Monday, September 19, 2005

Blueprint for New Orleans' Future - A Public-Private Project

Blueprint for New Orleans’ Future – A Public-Private Project
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
September 19, 2005

The sounds of Louis Armstrong and Pete Fountain may remain faint whispers in the recesses of our memories for quite some time to come – translation: several years before it is truly safe to reinhabit the Crescent City. The same is true of the Green Wave welcoming fans back to the Tulane campus or the Saints kicking off in the Superdome any time soon.

For Mayor Ray Nagin to begin a “reentry” process based upon zip codes representing land areas not as severely affected by Hurricane Katrina is tremendously shortsighted. He had to retract that invitation to his city’s residents in light of the pending onslaught of Hurricane Rita. Rita or no Rita, Nagin had no business suggesting that people return to New Orleans just based upon EPA and FEMA reports.

The rebuilding process will not be completed overnight – nor should it be – if it is to be done properly. The old adage “haste makes waste,” is quite apt in this circumstance. A deliberate step-by-step plan must be implemented in order to not only salvage this once vibrant city, but improve both the city and its surrounding suburbs for a better future and a longer lasting levee system. Parenthetically, when it comes to blame, which will be levied, no pun intended, later, let’s start with the fact that the levees, for the past half century, have been substandard – only prepared to handle a Category Three hurricane and not the monstrous storm that ravaged the Gulf Coast.

Before a rebuilding effort can commence a solid foundation must be created – a challenge in itself noting the city was built below sea level. This foundation must not be built atop sludge, feces and other life-threatening contaminants. All debris and disease-inducing agents must be eradicated beyond the standards of FEMA, the EPA and the CDC. Experts should be on the scene to determine how many layers need to be exfoliated from the land to make it appropriate for building.

However, even before one brick is laid, even before one wheelbarrow of cement is mixed, engineers and city planners must be imported to evaluate where rebuilding makes the most sense. Some portions of the Greater New Orleans area may require razing before rebuilding can occur. That is for the experts to decide – preferably non-governmental experts. This may mean building in a smaller portion of the previous incarnation of New Orleans. Better safe than stupid. Infrastructure such as roads, bridges and levees need to be rebuilt, reinforced and strengthened to specifications that will withstand a Category Five hurricane. Call it an investment.

Where there’s any decent investment, there is a return. In this case, this would be a more than decent investment that will no doubt yield more than just a decent return. And this investment includes schools. Schools should be the center of new communities along with hospitals and houses of worship. These buildings should be rebuilt or reinforced so that they may serve as beacons to communities that will only grow stronger.

Donald Trump, Habitat for Humanity and other home building organizations along with businesses such as The Home Depot, Pulte Homes, Lowes and DR Horton, to name a few, should work together to begin rebuilding New Orleans. Of course this will have to wait until after Hurricane Rita is done dancing through the Crescent City. Tax incentives should be offered to corporations who step up to the plate and pitch in, to mix a metaphor.

Federal involvement should not be in the form of hand outs. It took guts for 11 Republican Congressmen to vote against the latest financial aid package. These are not scrooge-like people who do not understand the plight of the Gulf Coast residents. No, instead they are fiscally responsible elected officials who do not believe in issuing a pseudo blank check. While the legislation that passed overwhelmingly in the House did have a dollar amount on the bottom line, none of the other lines on the bill specified how that money would be spent. What is the breakdown of the funding? With the history of corruption that has plagued Louisiana for more than a century, turning over these finances unwatched and unsupervised is much akin to offering free chocolate chip cookies at a Weight Watchers meeting. President Bush needs to do more than send a handful of paper-pushing bureaucrats to oversee this operation.

The federal government, in addition to offering tax incentives to corporate rebuilders, should be offering low interest mortgages to citizens who will return to New Orleans and its surrounding suburbs. Enterprise zones should be forged, a la Jack Kemp, former HUD Secretary under President Reagan. This lends itself well to the concept of home ownership and personal responsibility, a la the late Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.

With homes being built around schools and houses of worship, a business atmosphere will be forged. Supermarkets and other businesses will be built in these newly created enterprise zones.

Thanks to LBJ, the War on Poverty has been lost. His continual priming of the pump aided and abetted the enemy in this war that, thanks to Katrina, became as evident as the high rising flood waters. Handouts clearly failed. It’s time to try a hand up via the enterprise zone concept.

Houston, We Have A Hero

Praise and thanks must be showered upon Houston, TX and every other city, town and hamlet that has offered housing and schools to the thousands of displaced citizens. Not enough can be said for those who opened their hearts, homes, wallets, churches, synagogues and schools to help out in this time of need.

However, extreme circumstances do tend to not only bring out the best in people, but also the very worst. There are opportunists out there wearing clean suits and ties as well as dirty t-shirts who must be exorcized in the worst way, for they have behaved in the worst way.

Hurricanes and flooding are not invitations for looting, rape and murder. When government officials advised people to flee New Orleans, many of those who stubbornly stayed behind did so to commit heinous acts. With no electricity, what was the purpose of stealing a television? Many innocent people who were unable to escape the storm faced another storm while seeking refuge in the convention center and the Superdome. That storm took the form of crime. These were people of the least common denominator who took it upon themselves to commit illegal acts.

People do not commit crime because they are poor. There are far too many people who are poor in this the richest nation in the world. But they are not using their poverty as an excuse to loot, rob, rape and murder. Ignorance and lack of education are the primary reasons people commit crimes. Katrina has shed a light on the impoverishment of our educational system in the United States – not just in the big cities, but nationwide.

This is not about an endorsement of or indictment against No Child Left Behind. That is for another day and another column. No, this is about the necessity for a strengthened educational system with greater support offered by school administrations, stronger discipline, an end to social promotion and personal responsibility by students and parents alike.

As for those wearing clean suits claiming to represent fictitious charities, they are no better than those who loot, rob, rape and murder. In some cases they are worse as they erode the faith of good people who are trying to make a difference, but instead have fallen prey to such charlatans. They should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law alongside those in the dirty t-shirts who have committed their acts of violence and mayhem.

The Blame Game

As the blame game continues, where are America’s so-called black leaders? Did either Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton take to the airwaves to call for calm in New Orleans or to reassure the stranded in the Crescent City that help was forthcoming? Did either Jackson or Sharpton preach non-violence while snipers attempted to kill helicopter pilots and medical workers from bringing aid and assistance to the suffering throngs in New Orleans? Did either Jackson or Sharpton appear on talk radio or the television news channels to demand that people not loot, rob, rape or murder? Rhetorically, no, to all of the above questions.

Instead, Jackson, Sharpton and others took to the bully pulpit to blame President Bush for not reacting fast enough and in some cases accused him of racism and leaving black citizens to suffer almost certain deaths. Tell both of the President’s Secretaries of State – General Colin Powell in the first term and the current SOS Condoleezza Rice as well as the current HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson that this commander in chief is racist. Remind people that black homeownership is up during the Bush administration as compared to his predecessor, Bill Clinton who was revered in the black community.

Those facts are not newsworthy because they do not fit the mold of the blame game. Blame should start with those administrators who more than a half century ago decided that levees with the strength to combat a Category Three hurricane would suffice. Then fast forward to 2005.

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, LA, Biloxi, MS and other surrounding areas. This was not an attack or assault by an armed enemy, but instead a natural disaster. And those who suggested that the money spent on the current conflict in Iraq is the reason New Orleans relief did not occur fast enough are simply misinformed.

Mayor Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco had the responsibility to ask for federal assistance. It is not the job of the federal government to impose itself upon the states. Their lack of leadership could be felt immediately, they were not held as accountable for their local problem as the president who is obligated to all Americans in 50 states.

Once the federal government began to play a role in this natural disaster, the National Guard should have been dispatched 10-fold by comparison to those actually deployed. Food and water, meanwhile, could only be provided as fast as people could get it where it was needed while fighting disease-filled, feces-filled rising flood waters.

New Orleans should be rebuilt, albeit a smaller, safer version. Those who have sought shelter elsewhere who have nothing to return to should consider rebuilding their lives in those new safer havens. Those who do return should do so with the attitude that their hard work will be the bellwether for a stronger, safer future in a stronger, safer city, not with a handout, but with a hand up.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.