Realism or Fantasy — New Orleans — Should It Be Rebuilt?

On a recent episode of the TODAY Show (view clip here), Matt Lauer interviews locals of New Orleans on whether the Big Easy has the potential to become the new Hollywood of the South. In my opinion, though, New Orleans should not be rebuilt. Yes, those rare neighborhoods — notably the French Quarter — that are above sea level, managed well enough in Katrina. I was there in April and there’s no evidence of any storm. To look for damage you have to travel to Chantilly and the Lower Ninth Ward, that is, locations below sea level. The Mississippi River is far bigger and infinitely more powerful than the mere and puny Army Core of Engineers. Even before the storm, when you stood next to the levees, the floor of the river was a dozen feet above your head. The river brings down silt that is trapped by the levees, causing the river to rise. What causes the destruction is not the storm but the levees. In other words, it is the attempt to thwart destruction that causes destruction. How high can you build these walls? Even if you could build them to the sky, they would not hold the river. That thousands of denizens of those neighborhoods have moved away now over five years ago, clearly never to return, is sad but wise, understandable, unavoidable, and inevitable. Sure, it’s great that Nawlinz is getting a lot of movie production business. But at UCLA I always tell my screenwriting students that fantasy is for their movies. For their lives: reality. New Orleans, likewise.

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