What to rebuild?

What, exactly, in New Orleans is worth saving, and how do we save it? Steve Teles has some thoughts.

Steve Teles writes:

It clearly doesn’t make sense to rebuild New Orleans on anything like the scale that it was before the storm.

My preference would be to use the areas of significant standing water as the basic guide for rebuilding–anywhere that’s still wet is unlikely to be worth investing resources in, and we ought to think about something creative to do with all that area (is it impossible simply to build a fence around it and return it to what it originally was, swamp-land?).

Doing so would certainly leave the oldest, and most tourist-attractive parts of the city, which happened (not accidentally) to be the places that were the furthest above sea level. The Quarter and the Garden District were the only places most tourists ever saw, and they can be returned to roughly what they were without a crippling amount of public money. I think this would be money worth spending.

Second, there’s still a fair amount of infrastructure around the oil and shipping industries in New Orleans. It’s also not unimaginable that those industries could be rebuilt, thereby providing a base of jobs for whatever working-class people want to come back to the city. With tourism and these industries, my guess is New Orleans could economically sustain the drastically shrunken population base and housing stock that would remain.

At the same time, the city government should, more or less, be put into receivership. It goes without saying that New Orleans had quite possibly the worst local government in the US. This is one case of a city that could do with a medium-term suspension of democracy and Singapore-style governance, until new, more competent forms of government are sufficiently well-rooted that they have developed a supportive coalition that will ensure that they will not be wholly clawed back once politics as normal resumes.

In essence, I think “should we rebuild New Orleans” is the wrong question. The questions are: a) WHAT should we rebuild, and what should we do with what we aren’t rebuilding and; b) What do we do with everyone who left? My preference would be to give everyone who was there a flat amount of money, divided roughly equally between cash and a “development account” that could be used for education, training, purchase of a home, starting a small business, etc. And this money should be given up front, lump sum, and with no commitment to come back to the city.

(I offer some comments in the post above –MK)

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com