Your e-mails: The spirit of New Orleans
(CNN) -- As New Orleans residents begin the painstaking task of rebuilding their hurricane-ravaged city, many wonder: What will the new New Orleans be like?
CNN.com asked readers whether New Orleans will ever be the same and what would need to be saved or rebuilt to maintain the spirit of the city. Here is a sampling of those responses, some of which have been edited:
Ideally, this would be the perfect opportunity to use all of the wonderful technology available to us (construction and civil engineering, levee systems, etc.) that companies have spent billions in R&D on to rebuild New Orleans bigger and better than before. The unfortunate reality of the situation is that New Orleans is completely lost. It may be rebuilt elsewhere, but it won't be New Orleans. We should learn from this lesson and be ready for the next disaster that may occur (i.e. earthquake in San Francisco).
The spirit of New Orleans was in its decadence and the decadence of its buildings. Building something new and mimicking the old will only give it a Disney feeling that cannot capture the old. Some of the old neighborhoods may be saved but New Orleans as a whole will never be the same and would waste human and national capital to try.
The most important thing that needs to be saved (and rebuilt) is lower- and middle-income housing. .... Shotguns, Double Shotguns, Corner stores, Creole Cottages and Camelbacks all combine to make an urban fabric that does not exist in any other city. Residential areas constitute the bulk of the character and spirit of New Orleans.
What visitors see -- the famous spots -- remain largely intact. Rebuilding should be a combination of salvaging and reconstructing with a keen eye focused on the vernacular. For this to happen, native New Orleanians need to be employed on all levels -- urban planners, architects, designers, historians, contractors. It would be a shame to see a national panel of designers without any sort of deep and personal knowledge of New Orleans import suburban-type housing. New Orleans' spirit is unique among American cities -- we have an opportunity to keep it that way.
Yes, they should rebuild New Orleans. N'awlins is a unique place historically and ethnically and should not be abandoned. Instead, take a page from Galveston's book, a city demolished by the 1900 "perfect storm," and raise the level of the city at least three feet, possibly more, and build a sandbar or breakwater with some of the concrete and brick rubble left behind by Katrina. Make sure the breakwater or sandbar is navigable so that essential shipping can still get in and out of the great port and harbor. Residents of the lowest ground should just get a land swap for a lot on higher ground, and make the lowest ground a nature sanctuary or leave it as a floodplain. Take heart, N'awliners, from Galveston and San Francisco and Atlanta and many other cities devastated by natural disasters or wars, they all were rebuilt.
Anyone familiar with New Orleans knows the economic value of the French Quarter is the city's main asset and will, at some point, be restored. ... But what will be done about the devastation of the poverty ridden areas of New Orleans? The wards and city projects should become a focus or focal point as well as the French Quarter. Put as much effort into restoring those areas as well and help those people get back to what they've known all of their lives as home.
New Orleans has a rare opportunity to radically approach the city's high poverty rate, the worst problem plaguing the city. The entire public school system needs to be radically overhauled and the actual school buildings torn down and built again. In the long run, this approach would lift the city out of extreme poverty and ultimately slash the crime rate. However, my hope that the current administration would do such a thing is not high. They would rather worry about tourism than our own citizens.
As a native of New Orleans, I know that the spirit and soul of that city rests within her people. While other Southern cities -- like Atlanta, Houston and Tampa -- are great places filled with good people, they are not New Orleans. This means that the only way the city can be the same (or "revived" if you will) is for her citizens to lead the effort and do most, if not all, of the work. Ideally, we would take this opportunity to rid ourselves of governmental corruption and become better organized. Having said that, it is also worth noting that fuzzy politics and "charming unorganization" are as much a part of New Orleans as jazz, good food and second-lining. The worst thing that could happen would be the federalization of the city's cleanup efforts, and the apathy of her people to take charge and rebuild. We're strong people who still maintain a deep pride in our city. We cannot allow the true spirit of New Orleans to become a footnote to history.
Living in Chicago, we are always mindful of the calamity of the Great Chicago Fire and the productive re-engineering and planning for the city that followed. The city, its streets, its planned uses were all reconsidered and redesigned, as were its standards for building codes, materials and construction techniques. The masses of debris which resulted from the fire were used to extend the lakefront with landfill, making a buffer for buildings along Lake Michigan and creating a 14-mile stretch of public lakefront parkland, which is the envy of mayors everywhere. New Orleans must do the same -- completely rethink what the city can and should be, while not ignoring the forces of nature, nor the need to be a model of a vibrant, mixed-income and multiethnic urban metropolis.
Of course New Orleans will never be the same. But not being the same doesn't have to equate to being worse, or lesser than, or not as good as before. What New Orleans and its residents, new and old, can do is make the most out of this seemingly overwhelming devastation by taking advantage of the old mantra "if I had only known then what I know now." What New Orleans has before it is a historic opportunity to rebuild nearly an entire city with the knowledge of prior mistakes as well as successes from the old one. I suggest to them, incorporate that knowledge into making the best city in the U.S., if not the world, to live.
Only the downtown and French Quarter. I think anything that was under water should be bulldozed because of the bacteria and mold that can never be removed. They need to get over it and start fresh.
The spirit of the city is in the people, not the buildings. ... Bulldoze that rotting, decaying mess and move inland a few miles to higher ground. People in the 1700s did not think about things related to construction that we do now. You simply do not build a city in a hole that is going to fill with water.
Yes, New Orleans can evolve and its spirit thrive if it does not throw out its family jewels: Its rare scale for humans rather than for cars; its wisdom that we work to live, not live to work; its joie de vivre and architecture. We'll need Dutch help for stronger levees; otherwise, New Orleans got it right in so many ways in its past. Architecturally, I would rather be poor in New Orleans than rich in Dallas, Houston, or Atlanta. Rebuild in New Orleans style.
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