Build a New New Orleans

by Jeffry R. Fisher

Most of this article was written while Katrina was still a tropical storm pushing inland, so many of its recommendations pertain to conditions and opportunities of the moment.

As hurricane Katrina's flood is slowly pumped out of New Orleans, it appears that many, perhaps most structures will be total losses. New Orleans will be rebuilt, but the question remains... "Where?"

If you just arrived you wouldn't build here...

Rather than trying to reclaim the now shallow sea of New Orleans months from now, Louisiana should found a new city up river immediately. Abandon "old" New Orleans and build a new New Orleans.

Granted, a few facilities (like maybe the Ports of Southern Louisiana) are tied to New Orleans’ peculiar geography… and they’ll need a few residences to supply labor… and some supporting commerce. However, that alone would become a much smaller town that could hold to higher ground. Being more compact and higher, it could be more stoutly defended (at lower cost) against the next storm. The measure of how much lowland can be defended and what really needs to build on it will be to see who is willing to pay for its protection without federal subsidies.

Everything else, including all of the touristy stuff, should be rebuilt in a new city upstream. Maybe the abandoned parts of the old city can become a landfill site that can eventually be built up above sea level to provide land to some future generation (if rising sea levels don’t overtake it).

If you needed shelter now, you wouldn't wait months...

Unfortunately, at the moment, the old New Orleans is flooded and toxic. Cleaning it out will take a lot of money and a long time. Burying it will take less money, but it will take years. Why wait months to reclaim all that before starting to build replacement homes and businesses (only to be below sea level again)? Why spend the time and money on so much clean up before breaking ground? We can start on another site immediately and put people to work.

The Kernel of a Plan

New New Orleans

Buy up a few square miles of farmland (or locate some federal land), lay out development zones and roads, and divide into plots with a mix of sizes comparable to properties in New Orleans. Add an international airport and utilities (transferring the existing office holders and bureaucracy from the old city to the new is optional), and presto -- you have a city. Okay, a new city may need a few more ingredients before free enterprise swarms in to build it out, but there are civil engineers out there who have plans in hand and can tell us exactly what those ingredients are.

Once the land is surveyed and recorded, offer title swaps to New Orleans property owners who want to rebuild sooner rather than later and on higher ground to boot. Maybe get a little pushy so all of the business owners know that they're all going the same way to maintain their synergies, as in the tourist complex.

Want to recreate the French quarter? Swap French Quarter titles for new plots in a pedestrian-only zone in the new city. Call it the French Quarter. Allow displaced property owners / residents to revisit their abandoned properties to salvage keepsakes, and then condemn the devastated properties.

If the whole quaint French Quarter etc. is rebuilt, then most of the rest of the city can follow. Move the name of the city with it, and later generations will find the move to be a quaint historic fact -- while they continue to flock to the attractions as if they'd always been there. The heavy industry tied to the Port of Southern Louisiana can form a more compact and easily defensible town where New Orleans lies flooded today.

Old New Orleans

Finally, demolish and bury most of the old city at some leisurely (i.e. economical) pace and leave it to nature... No, check that. Even better, now that the government owns vast tracts of condemned properties (after the title swapping), convert them into a huge landfill site, accepting barges of refuse from far and wide (at a healthy price of course). With its nearby port, it will be the best and most economically connected landfill in the nation.

The landfill will provide a sink for the nation's trash and spare us from shoveling out the rubble of a ruined city and offset the cost of clean up and build up the area's elevation for the future. The final result a generation from now can come complete with newer, higher levees... mountains of trash that had to be piled somewhere anyway).

Not All Disasters are the Same

I've seen an assertion that New Orleans should be rebuilt just as it was, where it was, because other cities have done so after other disasters.

First, other cities may have rebuilt in the same location, but they didn't always rebuild the same way -- exposing themselves to the same degree of the same risk. San Francisco may have rebuilt in the same place, but at least the city now requires reinforcement against earthquake. Chicago may have rebuilt after its fire, but it has used a bit more stone and brick ever since. Valdez Alaska rebuilt after subsiding in the 1964 quake, and it did move a few miles to higher, more solid ground. New Orleans should do likewise.

Secondly, a superficial comparison doesn't recognize the differences between disasters and how to cope with each kind. Therefore, New Orleans' plan should be different from San Francisco's or Chicago's because coping with inundation will be different than coping with earthquake or fire. New Orleans' situation is more like Valdez's, albeit less sudden. New Orleans has lost elevation since it was founded (and especially since the Corps of engineers started messing with the area), creating a uniquely correctable deficiency:

Let's do both... Raising that whole basin will take a long time. Rather than waiting, nearly all that was New Orleans can be reconstructed in a much less vulnerable position a few miles up stream while the old site pays for its own reclamation by becoming the nation's dump... er, landfill.


Although our first, inside-the-box assumption may be that we must rebuild everything in the exact location where we suffered our losses, paying any cost to do so... and although our first emotional response may be to go back and reclaim exactly what was taken from us... upon reflection, we may see significant long-term savings, and even new opportunities, by thinking a little bit outside the box. We may even become excited by the prospect of building something new and better.

So, where would you place a new city in Louisiana? Just north of the Lake, closer to the vacation areas of southern Mississippi? Maybe just south of Baton Rouge with the new airport in between? That could create synergy like in Dallas/Ft. Worth and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

What should we name the new city? Should it take the name of New Orleans with it, or should it create a new identity? Maybe we should just call it New New Orleans.

Copyright 2003-2008 by Jeffry R. Fisher: Permission is granted to reproduce this article in whole, but only in combination with attribution, the original title, the original URL, and this copyright notice.
Jeffry R. Fisher is the founder and president of Propagate Ltd, which is liberating digital content as