In another week, I’ll be visiting New Orleans for the third time. Last night I watched The Big Uneasy (2010), a documentary about the reprehensible tragedy that befell the city when Katrina hit in 2005. It covers the willful incompetence of the Army Corp of Engineers going back to the 1950s, their vindictive opposition to post-Katrina investigations, and some of the shameful public attitudes about New Orleans and its protection & restoration post-Katrina. I’d like to say something about those attitudes.
One of the things people ask about places like Katrina is, “why do people live in a place like that? If you do, why should other people pay to protect you, or rescue you after something happens?” Which, fair enough. These are reasonable questions.
There are great justifications for protecting a city like New Orleans. Not just its history and culture, but its economic importance. As mentioned in the film, most great port cities are at water risk of various kinds, since they have to be at or below sea level in order to function.
But here’s the thing. All of that boils down to two questions:
- should we protect New Orleans?
- should we help it recover after a disaster?
And the problem is this: those questions have already been answered. The decisions were Yes, and Yes. But the follow-through was lacking. The infrastructure was shit. The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet plan was shit. People have known these projects were shit since before they began. But no one with any power cares. And it seems like things are continuing the same as before.
And that’s the problem: no one with any power has any courage behind their convictions.
If you think New Orleans doesn’t deserve protection or recovery, have the courage to just say so. Have the courage to say, “Sorry, we’re not fixing things. You gotta move.”
Because the alternative, smiling and nodding and promising fixes that don’t do the job because your heart isn’t really in it — that causes immeasurable death and destruction.
But … well, being mediocre is kinda just what works for everyone who matters, so there you go.