tide season!

All in all a great day. Plans are already begun for Rising Tide V. See you there next year!