A vision for a new New Orleans

A new vision for New Orleans and the Mississippi delta: applying ecological economics and ecological engineering. Robert Costanza, William J. Mitsch, and John W. Day, Jr . Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, November 2006

Katrina was a predictable major disaster. More than a year after the fact, New Orleans is still struggling. But the situation also represents a major opportunity to think differently about what urban areas can or should be. Our paper discusses the broad natural and human system context of the Katrina disaster and tries to envision how a city like New Orleans might fit more harmoniously into its natural environment while at the same time providing an improved quality of life for all its residents. A really new New Orleans might also be an important model for many other urban areas around the world. We have obviously only scratched the surface on these issues, and one of our goals in writing the paper was to encourage people to think more creatively about the options for rebuilding New Orleans. As a starting point, we identified 7 principles for making New Orleans sustainable. But working out the details and implementing these ideas is going to take significant and sustained participation from a broad range of stakeholders, including the ecological science and design communities. We need to develop a more integrated, ecological approach to economics, engineering, and design in order to rebuild New Orleans as a sustainable and desirable city of the future.This blog is an opportunity to continue that discussion and build the new vision. In addition, here are some nagging questions about other issues we need to address in order to move forward:

  • We live in an “argument culture.” How do we actually achieve the level of participation and cooperation that will be necessary to achieve this vision? Can the web play a significant role in enhancing participation?
  • Unfortunately, government policies often seem to respond more to private interests than the public good. Louisiana in particular has a long and sordid history of political corruption. How do we rebuild a civil society (social capital) that can better respond to both public and private interests in a fair, balanced, and democratic way?
  • The corporate-owned mainstream media has severely restricted the diversity of opinion available to the general public. How do we overcome this restriction and create a more open, creative, diverse, and civil forum for public discussion of this and other critical issues? Is that what blogs can ultimately do?