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Forum assesses future of Big Easy

Karen Langley | Friday, October 28, 2005

Faculty experts in law, architecture and engineering united to share their views on the need to rebuild New Orleans and to discuss necessary details – regarding design, planning, land use and environmental law – in a forum at the Law School Thursday.

Law School Assistant Professor Amy Barrett noted that while most Americans think of New Orleans as a unique city, it has qualities that are even more important than the music and food for which it is famed.

New Orleans differs from other American cities in that its residents love it and would never entertain the notion of leaving, said Barrett, whose entire family is from the Big Easy.

“New Orleans’ vision for what it means to be a city and its citizens’ commitment to one another and to the place is unique in America,” she said. “And it does offer America something.”

Philip Bess, a professor and the Director of Graduate Studies at the School of Architecture, emphasized the cultural and practical needs for New Orleans to rebuild – despite its hazardous geographical location.

“The deeper reason why New Orleans will be rebuilt has to do with its strategic location,” he said. “The port at New Orleans is as important as at any point in the United States because of its location on the Mississippi River. The U.S. needs a city right there. It’s a terrible place for a city to be located but a place where a city needs to exist.”

New Orleans must consider its natural environment as it moves ahead with rebuilding, Dean Michael Lykoudis of the School of Architecture said.

“We have to live in harmony with nature,” he said. “So much of the paradigm today is to resist and conquer nature instead of behaving like sailors on boats, which is that their legs move a lot to accommodate the changing seas.”

One of most important issues in rebuilding New Orleans is maintaining a long-term ecological perspective, said associate law professor Alex Camacho, who also noted the challenge of ensuring that those people who were most affected by the hurricane also reap the benefits of rebuilding.

“For a long time, scientists predicted that anything greater than a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane could breach levee system,” he said. “The tragedy is not that this hurricane happened but that we expected it to. It’s amazing how many scientists predicted what would occur, yet the same inadequate system remained in place.”

Professor Ahsan Kareem of the department of civil engineering and geological sciences agreed with Camacho.

“New Orleans to me was a beautiful machine that was left to rust,” he said.

Even more complex than the engineering and building issues are the problems of New Orleans’ displaced population, Kareem said.

“Unfortunately, the poor people always have to take the brunt of these issues,” he said.

Associate law professor Nicole Garnett expressed the need for New Orleans to fundamentally rethink land use legislation.

“New Orleans needs to think about alternatives that allow the government to control rebuilding without producing sprawl,” she said.