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Katrina Plus Ten: Connecting City and Coast

October 5, 2015Patrick NunnallyFeatured, River Meaning, RiversComments Off on Katrina Plus Ten: Connecting City and Coast

Ten years ago, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Louisiana Gulf Coast.  What followed was a disaster of unparalleled magnitude in recent United States history, an event and its aftermath that forever changed ideas about urban resilience, the relationships between cities and the water bodies on which they are located, the roles of race and class in disaster response, even whether some cities in vulnerable locations should even be restored after disaster struck.  The Mississippi River was almost an afterthought during and immediately after the storm; the river itself did not flood the city and the most damaging levee breaches occurred in other locations.  Nevertheless, we feel that serious, sustained examination of the relationships between communities, water systems, urban space, and lived experience in the 21st century should start with at least a rudimentary examination of Katrina and its aftermath.

This is the fifth of ten blog posts examining crucial facets of the online coverage a decade after the storm.

In the fall of 2005, after Katrina struck Louisiana and Mississippi, most of the media attention was focused on New Orleans. Some coverage addresses Mississippi communities such as Biloxi, but there was little attention to the coast itself and virtually no connection in the media between the coast and the Mississippi River.

Conversely, the tenth anniversary analyses regularly connected the cities and the coast, with one (now not available) story speaking about climate change and rising seas as a “new normal” for the south Mississippi coastline. Another, from The Guardian, shows a series of sobering graphics about potential land loss in the next few decades.

Lower Mississippi River land loss over time. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lower_Mississippi_River_landloss_over_time.jpg

Lower Mississippi River land loss over time. via  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lower_Mississippi_River_landloss_over_time.jpg

 

In the context of coastal land loss, a process that is exacerbated by storms such as Katrina, The Guardian’s question is striking: Will New Orleans become a modern-day Atlantis?

With that question hovering, perhaps it is not surprising that there remains for some at least a belief that engineers can solve the physical problems besetting New Orleans and the coast. In one case, this article from Scientific American, the future of the Mississippi River is explicitly connected to the future of the coast. Another considers an array of proposals to simultaneously arrest land loss and “save” New Orleans.

Whether or not you think the problem can be solved through engineering, it would seem that after Katrina it is no longer possible to separate the fate of New Orleans from the fate of the lower Mississippi River and from the fate of the Gulf Coast.

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