As the nation marks today's second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall and the tragic events that followed (and continue to unfold), it may seem odd to wax optimistic about a planning and rebuilding process that has been slow and rife with conflict.
Yet in the latest issue of The Nation, writer Rebecca Solnit manages to do just that with her moving account of how community activists in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward have made significant strides in ensuring that their neighborhood is not merely restored, but improved in a way that seeks to lessen environmental impacts and fight global warming. Ed Blakely of the New Orleans Times-Picayune penned an editorial making a similar argument last month, noting that international attention from urban planners and climate experts has in fact been eagerly focusing on the city's redevelopment efforts:
Carbon emissions are already at alarming rates. One clear message from all of the research presented at [a recent international] conference was that as cities grow, the automobile as we know it cannot be the urban backbone. New fuels, along with new ways for people to access their jobs and communities, will have to be a major part of city building.
In New Orleans, we have gone through an almost two-year planning process that aims to make cleaner, greener and more sustainable neighborhoods. These plans are superb and conferees were uniformly impressed by the New Orleans planning effort as a model for the new urban world.
It is clear that our Citywide Strategic Recovery and Redevelopment plan has to match our intentions. The world is expecting New Orleans to take the lead in developing a better, safer and more sustainable city form.
Given the natural spotlight its actions draw, the very real force of climate impacts on low-lying areas such as New Orleans, and the growing national attention being paid to the importance of climate-sensitive growth planning, the city has a real opportunity to serve as a national model.
To be clear, none of this outweighs the painfully real despair that continues to impact New Orleans' rebuilding process. Yet in efforts like this we are able to see the spirit of hope emerging from that vibrant city, and successfully demonstrating the ways local efforts and policies can contribute to the fight against global warming would certainly provide a welcome, additional dash of optimism for its populace.