Wednesday, April 19, 2006

San Francisco 1906, New Orleans 2006 ...

   The 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake raises obvious comparisons with last year’s hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans.  Watching a PBS documentary about the quake and reading about its aftermath, one is stuck by so many similarities -– the complacency of a government that should have prepared better, the inadequacies of the first-responders, the tens of thousands of people left homeless, and the headaches of creating temporary housing.  I was disappointed that PBS’s discussion of the rebuilding effort ignored the land use laws that in effect banned brick construction in San Francisco and made buildings far more resistant to shaking.  Did any property owner argue that this regulation had “taken” its property? … 
   A number of writers are comparing 1906 and 2006.  Here are stories from Business Week, the New York Times, National Review, Planetizen, and academicians in California.  One of the most opinionated is an essay by Russ Britt for, who writes that the “attitude" of 1906 -- “do-it-yourself” and self-reliance -- led San Francisco to rebuild its structures, its economy, and its culture more quickly than New Orleans appears to be capable of doing.  Just as important were San Francisco’s prominence as the chief center of business and trade in the West.  Alas, New Orleans holds no such advantages in the early 21st century ….  

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