The Resilience Strategy: What Threats Will New Orleans Be Facing in 50 Years’ Time?

The following is an excerpt from a piece that originally appeared in The Guardian on August 25, 2015. It was wirtten by Jeff Hebert. Click the link to read the full piece.

I’m from the New Orleans area, but in 2005 was living in New York doing neighbourhood redevelopment work. I watched Katrina unfold on television, and after seeing those shocking images, I felt passionately that I needed to come home and use my training to help rebuild the city.

I didn’t get to New Orleans until about a month later. My brother picked me up and we drove around the city – we saw awful devastation. His house on Jena Street in Uptown, near the Baptist hospital, was flooded. The entire first floor was ruined; mould had begun to eat the walls. The wooden floors were buckled and the smell was putrid. There was debris all over the streets, and there had been many fires in that neighbourhood.

I began volunteering doing urban planning work, and ended up working in the governor’s recovery office, putting plans together for the rebuilding of the city and surrounding communities that were impacted. I’ve been in New Orleans ever since.

In November 2014, I was appointed the city’s first chief resilience officer, a role developed by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative. Today we are launching our “resilience strategy”, in the week that the city marks the 10th anniversary of Katrina.

New Orleans is arguably the most vulnerable city in the US, and one of the most vulnerable cities in the world, to climate change and sea-level rise. The attention on those threats is new. I think we’ve done a very good job of rebuilding the city since Katrina, but now we need to exist in the future – that’s been the perspective shift for us. Understanding what 50 years from now looks like; rebuilding the city to withstand what it is that we’re going be faced with in 50 years’ time.

For New Orleans that means looking at climate change, sea-level rise models and coastal erosion; figuring out the improvements that have to be made so we have a much more robust flooding infrastructure system. This city is just shy of 300 years old and it has always been a testing place to live, but our future challenges look very different to our past ones. We have to adapt to survive.

We are a city that really needs to start to understand that we cannot engineer ourselves out of our environment. Instead of thinking that engineering solutions can solve all the problems, we need to reengineer the city to live with its environmental conditions.

 

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