Anna Hartnell from Guardian had an interesting and thought provoking post published on August 29th over on the Guardian’s web site. The article, titled “New Orleans’s green dilemma” discusses, in the author’s words, why “Four years after Hurricane Katrina, residents are struggling to balance the costs and benefits of how they rebuild the city”…
In those four years since Hurrican Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, residents still struggle to get their life back on track. In the midst of all the destruction, poverty and reminders of horrible times – there remains hope and a determination to get back on their feet again.
There are a couple of organizations who are looking to assist New Orleans with rebuilding the city with greener, more sustainable building. Anna Hartnell writes more about these organizations:
[...] it’s not surprising that the reconstruction is being driven by strong environmental considerations. But after numerous delays, and with many of the poor and predominantly African American population still homeless, one gets the troubling sense that those who lost most to the storm may now be becoming pawns in a green agenda.
Global Green, an organization that teamed up with Brad Pitt, is piloting a “green community” in the Holy Cross area of the Lower Ninth Ward, home to some of the city’s poorest inhabitants. They say that if 50,000 homes destroyed by Katrina were rebuilt to their standards, over half a million tonnes of CO2 would be eliminated from the atmosphere – the equivalent, they claim, of taking 100,000 cars off the road. New Orleans residents would save $38m to $56m every year. It’s hard not to agree with this agenda in principle. A city built below sea level would be stupid not to be persuaded by the idea of carbon-neutral living, which its green homes will showcase to the rest of the US and the wider world.
But the problem with these technologically sophisticated green homes is that in the short term they are very expensive: organisations like Global Green and its offshoot, Make It Right, have been able to subsidise those homes built with private money. But massive subsidies would be needed if the entire city were to be rebuilt on this model. And of even greater concern for residents, these homes also take time: Global Green were on the ground in New Orleans in September 2005, and their first model green home – now open to visitors – wasn’t completed until April 2008.
And time is not on the side of those who wish to reclaim their homes in New Orleans. This was made abundantly clear shortly after Katrina when Mayor Ray Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission proposed converting large swaths of the city’s flood-prone areas – including the Lower Ninth – into green spaces. The response of the city’s scattered residents – evacuated to far-flung places all over the US – was to return to pitch tents on the sites of their former homes, and to make themselves human barriers to the bulldozers poised to tear down their neighbourhoods.
Subsidizing rebuilding costs with private money is a realistic option in poverty stricken regions, although in tough economic times one can only wonder if the timing for such a plan is the best option. The larger question at hand though, and the one we’d like to hear our readers respond and comment on, is a question best framed by another comment from the author of the Guardian’s post:
[...] it also presents a real dilemma. For it is a vision that sits uneasily in the context of impoverished communities who have been made to pay many times over for the consequences of the exploitation of the earth’s natural resources, and which may well pay again for the privilege of becoming a national example of sustainable living. In this sense New Orleans can be seen as a microcosm of the global story about climate change, in which developing nations continue to carry the burden of western affluence.
Is a green and sustainable rebuild of New Orleans possible? Realistic? Wanted? Or, are the efforts of the organizations eager to try this simply using Western ideals blended with an opportunity to make use of an immediate example on US soil? Are Western thoughts a burden for cities like New Orleans and those outside of the States?