Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Big Sleazy

What did this Simpsons clip have to do with the post? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Well, other than the fact that people in New Orleans have no respect for law and order. The Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal site has a great article today about the recovery of New Orleans. I remember the first stories after at least part of the city was cleaned up about how crime had plummeted to rates not seen since Le Moyne founded it. Unfortunately with the return of actual people to the city, crime has seen a corresponding jump. From the article:
In fact, since Katrina, New Orleans's murder rate has been higher than that of any First World city. Depending on fluctuating estimates of the city's returning population, it's perhaps 40% higher than before Katrina and twice as high as the rate in other dangerous cities like Detroit, Newark and Washington.

That's never a good sign. The first rule of thumb in a city is that you have to have law and order. Otherwise, you're going to end up with a broken city. Mayor Nagin, in all his wisdom, isn't bothering to go to the Giuliani/Bratton school of "prosecute and punish," but instead he's from the Ted Bundy school of "crime keeps the New Orleans brand out there." I don't know about you, but I know that the first thing I think about when I choose where to go on a vacation is crime. I want it to be as dangerous a place as possible, which is why my top 3 vacation destinations are Johannesburg, South Africa; Cali, Columbia; and Rio de Janerio, Brazil. Hopefully I could have a layover in St. Louis or Detroit on my way there.
What is Mayor Nagin thinking? The guy is about the least competent mayor on the planet and he refuses to make the tough decisions. Instead of plotting a future for his city, he's busy trying to convince tourists that dangerous is safe and kowtowing to local citizens who live in areas of the city that are so far below sea level that if they see a cloud in the sky they're under 3 feet of water. It's time to put on my mayor hat and list my plan for New Orleans, in all it's never-to-be-implemented glory.
My first duty would be to hire Howard Safir (NYPD Commissioner after Bratton) to run the department. Bratton's cleaning up Los Angeles, so I wouldn't want to take him away from there. I'd let him do his job and stay out of his hair. I would hope that it would include things like nailing people for quality of life crimes, ridding the department of it's complacency, and establishing a real presence in the city. My second order of business would be to destroy the levees. Oh there would be some that I would keep up, but most of the current outline of the city I would raze all together. Based on it's position along the Mississippi, it was never meant to grow to its current level. The reclaimed land that the levees protect is sinking and the original area of the city is the only somewhat safe area to live in. As a result, I would pull New Orleans back to its original footprint, perhaps levee that bad boy, bulldoze every building that's not in that footprint, and let Lake Ponchartrain do the rest. It'd be cheaper to pay full market value for the area underwater than it would be to strengthen the levee system enough for it to actually protect people with the conditions they face. The effects of this would be severalfold. One, the city would be much easier to police. That would reduce crime by a significant amount. Two, the city would lose a lot of population. Play on that - because of the scarcity of land, and you could keep it scarce, then that would increase property values and bring in development of projects that could help the city to regain some of that population. Think of it as a Manhattan of the south. The skyscrapers couldn't be as big, but you better believe that you could get some significant growth by building up instead of out. Three, you'd lose the New Orleans Hornets and quite possibly the Saints. Not a big deal. Sure, they love their football and not as much their basketball, but that shouldn't be a reason to keep the city bigger than nature intended. Four, people would be safe. During Katrina, the water didn't reach into the Garden District or French Quarter for good reason - they're above sea level. You wouldn't see scenes like we saw in New Orleans again.
Why would people be opposed to this plan? They lose their homes, it's seen as a retreat in the face of nature, and it diminishes the importance of their hometown. All of these are valid and would have to be worked on, but at the same time who cares if we retreat before nature. We've retreated from the Viet Cong, Hezbollah, the Japanese, Nazi Germany, and countless other foes. In some instances we've come back to win, in others we haven't. That doesn't necessarily mean that it was the wrong choice. Nature is far more powerful than any of those other opponents and if we decide to give it the middle finger, don't be surprised when it runs over your car with its 18 wheeler of Darwin's Theory. Respect nature and it won't have as big a problem with you. Of course, it's all moot at this point because the abandon New Orleans plan has already been shot down, but if the powers that be in Louisiana were smart, they'd reverse that decision before a Hurricane Dean or Camille comes in and makes Katrina look like a clear sky.
By the way, take a look at National Geographic's article about New Orleans from their current issue. It's very enlightening.

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