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RIVER LIFE

Introducing Our New Digital Journal Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi

January 13, 2016Patrick NunnallyFeatured, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on Introducing Our New Digital Journal Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi

We announce today the inaugural issue of our digital journal, Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi.

openrivers_banner_rlpjan2016“Open” speaks to our commitment to multiple voices, perspectives and subjects.  We will write about the public lands along our rivers, as well as about hydrology.  We will have perspectives from science and policy, from community engagement efforts and from interesting people, places, and events from wherever we find them.

“Rivers” speaks to our primary concern, but we understand that waters are connected and that rivers have watersheds.  So we will go beyond just the urban corridor of the Mississippi, although given our location, that’s probably our home territory and foundation for our inquiries.

Why rethink the Mississippi?  We argue that there are a number of reasons.  There are a bewildering number of people, agencies, organizations and resource and research efforts on the Mississippi.  They don’t talk to each other.  We don’t actually think they probably can; there are just too many differences.  The river is too big to understand.  But our effort is intended to bring together perspectives that don’t normally see or hear from each other, so that conversations might become more connected and integrated even if only a little.

We also feel that the stories we tell about the Mississippi, while important, should be reexamined. We talk about the dead zone, about the importance of flood ways and floodplains, about community redevelopment and navigation.  We ritualistically talk about Mark Twain, perhaps even quote his work.  Two factors, though, are only beginning to emerge as part of the story of the Great River.

First is climate change.  Simply put, the past is not any longer a good predictor for how systems will behave in the future.  The winter flooding stories in the news now speak to this fact; look for more in upcoming issues of our journal.

The second factor is demographic.  The populations in the cities and towns along the river and in the watershed are changing, becoming more diverse and are perhaps not as grounded historically and culturally in the history of the area over the past couple of centuries.  Many communities that have been in this region for generations have a fraught, violent, or transitory relationship with the river or its tributaries.  Mark Twain may not mean much to the regions newest residents.  And his work may not mean much to the residents of longest duration either.  We are committed to learning from and learning with native people, believing as we do that the perspectives of people who have been here the longest are vital to help us understand what we might do to live here sustainably for the long duration.

We hope you’ll read and enjoy the journal.  Share it, tell us what you think and what we should write about.  Write for us or contribute in some other way.

It’s a big river and we need to hear from everyone.

On History and the Future: Lessons from Living with the River

November 23, 2015Patrick NunnallyFeaturedComments Off on On History and the Future: Lessons from Living with the River

Living with the Mississippi is a blog series that examines the history of the river flats communities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live. The entire series is downloadable in PDF format here.

Our featured series “Living with the Mississippi” has gathered more readers than any other part of our work.  Largely this is due to the stellar research and writing of the author, Rachel Hines.  But it’s also a testament to the enduring hold that riverfront communities have on our imagination.  There’s something about these places, whether Bohemian Flats or St. Paul’s West Side, that simply continues to interest people.

I think there are a couple of longer-term issues as well that the series and the places it describes bring to light.  For one thing, the contrast between “then and now” in the physical environment is largely unstated, though ever-present.  Living with the Mississippi a century ago meant living alongside what was often an open sewer and what was always an industrial waste dump.  The river itself was different also.  The construction of what we know now as the Ford Lock and Dam downstream of Bohemian Flats meant the water level is steadier now, with less of the seasonal rise and fall that marks a more natural river pattern.  All of these factors meant that living in a space now reserved as a park was a completely different experience of land, of water, and of the sensory environment at the water’s edge.  The corridor smelled different, looked different, sounded different, even felt different underfoot with a marshy uneven river bank in place of today’s mown grass field.

 

Our head note for the series alludes to another broad change when it refers to the time “before luxury condos and clean river water.”  Although the clean river water is more important, it is now largely taken for granted, and Minneapolis and St. Paul have joined cities across the developed world in converting their riverfronts to something that is increasingly focused on luxury condos.

Easternmost Upper Landing Block

Upper Landing

Simply put, we are in danger of privatizing our riverfronts to the point where the descendants of former residents won’t be able, or feel comfortable, walking where their grandfathers and grandmothers once lived.  On St. Paul’s Upper Landing this has already happened; the narrow strip of public land and pathway outside residents’ front balconies feels more private than public.  There’s room for debate on this of course; the debate would be a healthy next step in our riverfront planning and design.

Upper Landing and Residents

Upper Landing and Residents

The stories of places like Bohemian Flats and the Upper Landing are vitally important connections between past and present.  They help us organize our thoughts about who we have been and who we are now.  But we critically need new stories, stories of our relationship with the Mississippi in the 21st century.  I would argue that the stories that drive our sense of the river’s meaning forward should focus more than we have on sustainability and inclusion.  We have spent a lot of time working on access; we must pivot to a focus on equity, where the gift of access is felt by all.

I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.  Last week, an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune explored in some detail the efforts of the National Park Service to reach younger and more diverse audiences. One way to do this, and a way that our program can actively participate in, is to work to ensure that park visitors hear more diverse stories than we have been telling.  Visitors to St. Anthony Falls should know who Eliza Winston was and what happened to Spirit Island.  Upper Landing visitors (and residents) should know who lived in that spot a century ago, and what happened to that community.  As the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary planning gathers steam, people will need to know who Bruce Vento was, but also the importance of this place to Dakota people.

We have done a lot to bring people back to the riverfront.  But there is much yet to do if we are to make the riverfront a welcoming place to all of the people who live here.

If our riverfronts reflect who we are and aspire to be, then what do they say about us?  Do they say what we want them to?

Living with the Mississippi: Creating River Memories

November 17, 2015Rachel HinesFeatured, Guest PostsComments Off on Living with the Mississippi: Creating River Memories

Living with the Mississippi is a blog series that examines the history of the river flats communities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live. The entire series is downloadable in PDF format here.

November 1st marked the closing of our exhibit, “Remembering the Bohemian Flats: One Place, Many Voices,” at Mill City Museum. An unintended but welcome outcome of the exhibit was hearing from a number of people who wanted to share their stories about life along the Mississippi. The exhibit struck a variety of chords: a woman who had lived at the flats as a young girl was confused by our “Crime and Vice” panel, remembering the community’s later years as peaceful and law-abiding. Some shared that their parents or grandparents had been ashamed to have lived at the flats, while others said they had been proud to live in the tight-knit community.

One story that stood out to me in particular was that of Ron Adler, whose grandparents lived in a different Mississippi River neighborhood: a camp under the 42nd Ave Bridge in Camden, Minneapolis during the 1940s. This area is now a part of North Mississippi Park, and though the story of this community resembles that of the Bohemian Flats, its existence is barely acknowledged today. Ron remembers visiting his grandparents as a child, and describes the community as “a dump, nearly uninhabitable.”

“Squatters ousted from their housing on banks of river at Camden Park, Minneapolis.” Photographer unknown, taken on May 7, 1936. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“Squatters ousted from their housing on banks of river at Camden Park, Minneapolis.” Photographer unknown, taken on May 7, 1936. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Similar to the Bohemian Flats, there was no sewer or running water and water was collected from a community hand pump. The residents, considered squatters, lived in poverty in small shacks and trailers. Local civic clubs wanted to evict the settlement’s 200 residents to create a public park, deeming them a “menace to public safety and sanitation.”[i] The comparison between the earlier and later river flats settlements made me reflective on the nature of memory. Why has history been so kind to the memory of communities like the Bohemian Flats and Swede Hollow, despite their notable problems? How do we choose which stories to keep, like those of the Bohemian Flats, and which to forget, like North Mississippi Park? More importantly, how do we decide how to tell these stories?

Though the river flats communities like the Bohemian Flats and Swede Hollow were once viewed negatively, the less favorable aspects of life, like crime, poverty, and disease, have been diluted to create much more favorable stories of quaint, ethnic havens. The city’s disdain for and mistreatment of these communities over time has been forgotten, leaving mostly stories of their peaceful existence and later eviction. While the romanticization of these stories has caused us to perpetuate false, or at least not entirely true, ideas about our past, it has also allowed their memories to survive, incorporating them into our city’s narrative.

“Gateway Park and the Gateway Center just before it was razed.” Taken by the Minneapolis Star in the 1950s. Courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

“Gateway Park and the Gateway Center just before it was razed.” Taken by the Minneapolis Star in the 1950s. Courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

One reason we can easily revise the history of the Bohemian Flats is that the neighborhood no longer exists. With the landscape so drastically altered, we are free to create new stories about the people who lived there. As I wonder about the narratives we will tell in the future, I reflect specifically on these areas that have been completely erased. In her blog post “Blight by the Block,” Kirsten Delegard of the Historyapolis project writes about the redevelopment of Minneapolis between the 1940s and 1980s. She mentions while Cedar-Riverside, the larger community that includes the Bohemian Flats, survived, other neighborhoods were lost, including the historic Gateway District. Decades later, we are forming our opinions about the demolition of this area, many already regarding it as a major mistake. How will future generations remember these places? Will they be viewed with a sense of nostalgia and loss, like the Bohemian Flats, or will we forget about them entirely, succumbing to the stories imbedded in the modern landscape?

Places have stories to tell, whether they are visible or not. Throughout this blog series, I have presented more complex stories about the historic river flats communities to give more depth to the experiences of the people who once lived along the banks of the Mississippi and to view places as having several stories to tell.

Footnotes:

[i] “Demand Eviction of Squatters: Residents Claim Camden Colony Menace to Public Society.” Minneapolis Star 7 May 1936.

River Rangers and Stormwater Mitigation at MWMO

November 10, 2015Maria LeeFeatured, Former Featured Posts, Guest Posts, RiversComments Off on River Rangers and Stormwater Mitigation at MWMO

by Maria Lee

Two years ago I took a big step towards adulthood and became a home renter. Along with having a house came the barrage of various bills, and among these bills was the City of Minneapolis Utility Bill. Every month I scanned my utility bill and the line ‘Stormwater Utility Fee’ always stood out because I didn’t understand this as a utility.

I eventually learned that part of my ‘Stormwater Utility Fees’ went to the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO). Last month students from the University of Minnesota’s River Rangers group visited the MWMO to build understanding of the what the organization does, where our stormwater fee goes, and how our actions affect the health of the Mississippi River!

Students learn about stormwater mitigation at the MWMO (Photo by M.Lee)

Students learn about stormwater mitigation at the MWMO (Photo by M.Lee)

The MWMO is a special unit of local government that provides for the long-term management of water and natural resources over an area of land that drains into 15 miles of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities metro area. The MWMO works extremely hard to help residents of the watershed understand how their household, schools, offices, and other places of work and play are connected to the river. In Minneapolis, our storm drains run to the Mississippi River. This means our choices and behavior on the surface makes a huge difference! Part of the MWMO’s effort to increase public understanding of stormwater is their Stormwater Park and Learning Center. The outside of the building is an interpretive area showcasing landscaping choices and strategies that help mitigate stormwater runoff such as rain gardens, rain barrels, and semipermeable surface paving.

MWMO’s Stormwater Park and Learning Center (Photo by MWMO)

MWMO’s Stormwater Park and Learning Center (Photo by MWMO)

While we enjoyed learning about landscaping choices that support a healthier Mississippi River, most students at the University of Minnesota live in apartments, dorms, or rental units that don’t allow re-landscaping. Luckily, the MWMO had many more ideas about habits we can incorporate into our daily lives that support a healthier river! Inside the building they had resources on safer cleaning products and tips to save water. The MWMO also encouraged us as college students to think creatively about conservation and watershed management! Every year the MWMO gives out grant money for Stewardship Ideas. In the past a rain garden on the University of Minnesota Campus has been sponsored by grants like this!

A visit to the MWMO is a great way to see where policy, education, and science-based management converge to face the challenges of an ultra-urban and diverse watershed. Do you have a local watershed management organization? What resources do they have to help you protect our river?

Katrina Plus Ten: A View from the Other End of the River

October 16, 2015Patrick NunnallyFeatured, River Meaning, RiversComments Off on Katrina Plus Ten: A View from the Other End of the River

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 tenth of ten blog posts examining crucial facets of the online coverage a decade after the storm. 

Up here in Minnesota, near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Hurricane Katrina could have been nothing more than a TV vision. We gasp in horror, maybe write a check to help the people who are displaced, and go on about our business. After all, it wasn’t the river itself that flooded, right?

Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. Via http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/

Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. Via http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/

I have friends and colleagues in New Orleans, so the storm was much more personal to me. I remained convinced that Katrina was a river story, and that the various stories arising from the tenth anniversary had something deeply to do with what River Life is, or should be, doing. I think there are four lessons from the storm and the aftermath that inform River Life’s work in particular substantive ways.

First, Katrina was about a storm and water inundation, but the impact of the storm lay not just in the material nature of the flood but was a combination of the fact that this was New Orleans being affected, one of the country’s iconic cities, and also the particular populations in the city that were most at risk. Our lesson: The sciences of rivers are necessary, but not sufficient knowledge when examining urban rivers.

Second, the storm’s impact on specific populations was driven by their location in the city—poor people, often communities of color, live at lower elevations—which is a spatial factor that is historical and structurally associated with patterns of inequities locally and nationally.  Our lesson: A historical understanding both of the material and spatial form of urban rivers, and of the social, political, and economic contexts shaping populations in and near the river corridor is necessary to understanding urban rivers.

Third, history matters in terms of who was affected most by the storm, and how cities have grown up along rivers. But we can’t just be bound by historical patterns; we have to “think forward” as well. Our lesson: History is important, but we also need perspectives that shape a vision of the river and community going forward.

Fourth, the ways the story of Katrina and the aftermath was told were significant. The best work that we have linked to in this series conveys the immediacy of the personal, a depth of analytical understanding that allows readers to recognize contexts around personal stories, and innovative representation that create new forms of knowledge and insight. Our lesson: Innovations in the forms by which knowledge is developed, thought through, and conveyed are important; it’s not just the “what” of knowledge sharing, but the “how,” and the “why.”

For us, the stories of Katrina and its aftermath allow us to locate our study thus: River Life explores the processes by which riparian systems are converted to urban water systems, locating key intersections of water, community, identity, and sense of place. Our work helps our communities, both on campus and off, move toward a more sustainable, inclusive relationship between the Mississippi River and the people that depend on its long-term health.

Katrina Plus Ten: Lessons Learned?

October 15, 2015Patrick NunnallyFeatured, River Meaning, RiversComments Off on Katrina Plus Ten: Lessons Learned?

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 ninth of ten blog posts examining crucial facets of the online coverage a decade after the storm. 

Reading some of the tenth anniversary coverage of Hurricane Katrina, you can’t help the conclusion that, to a large degree, the interpretation of the storm’s meaning and what has happened since the fall of 2005 is a giant and ongoing Rorschach Test: what one sees and focuses on depends entirely on a host of conditions not directly attributable to the storm. Reading these materials, it may be that we learn more about the writers, and the platforms from which they write, than about the actual facts on the ground.

While this concept is hardly surprising, it does pose complications for the perhaps-inevitable question: After the storm and the aftermath, what has been learned? Here are three responses.

Downtown New Orleans and the Mississippi River, June 2015.  WILLIAM WIDMER via http://www.wired.com/2015/08/no-one-ready-next-katrina/

Downtown New Orleans and the Mississippi River, June 2015. WILLIAM WIDMER via http://www.wired.com/2015/08/no-one-ready-next-katrina/

Depressing as it may be, the title of Wired’s piece “No One Is Ready for the Next Katrina” may in fact be true. Yes, there is a multi- billion dollar new set of infrastructure around New Orleans, and yes, the city has largely repopulated pretty precisely on its old footprint, which is still largely below sea level. Yes the climate is still changing, and yes politicians still argue about this concept rather than take steps to alleviate its impact. No, it does not look as if we are ready for the next big storm that will hit New Orleans.

Writing in the journal Natural Hazard Science, Richard Campanella from Tulane suggests that vulnerability in New Orleans is as much about the future as the past.  This sketch, which is the abstract of a larger piece to come, suggests that lessons are still to be learned, and, once learned, still to be applied.

We began this series by referencing Campanella’s work exploring the “Katrina lexicon,” the terms we use to describe as colossal an event as the storm and aftermath. It seems appropriate that we should close with Campanella as well, this time from an article he wrote for Tulane Magazine. His piece “Once and Future Katrina’s”  looks to the city’s past as a settlement landscape designed and constructed for a wet environment. The city got away from some of the specific strategies formerly employed, and there is of course no way of knowing how much might have been saved by planning codes requiring houses in low lying areas to be built on elevated piers. Nevertheless, Campanella suggests that the city’s future should at least gesture to the past, as if people in this environment formerly knew how to live with water, and might learn again.

This completes the series of posts that report on the coverage of the storm’s tenth anniversary. The next, and final, post in the series will offer suggestions of what Katrina, its aftermath, and the coverage offer a program such as River Life.

Katrina Plus Ten: How Can We Understand the Storm’s Impact? Let Me Count The Ways

October 14, 2015Patrick NunnallyFeatured, River MeaningComments Off on Katrina Plus Ten: How Can We Understand the Storm’s Impact? Let Me Count The Ways

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 eighth of ten blog posts examining crucial facets of the online coverage a decade after the storm.

The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina brought forth a large number of written responses.  Some of the most vivid and thought-provoking analysis made its appearance in the form of infographics, or as lists of numbers.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has made its collected issues covering the storm available through a single site.  This “first draft of history,” edited and printed at an off-site plant while the city was submerged, earned the paper a Pulitzer Prize. The Hurricane Katrina Archive is sorted by topic, by date, and features some of the most gripping articles highlighted.

FEMA’s performance during the storm came under intense criticism, for all kinds of reasons.  One of the important functions of government agencies, though, is to compile the official record of major events such as Katrina.  FEMA’s “by the numbers” look at the storm and its aftermath is informative, if not exactly exciting reading.

(de)Constructing New Orleans: Visualizing a Post-Katrina Recovery Metric via http://www.landscapemetrics.com/blog/post/deconstructing-new-orleans-visualizing-a-post-katrina-recovery-metric

(de)Constructing New Orleans: Visualizing a Post-Katrina Recovery Metric via http://www.landscapemetrics.com/blog/post/deconstructing-new-orleans-visualizing-a-post-katrina-recovery-metric

There are lots of ways to “crunch the numbers” of course, and a website called Landscape Metrics has devised a complex way to visualize recovery after Katrina.  The map takes some playing with to really tell a story, but users can manipulate indicators such as demolition permits and new construction permits to trace when, and where, the city rebuilt itself.

Finally, the site Restore the Mississippi Delta has developed a more conventional infographic in order to represent the complex realities of the storm’s impact on the broader Louisiana Gulf Coast region.

Katrina Plus Ten: Art and History

October 9, 2015Patrick NunnallyFeatured, River Meaning, RiversComments Off on Katrina Plus Ten: Art and History

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 seventh of ten blog posts examining crucial facets of the online coverage a decade after the storm. 

New Orleans may have the liveliest arts community, as a percentage of the city’s population, in the country. Few cities in America have as complex a history as New Orleans. So it should not be surprising that, ten years after the watershed event that was Hurricane Katrina, the storm has embedded itself into art forms new and old. Collecting and preserving historical materials associated with the storm has been the province of both traditional museums and collections of new digital forms.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band may be the most iconic arts group in the city, at least as far as the world’s public is concerned. Ben Jaffe’s account on the program’s web site placed the storm in a context encompassing seven generations of one family involved in New Orleans jazz, the Lower 9th Ward as a long time home for many jazz musicians, and the city’s priorities being expressed in the relative strength of its levees.

Preservation Hall Jazz band plays on sidewalk in front of the Hall via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PresHallBandJaquesA.jpg

Preservation Hall Jazz band plays on sidewalk in front of the Hall via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PresHallBandJaquesA.jpg

At first glance, Gallery of the Streets might seem to be the opposite of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The jazz band is a global icon; Gallery is not well known outside its close circle of makers. Gallery is new, subversive, breaking forms as varied as opera and visual representation, and recombining them to express the city and its sensibilities through some of the most easily-overlooked citizens. But on the other hand, isn’t that what was said about New Orleans jazz a century ago? Gallery of the Streets’ project “ECOHYBRIDITY: LOVE SONG FOR NOLA” is “a visual [black] opera in 5 movements. A touring exhibit and movement-building project, ECOHYBRIDITY fuses public art and direct action organizing to confront power. In addition to exhibiting the art, we are also collecting solidarity statements and other messages to share with New Orleanians in preparation for the upcoming anniversary.”

In the face of a historic disaster such as Katrina, what are the appropriate materials to preserve in order to memorialize the storm and what followed? This question, which is never easily answered, is complicated by the veritable explosion of digital media through which voices, images and other forms of expression can be created.

Of course if something is “historic,” that means the History Channel is on it. The “Topics” page on Katrina  features a number of short audio and video pieces, including a diverse array of perspectives. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History blog “Oh Say Can You See?” includes a feature on the challenges and heartbreak of collecting artifacts after the storm. In some instances people gave up prized possessions that, though “ruined” for normal use would stand as stark evidence of the flood’s damage.

Finally two newer collection programs have created extensive Katrina collections. A search of the Digital Public Library of America for “Hurricane Katrina” reveals over 4,000 entries. The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media collaborated with a number of regional and national organizations to create the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, a community- and crowd-sourced archive that allowed anyone to document their stories, images, and recollections of the storm.

Writing in Slate, Amanda Hess describes the book “Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina.” In 2005, the year of the storm, internet access was relatively widespread, but smartphones were not. This gap in technology left bloggers as the most immediate writers able to bear witness to the storm and its aftermath. By contrast, less than six years later, during the 2011 Mississippi River flood in Memphis, Twitter was a platform allowing real time, synchronous communication among besieged residents, emergency workers, and volunteers. It seems clear that artistic responses to Katrina will continue long after the tenth anniversary recognitions have faded. Indeed, as the 90th anniversary of the 1927 Mississippi Delta flood approaches in 2017, that earlier catastrophe, which coast far more lives and damaged a much wider area of the country, serves as a reminder that these powerful disasters become indelible parts of the multiple dimensions of human experience in place.

Katrina Plus Ten: Perspectives from Science Labs

October 7, 2015Patrick NunnallyFeatured, River Meaning, RiversComments Off on Katrina Plus Ten: Perspectives from Science Labs

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 sixth of ten blog posts examining crucial facets of the online coverage a decade after the storm.

While the social and economic issues exposed by the hurricane were the primary subjects of the tenth anniversary coverage, popular scientific journalists on the internet made important contributions to the reflections as well. Significant explanations of the effects of soil subsidence, like this article from Climate Central, add a great deal to the more broad-based “wind and water” narrative of the storm’s damaging influences. This piece from Discovery.com also discusses the centrality of land subsidence in assessing the region’s vulnerability to future storms.

This map shows the tracks of all tropical cyclones in the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. The points show the location of each storm at 6-hour intervals.

This map shows the tracks of all tropical cyclones in the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. The points show the location of each storm at 6-hour intervals. via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2005_Atlantic_hurricane_season_summary_map.png

If science, generally speaking, is a way of getting to fairly precise explanations of how the “natural” world works, then this piece from Buzzfeed certainly qualifies. In particular, I think the animation on the second visualization, showing storm tracks crossing the Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico, conveys just how volatile the oceans were during the warm-water year of 2005.

Science is also, notoriously, regarded as a source of predictive power; just think of all the folks who say “wait for the science to come in” before taking a policy course of action. Science News has this front covered, and in a more or less hopeful vein, with its story  on how hurricane predictive models have improved in the ten years since Katrina struck. While the Gulf Coast remains vulnerable, and the climate is certainly volatile, better predictions offer hope that damage from “future Katrinas” might be morders of magnitude less than the 2005 storm.

The Huffington Post’s contribution to the discussion received a lot of attention, partly due to the reach of the platform. The subtitle, with its implicit “time to move on” message, is unfortunate, but the article itself is a reasonably straightforward effort to explain that officials in and around New Orleans have made substantial efforts to learn from Katrina and to build more resilient protections for the city and the coast. This article, if read carefully, illustrates how inseparable are the realms of scientific knowledge, cultural practice and belief, and engineering and policy governance.

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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