Thursday, September 08, 2005

How best to rebuild after a long-awaited disaster... part I

When the dust (or mud) settles, there will commence an argument over what to do next.

First, despite the President’s protest that “nobody expected levees to break”... the people of New Orleans knew something like this was looming. As illustrated by the predictions of countless local officials... as well as a silly sci fi author, years ago... the recent calamitous loss of an entire American city was not unexpected. The citizens of NoLa asked for help, often.

ListenToNatureAnd, in fairness, for many years they got it. Till budgets for levee maintenance were cut. And their National Guard units got pulled away. And (arguably) storms grew exacerbated by warming seas... a confluence that hit especially hard on people who were living paycheck-to-paycheck in districts that never vote for today’s ruling clique.

But blame-casting is going on elsewhere. I want to turn constructive. So let’s put our priorities straight. Above all, this is a time for rapid action to help people. I’ve donated some money. Plan to give give more. Tomorrow I have an appointment to give blood. Do what you can.

And then, when this is over, join organizations that will maintain vigilance for you. (Recall “proxy power”... the modern way to be active, by hiring others to be active for you.) You might even look into some of the few “citizen reserve” programs that exist in some communities. Hospitals, fire departments and even police departments do have a few... though mostly for officers who change jobs but want to stay connected. (This is an area we all need to look at, in more detail.)

.But there’s more. Since we’re the forward looking futurist/modernists here - (right?) - it must also be our role to give serious thought to new ideas... considering what must change.

Shall we contemplate how this great city should be rebuilt?

First off, I do not believe in reflexive partisan hate fests. We should all triage our reactions, with an eye toward quashing reflex indignation. For example, I think it is wrong of the left to pile onto House Speaker Dennis Hastert, for off-the-cuff wondering if something else should be tried, other than simply rebuilding New Orleans exactly as it was.

Hastert Tries Damage Control after Remarks Hit a Nerve:
... House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert began his day yesterday explaining that he really does not want to see New Orleans bulldozed, and he ended it defending his absence from the Capitol when Congress approved a $10.5 billion hurricane aid package. In between, a former president hinted he would like to throttle the Illinois Republican....


(Well, for other reasons, I would not mind seeing Hastert get a little Three Stooges action. But that wish fantasy is irrelevant here.)

What is the most practical and beneficial way to help the people and the great city of New Orleans? What should be done with a below-sea-level isthmus of soggy, termite-ridden ground that lies between the Mississippi and a Gulf bay called Lake Pontchartrain? As was the case at 9/11 Ground Zero, this ravaged place deserves some pondering of alternatives.

First, let us admit that Hastert has a point. What made sense in 1718 is not true today. Glancing at geography, nobody in their right minds would build there right now, starting from scratch. We would not let them. And if we all do rebuild there, we will be committing our descendants to a hugely expensive ongoing war against groundwater, mildew, termites, and a river that has become the city’s worst enemy.

And yet... how can we not rebuild a city that was so grand and wonderful and fun...

...and where (one night) I was graciously handed the biggest darn Hugo Award in the history of science fiction. (More than a meter tall, it weighs half a ton. Well, kinda.)

So? Any suggestions what should be done?

I will start weighing in with a few unconventional possibilities. First with one that’s only a modest variation.

Suggestion #1: Use the same zone to rebuild a smaller/dispersed urban center.

Certain parts of NoLA can be restored as-was for historical cultural and tourist reasons. With new INTERNAL dike systems to protect what's rebuilt.

Some other areas can be raised, as they did with Galveston after a similar disaster.

But much could also be turned into low-lying parkland. As for the dispossessed, remake whole neighborhoods in more suitable areas above flood level. Do it well. Really well. So well that they’ll be happy, even if thousands no longer live in walking distance to Bourbon Street.

Discussion?

Next time, a suggestion that will be vastly more controversial.

26 comments:

Rob Perkins said...

Seattle did it by raising the streets, which resulted in a floodable underground city of sorts, still in use today. What differences between old-time Seattle and New Orleans exist that would make such a solution untenable, especially considering new building technologies?

Anonymous said...

Actually, the WorldChanging folks are already juggling ideas. It can't hurt to read what they're thinking and then riff on it:

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/003436.html

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/003425.html

Also, I highly recommend listening to Stewart Brand's lecture, "How Cities Learn."

http://longnow.chubbo.net/salt-apr02005-brand/salt-apr02005-brand.mp3

Related article:

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001616.html

* * *

Alas, the most likely thing that will happen is that the Bush Administration will give Halliburton a cost-plus contract to turn the place into a shrunken, culturally neutered, Soccer Mom safe tourist attraction / convention center surrounded by gated neighborhoods. Financed, of course, by the largesse of huge casinos.

But it can't hurt to dream.

Stefan

Ben Tilly said...

First I want to clear up a common misconception. While it is true that hurricanes are tied to warm water, it is not true that current hurricane activity is tied to global warming. Rather there is a cyclic trend in Atlantic hurricanes and we're headed for the upswing. In a quick search, this USA Today article was the first confirmation that I found of it.

Secondly I have a humble suggestion for what to do with New Orleans. One of the big problems here is that the Mississippi wants to change its main outlet. Why don't we let it do that? Rebuild the commercial city where the river wants to go, and rebuild a tourist city where New Orleans is now. It is helpful to this plan that the French Quarter has suffered less than the rest of the city.

Anonymous said...

"Rather there is a cyclic trend in Atlantic hurricanes and we're headed for the upswing."

You are indulging in a misconception of your own. Anthropogenic global warming and natural cycles are not mutually exclusive.

Global warming plus a natural upswing means drastically worse storms.

A much more sophisticated analysis of the hurricaine / global warming link can be found at:

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=181#more-181

Stefan

David Brin said...

Ben has pre-empted my Suggestion #2 stealing the surprise. Of course, anyone who has read EARTH....

Anonymous said...

Watching from the other side of the world

Dont rebuild it.

I mean everytime there is a disaster in poor countries - hurricanes, volcaoes earthquakes etc. the media are always asking why people lived in the place that was wiped out, and generaly concluding (in a rather patronising way that the people were too poor and "too ignorant" to see the danger).

well americans are not too poor and shouldnt be too ignorant to see the problem with building a city there.

So time to move on, there will never be a better time.

Anonymous said...

David

Still can't reach your web site, I'm sure that your ISP is blocking Chinese IP addresses as per this link from the register http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/08/31/blocking_chinese_ip_addresses/

from the other coorespondent it seems they are blocking korean IP addresses too.

This doesnt matter to some local site but you have a global audience

Silly Old Bear said...

Part of the reason this was so damaging and the evacuation so difficult is the density of the population in low-lying areas and the lack of transportation.

However, seeing oil prices at $70 a barrel and the corresponding gasoline prices, I can't see how the folks "living paycheck to paycheck" are going to suddenly buy cars and commute from a sprawled out suburb somewhere. They may be walking distance from bourbon street, but they are THE workforce for the tourist industry as well - without whom New Orleans would have never been what it was.

Rebuild the neighborhoods. Engineer real dykes and levees. Put in some real transportation that can be used if necessary to evacuate - with two days notice there's no reason you can't load everyone on a train or bus and get them to higher ground; and Gulf hurricanes usually give enough notice. Have a dedicated train car for their pets if you have to :)

Galveston raised their city, by dredging the Houston ship channel and pouring the sand over the island - but it never realized it's potential. It was no longer the most important port in Texas. I was reading an estimate yesterday that said a large Cat 4 or 5 storm like Katrina would have wiped the island clean, in spite of their efforts.

Okipunk said...

Much has been said about the disaster in the Gulf Coast. (NOT just Louisiana, this storm affected the entire region) So far no one has made the connection between individual choice and responsibility as it relates to storm preparedness and the tragic results of the Big Brother mentality that is shared by so many in the left.

How dare I criticize the victims of this horrific disaster? Easily. I will use an example from all the way across the world to illustrate my point: Okinawa.

The Island chain of Okinawa has well over a million people living on its various islands. Due to where they live on the Pacific Rim of Fire and the coriolis effect the people of Okinawa regularly see category 3, 4 and sometimes even 5 typhoons hit their islands.(typhoon=hurricaine, only difference is language) They never lose their houses and rarely have anyone hurt or injured. Why?

The Japanese government is not made of fools, that's why.

They tell their citizens that they must build their structures out of rebarred concrete or risk losing their home to storms. They do NOT have trailer homes they do NOT have cheap shoddy workmanship. As a result, their houses never fall down. Simple as that. People stay in their homes and are almost totally safe from the effects of even the most powerful storms. Most of the time they do not even lose power, so the real effect of a storm is often nothing more than a short vacation. As a matter of fact, this is the only real building codes in effect on Okinawa. Often you will see a house right next to a landfill or petroleum storage facility.

The people on Okinawa understand that if their house blows down and they did not build it to code, meaning rebarred concrete, then they take it as a loss. I have yet to see a house blow down over there. A window or tree taken out, even a car maybe. Never a house. Ever. The Okinawan houses are safe refuges to ride out the worst of any storm.

Compare and contrast with the way business was conducted in Louisiana and New Orleans. They emptied out floodplains to make way for new housing in order to increase their tax revenues. Then they said that the good people of the Gulf Coast did not have to use any special consideration for the fact that they live in a storm-ridden area and should take extra precautions to ensure that their building codes were up to snuff for the aftermath of a perfect storm. Result: downed houses, apartments, schools, sewage leaking up from shattered foundations, gas leaking up from destroyed houses and a million plus homeless "refugees". Most of which could have been avoided if they had taken the time to build in such a way that they would be able to resist the majority of these problems, or at least mitigate them.

When the inevitable happened and the storms came, the local government looked to Big Brother for assistance. Assistance that was often doled out with no questions asked in the form of federal insurance writeoffs, federal funds to keep the finger in the dike and federal dollars spent in the cleanup process. Time and again the houses blew down and the owners were compensated for their loss, no questions asked. Insurance companies were only too happy to insure these structures, knowing that the guvmint would happily fill their coffers in the name of "storm relief". Individual homeowners became complacent, knowing that Big Brother would make the hurt go away. Probably the same people who voted for the dramatically incopetent Democratic Govenor in Louisiana and Mayor of New Orleans, but I digress.

Now we see that the party is over. There should be one more round of assistance from the government with the knowledge that there will be no more bailouts in the future. That is, unless they can pay the extra money to construct their homes out of materials that will not blow away in the wind Remember, these are federal dollars here, meaning money out of all of our pockets. Someone needs to get the courage to say: "Enough!" Here is the PeterRants Plan for Hurricaine Rebuilding©:

- Require that all rebuilt structures in the at-risk areas are built to a code that ensures the buildings are strong enough to resist a category 5 storm in the future. If people do not want to spend the extra money, then let it be clear that they build at their own risk.

- Require that all insurance payouts in the future are only given to people who built stronger than a mobile home, or even a standard home. If the insurance companies wish to cover homeowners who do not agree to these rules, then let them take the loss out of their own pockets instead of federal bailouts.

If this is actually done, I think that everyone would see how quickly this would be a self-correcting problem.

People all over the world have much to teach us, if we could only see what works in other places...and what does not work.

I do not think that it is possible to leave politics entirely aside in any discussion of how to rebuild New Orleans, because politics is involved with the payment of funds for anything. How long do you think it will take for some bright boy to whine that their district is not getting enough of the federal swag because of the race/age/sex/sexual orientation/income level/(insert political focus here)

I do wish that there would be a moratorium on all political bomb throwing until after the bodies have been collected. Clearly, there is much blame to go around and not all of it is confined to the federal level. Individual, local, state and federal choices all resulted in a perfect storm of misery for the people of the Gulf Coast.

And let me just say this: while it is true that our response to this disaster may have been somewhat degraded because of our efforts elsewhere, it is also true that our military is stepping up to the plate. I do not know many people in uniform who would turn down the opportunity to help out ina crisis like this.

Man proposes, God disposes.

Nate said...

@ blandland

I think taht's the first time I've seen someone decrying the "Big Brother mentality that is shared by so many on the Left" as a justification for more regulations. Usually, things like building codes are presented as impositions that are keeping the free market from functioning.

But honestly, I don't quite see the point of your argument. I don't have any problem with requiring higher building codes, but. I don't quite see how you consider that "Criticizing the victims". You repeatedly mention trailers and mobile homes. Stricter building codes really wouldn't do anything about them. People buy trailers because they're too poor to afford a better house. Trailers are many times cheaper. Many of the worst-affected people in this disaster are also the poorest, who wouldn't have the money to build a house out of rebar and concrete. And most of them didn't even build the houses, anyway. The houses are usually built by developers and then sold off. Or were built long before the current residents moved in.

If we want to reduce the number of trailers, which I think would be a good idea, then something else needs to be provided. Something they can afford. And no, moving isn't always, or even usually an option, either.

Cities are not simple, though. Claiming that the people in a city that's existed for 200 years should have "taken the time to build in such a way that they would be able to resist the majority of these problems..." Yes, they should have. But those same regulations that would have required that would have been (and often were) fought tooth and nail by people railing about "Big Brother Government" and claiming it'd cost too much. Which is true in some cases, where is a poor family in a 30 year old house supposed to dig up the money to refit their house to withstand a Category 5 hurricane?

"I do wish that there would be a moratorium on all political bomb throwing until after the bodies have been collected."

"Probably the same people who voted for the dramatically incopetent Democratic Govenor in Louisiana and Mayor of New Orleans, but I digress."

As a note, the mayor of NOLA was a Republican until about three days before running for election.


Snark aside, it seems like you're trying to have it both ways. You're blaming people for their "individual choices" not to build houses to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, then blaming the government for not requiring them to build to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, and bashing the government for being Big Brother. These seem slightly at odds. Especially considering that most people condemming "Big Brother Government" tend to include building codes and similar regulations in their condemnations.

Ron Franscell said...

from http://underthenews.blogspot.com ...

In 1900, when a monster hurricane nearly wiped out Galveston, Texas, the citizenry ultimately responded by literally raising the level of the city and rebuilding. Think about that ... 1900 ... 6,000 to 8,000 dead ... a city (and many buildings) raised up to 17 feet higher ... no FEMA nor any other significant federal intervention ... no helicopters ... no cable news.

In a two-day, unscientific online poll this week, more than one-third of 518 of my newspaper's readers believed rebuilding New Orleans would be too dangerous and costly.

While two-thirds said the city should be rebuilt in some fashion, three-quarters of those (47 percent of all our poll-takers) liked the idea only if the city were situated at a higher elevation.

Only 19 percent — fewer than one in five — believed New Orleans should be re-created exactly as it was.

Is it possible? Technically yes. Would it be difficult? Hell, yeah. Is it the right solution? Who knows. One amazingly indignant Florida reader has already castigated us for being so stupid as to suggest a city's elevation could be raised to protect it (more or less) from future hurricanes, but Galveston has already proven it's not impossible. Perhaps our major handicap today is our impatient insistence on fast-food solutions that can be FedEx'd. It's a damn good thing contemporary Americans didn't choose to build the Great Wall ... it might have become the Biggest Wall We Could Build in a 40-Hour Week.

Anonymous said...

"I do wish that there would be a moratorium on all political bomb throwing until after the bodies have been collected. "

No. Sorry. That won't be happening. If we're all polite and reverent the Bush administration will try to sweep this under the rug with a bogus investigation. Their spin machine is already in high gear, churning out talking points for their patsies in the press to regurgitate.

So: Comfort the afflicted; afflict the comfortable.

Remember the story by the paramedic-convention attendees?

They claimed that they and others tried to flee the city and were turned back by armed sheriffs. Sounded kind of paranoid and exaggerated, right? Who would prevent people trying to flee a horrific disaster area?

It was not a myth:

http://www.washtimes.com/upi/20050908-112433-4907r.htm

Racist Son Of A Bitch Chief of Police: "If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."

Stefan

David Brin said...

Wow... you guys sure wrote a lot.

Here are two additional items.

From Peter Merkle of Sandia Labs:

Please consider the long-term implications of the disaster for human habitability in two respects:

1. the water, future soil, and air quality in the New Orleans vicinity as affected by the pumping to drain the city

2. the solid waste and marine debris disposal issue along hundreds of miles of the Gulf Coast

My question: Recognizing the near-term impracticability of engineered treatment plant construction, what unprecedented and unusual large-scale and "open system" opportunities do we have now that must be seized to improve long-term environmental quality prospects for human habitation?

Examples for water quality: what are effects and benefits of distributing water treatment coagulants of some kind throughout New Orleans flooded areas, injecting coagulant at the pumping stations into Lake Ponchartrain, large-scale addition of water interface chemical to reduce aerosolization and bacterial film deposition upon drainage, establishing phytoremediation in the Lake? Water quality modeling of the current situation is indicated, as is understanding what can be expected as water levels fall.

Examples for solid waste: begin planning now for large-scale recycling and materials recovery plants located along rail lines of Gulf Coast. The economic value of metals and wood/fiber that could be recovered is significant. Landfilling is easiest but at a certain scale, does intensive raw material recovery become worthwhile, especially for metals and wood products? Others: screens for debris in water courses to prevent marine debris pollution, site and plan very large organic-rich landfills for gas production (taking advantage of gas pipeline infrastructure).

--

From the Philanthropy discussion group:

Apparently, the Center for Disease Control wants to drop BLEACH on the flood waters of Louisiana to prevent disease. Whole Foods has volunteered to pay for and deliver the natural agent - EM - for an ecologically safe and tested way to purify the flood waters.

”We are getting very close to applying "Effective Microorganisms" (EM) to the disaster site in New Orleans. Jon Mackey, founder of Whole Foods, is willing to purchase all of the stocks of EM from the production plant in Tucson, about 25 tons, and ship it to the New Orleans Disaster Relief. Once there, each gallon of EM can be activated 2000 times from its original quantity, which would total 50,000 tons. The final hurdle is in getting the authorization to begin applying it. EM was used extensively throughout the Tsunami Wave Disaster. The World Health Organization had originally warned that more deaths would occur from the spread of pathogen diseases than occurred from the Tsunami Waves, which was over 150,000 deaths. The deaths from the pathogen diseases never happened. The death rate was actually lower after the disaster than before. EM saved tens of thousands of lives. EM was also used by the German government after the flood disasters a couple of years ago that resulted in over $20 Billion in damage. Also, EM has been successful in cleaning up the inland seas of Japan.”

Anonymous said...

RE Peter's point about building standards: If you ignore a lot of externalities, this makes perfect sense.

The big problem is affordability. It costs a lot to build a sturdy building.

Say all you want about personal choice and responsibility; a lot of people simply can't afford to live in anything other than a mobile home. You can't get around that with a snort and a scoff and an eye roll.

Now, an interesting engineering problem would be to make cheap housing that CAN survive a category 5 storm. I'm not a Buckminster-Fuller groupie, but some of his designs for pre-fab homes might warrant a second look. He suggested using aircraft technology to make sturdy, efficient homes.

Stefan

Eric said...

Snark aside, it seems like you're trying to have it both ways. You're blaming people for their "individual choices" not to build houses to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, then blaming the government for not requiring them to build to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, and bashing the government for being Big Brother. These seem slightly at odds.

Maybe it's just my biases as well, but that seems quite reasonable to me-- it's the people's fault for building inadequate housing, and it's the government's fault for encouraging them to do so by continuing to offer them money to rebuild the very same inadequate structures that just failed.

And the proposed regulations, as I read them, were not mandatory-- you could legally build a structure without them, but if your home weren't done to code, then you got no disaster relief money.
That's the sort of incentive-based program that I think the government can do reasonably well. It allows the market to bypass the regulations, but it also makes clear what the cost of doing so is.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Paging R. Lodovic Trema... maybe we should, you know, ask the residents of New Orleans before completely re-engineering their city for them?

Some statements can be made unequivocally:

* Currently dry portions of New Orleans will not be 'dozed.

* The population that returns to New Orleans will not be identical to the population that departed.

* Essential economic issues must still be maintained; i.e., the Port of New Orleans must operate, the oil refineries must continue to function, etc.

* Ecological issues regarding the wetlands must be dealt with.

The amount to which the city must be changed is not at all clear. One idea, for instance, is to segregate the city along the already-extant corridors of freeways. The areas under freeways are often decrepit and undesirable. Why not build levees at I-10, I-610, etc., with closeable doors at underpasses? It would minimally impact the city's connections (neighborhoods are already cut off by the interstate) while massively improving the city's ability to bar floodwaters from districts (because a levee break in, say, Lakeview would not necessarily submerge Carrolton).

This idea had been floated pre-Katrina for walling off the French Quarter, but really such protection should be extended as well to less vulnerable parts of the city. After all, as we have seen, the French Quarter is one of the highest points in the city.

It should also be noted that not everyone who left New Orleans is coming back, so the rebuilt city may have a lower population.

Okipunk said...

Well said Eric, you put it very plainly.

How many times have you and I paid for the same buildings to be constructed over and over and over and over? Sure it is expensive to have safer buildings. But the alternative is much more expensive. We just got an interactive lesson in that.

BTW, Okinawa is the poorest prefecture in Japan but that does not stop them from seeing reality. It is a reality that some Americans share: you live in a hurricaine/tornado/floodzone. IF you don't want your house to fall over, then build it in such a way that it can withstand the slings and arrows of your environment. I am not suggesting that we tear down every structure that now stands, but rather we ensure that the money we spend on future building does not get wasted as it has before.

If you want to live in a regular (meaning normal home built for Washington or Nevada, areas not prone to huge storms) on the edge of the Gulf Coast, fine. Just don't expect the rest of us to want to pay to put another home of the same indadequate type in the same damn spot. Why should I pay for other's foolishness?

Okipunk said...

Fine by me, but why is it that people expect and demand that Big Brother dollars should always come with no strings attached? Of course New Orleaneans (hope I said that right) and the rest of the Gulf Coast (let's not lose track of the fact that this is a disaster that affects an area the size of England here) should have a say in how their city is rebuilt.

But shouldn't the rest of us across the country, who will foot the $200,000,000,000+ expected price tag have some say as well?

Housing is one thing, but drainage is entirely another. How can we ensure that there will not be another series of floods? Elevating the terrain? Building better dikes? Making a series of canals to carry floodwater away?

David Brin also makes another interesting proposal: we now have the opportunity to create a well-planned community that works in harmony with, rather than fights against, the geography around it.

Any ideas?

Silly Old Bear said...

One quick comment about building codes --

for the most part, the structures in New Orleans and surrounding parishes weathered the storm well. Sure there were some roofs and signs and trees that were damaged, but look at 99% of the photos and you'll see these "substandard" houses standing straight and tall. In several feet of water, in many cases. The central business district and french quarter (oldest structures, in general) are fine except for broken glass, signs, and some roofs.

What needs upgrading in NO, is electrical systems and pumps and dikes. The houses are the cheap part of the equation.

In Mississippi, I recall about twenty years ago spending a week one summer in a house in Waveland that was well over 100 years old. It had seen many storms, the owner sat through Camille in it (the gulf coast's "old" standard for a bad storm). It's just a foundation now.

120 years ago they didn't have steel-reinforced concrete; perhaps if they rebuild the town of Waveland they can take some of that engineering advice. Or they can do what millions of people do and roll the dice and hope mother nature waits another 100 years or so to send a Cat 5 storm their way, and let somebody else deal with it then.

Anonymous said...

"a well-planned community that works in harmony with, rather than fights against, the geography around it."

This sounds like the original definition of an arcology.

The word got hijacked but -- sorry, I have to be blunt -- clueless SF authors who pictured giant, self-contained megastructures. Where, as explained by authors diverse as Niven and Gibson, the corporate elite would hide from the grubby, violent underclass.

Let's hijack the idea back. Take it away from both the dippy flakes who originated the idea (but were too impractical to pull it off) and paranoids who want to build castles where they can hide from their society's mistakes.

Real arcologies would differ radically in design depending on their situation. One thing would be certain: They sure as hell wouldn't resemble tidy modern suburbs. A New Orleans arcology might involve floating homes nestled in a bayou, or streamlined skyscrapers on stilts.

"The houses are the cheap part of the equation."

I agree that infrastructure survivability is a big issue. But even if they survive storms OK, modern houses built from wood frames and sheetrock just plain suck at weathering floods.

This plugs into Peter's point about bulding standards. Should being eligible for flood insurance require you to have a house whose inside walls don't turn into a mound of moldy rubble?

Stefan

Silly Old Bear said...

Good point about the sheetrock; I guess whether or not it's worth upgrading would hinge on how often and how severe the floods are. It seem in the Katrina case, the storm didn't flood the area immediately (at least not all of it) but when the levee failed the bowl filled up. In other words, if they had a bigger/faster/stronger levee, the home construction should have been sufficient.

But I'm playing the "what if" game a little too harshly, truly - with what we know about engineering and construction now, compared to when most of the area was built, you would think we could do a better job (and should in fact insist that standards are higher)

Xponent said...

As has been noted there has been some conflation of the wind damage as typified in places such as Mississippi and the flood disaster in New Orleans and surrounding areas.

I also note that not a single levee failed in New Orleans. The flooding was caused by floodwalls on canal banks failing. There is a significant difference between a floodwall and a levee. You can drive your car up on a levee and many have roads built atop them. A floodwall is a simple concrete wall normally about 2 feet thick.

http://www.monolithicdome.com is an example of a type of building that will easily withstand 200MPH winds, but flooding will do a lot of damage to one in any case.

You are pretty much stuck with sheetrock/drywall as a building material. There really isn't much out there that stands a chance of replacing drywall because drywall is fairly inexpensive and very versatile.

There are always steel studs that could replace wood frame walls, but that is cost prohibitive.

The problem of affordable housing is still with us and although I agree with most of you that building standards need to be raised to withstand regional conditions (to the extent suggested in some of your posts) I don't see this happening in the current public opinion climate if it means that only the affluent will be able to afford *safe* housing. [Snap} The affluent can already afford *safe* housing. The problem is a problem to a great degree only for the working class and the poor.

So.....in order to reduce costs from disasters down the road, it may be *required* that we subsidize the rebuilding with stronger codes and materials now.

rob

Gilmoure said...

In south Florida, after Andrew, the building codes for the entire state went up. Part of that was government regulation and part was insurance. You couldn't get it without meeting new standards.

With N.O., flooding is the problem and that is due to poor civic planning. A lot of the low lying areas should likely be returned to wetlands, as a buffer for flooding and housing should take place on high ground, whether natural or artificial. Still, that costs money and who knows how well it will be spent.

Rob Perkins said...

The thing about gypsum wallboard (sheetrock is actually a brand name, I've been told) is that while it just stinks when floodwaters rise, done right it's an almost perfect fire break. And fires are still more common than floods.

We keep going the way we're going, and steel frame houses will be much less expensive than wood. Wood is still better for small structures, IMO.

Over in Europe (Switzerland) I noticed they built most everything out of stone products, possibly another way to get both structural integrity and fire retardant properties, but stone is *very* porous, except in

Another thought about raising the city occurs to me: We can't just raze and bury; the ground is too toxic, and the site would just become an instant Superfund scale problem as the toxins there now leech through the soils. It probably already is that kind of problem...

Maybe the best answer is to *flush* the area, pouring clean water in until the toxins are so diluted... but even that just sends them to a different area. We'd have to analyze whether or not life sustaining ecosystems would be destroyed by such a thing.

Gadzooks, this problem is huge!

Rob Perkins said...

Unfinished thought...

Building grade stone is very porous, leaving places for molds and mildews to really build up. Probably not a problem in most of Switzerland, but down in the bayou, wood's your stuff. Or steel.

Anonymous said...

Out here in southern china reinforced concrete is your building material of choice even for houses: Typhoon proof (ish) and copes with the humidity