Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Two years later, on the Gulf Coast …

  On the second anniversary of the flooding of southern Louisiana and Mississippi, the problems of reconstruction are so broad and complicated that it’s difficult to say anything new.  On one hand, certain homeowners with good insurance and responsive government, especially on the Mississippi coast, appear to be rebuilding fairly well.  On the other, in New Orleans, where much of the city marinated in floodwaters for days, the stories remain those of “red tape,” which are extraordinarily disheartening.  Very few new homes have been rebuilt in poorer areas that were not served well by private insurance; full coverage by the Times-Picayune news system is here.

Neworleanskatrina    I’m skeptical of any simple “solution” for the rebuilding of New Orleans.  But I would have liked to have seen the appointment of a federal Katrina Restoration “czar” (to revive an overworked but useful term), who would have listened to various constituencies but been empowered to make decisive and definitive decisions for the federal government, at the risk of annoying state and local authorities.  It is, after all, mostly federal money that is rebuilding the levees and being funneled to Louisiana for the “Road Home.”  For one thing, I would have liked the painful decision made to abandon to new residential construction some of the lowest-lying and most vulnerable sections of New Orleans.      

   But an autocratic federal rule would have run into great opposition from distrustful state and local authorities, which, of course, are traditionally responsible for land use policy.  Complicated rules about doling out reconstruction money -– much of which has gone to businesses –- have slowed down reconstruction, especially in housing for the poor.  I am among those who are always skeptical of much government intervention in markets, but perhaps it would have been more straightforward to have much of the federal money go directly to a one-time rebuilding of inexpensive housing.

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