A lot has changed since Storm That Drowned A City premiered, just five months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. A lot has changed--and then again, a lot hasn't. I wanted to find out what new structural safeguards are protecting the region and whether New Orleans will be ready for the next hurricane season.
The answer, it seems, is that "we're getting there." The Army Corps of Engineers is giving out almost $15 billion in contracts for new and improved levees, floodwalls, pump stations, surge barriers, and navigation gates under the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. The goal is to provide New Orleans with "100-year level protection" by the time 2011 blows in. That means that the city would be fortified against the kind of storm you'd expect to see only once every hundred years--or, to put it another way, the kind of storm which has a 1% chance of striking in any given year.
Some highlights of the new system:
- The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier Project, which will run nearly 2 miles when it's complete, will be the largest surge barrier in the world. It's about halfway done right now. (See photo above.)
- The West Closure Complex, which will protect the west bank of the Mississippi River from flooding using a massive drainage pumping station--the world's largest, capable of pumping 20,000 cubic feet of floodwater every second--plus a gated surge barrier.
But truly rebuilding the city is about more than just infrastructure--it's about restoring vibrant communities. City planners working in the region point out that safety improvements are necessary, but not sufficient, to bringing populations back to some of the city's hardest-hit neighborhoods, like the Lower 9th Ward, Gentilly, Florida and Desire. (The total population is hovering around 2/3 of its pre-Katrina count.) Here, city and neighborhood leaders must decide how and where to rebuild; what to do with abandoned and hazardous homes; and how to give residents that have dispersed to the diaspora confidence that they have a neighborhood to come home to.
Special thanks to Wade Habshey, public affairs officer at the Army Corps of Engineers Task Force Hope, and David Dixon, leader of Planning and Urban Design at Goody Clancy in Boston, for their insight on this post.
Image: The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal surge barrier, under construction. Courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers.