The Washington Post reports today that more than a few people would like to see the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and perhaps other parts of the drowned city restored to bayou or, at least, not rebuilt, since they will surely flood again. That doubtless doesn't please those residents who want to return, nor should it. But it's typically American. New Orleans is an environmental, economic, social, and political disaster, to be sure. There are abudnant reasons to return the Misssissippi to its historic course and let the bayous replenish themselves and the lower Ninth Ward return to cypress swamp--with considerable help from us. There are also numerous--and excellent--reasons for rebuilding those poor neighborhoods. But rather than do both, Americans will engage in dualistic argument, reflecting our cultural divorcement from "nature."
There is no reason, except a lack of imagination, not to combine the two needs--to remake the Ninth Ward and New Orleans in general as an eco-Venice for the 21st century. That's right--bring the river and the wetlands into the city and design the city to accommodate itself and its citizens to nature, rather than bending nature to the needs of humans. To do that, first expropriate the slumlords and then sell the property back to the people who lived there, at a reduced rate. That's an ownership society! Replace the streets with canals and only allow electric or human power. Follow the Dutch model and build houses that can float on a flood. Alternative power; the latest sewage and water treatment. Since the former residents are now stakeholders, if they want to sell, they can.
What right do outsiders have to make suggestions and policies? Well, last I checked the federal government is picking up the tab for rebuilding, which gives us all a vote. What's needed is the "vision thing."