The Inertia of a Tourist Economy: Does it help or hurt during a crisis?

in•er•ti•a

  • n.
    Resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change

On March 11, the city decreed a state of emergency over COVID-19. Too many scofflaws ignored that and so on March 16, Mayor Cantrell closed the bars and restaurants at midnight to shut down the expected all-day and night partying that St. Paddy’s day brings to cities across the US. Not everyone paid attention but a lot stopped immediately and then over the next week as the hotels emptied, so did most of everything else. On March 20, the city issued a firm, scolding stay-at-home mandate and on March 23, the state followed suit.

My social media post on March 26:

Its been 10 days since New Orleans shut down dine-in restaurants and bars and 6 days since the city stay-at-home order.  Since then, watching the wheels of commercial life slowly grind to almost a complete halt here in the French Quarter has been absorbing and sobering. At first, most places tried to stay open even though the bulk of their business had always been visitors, both those visiting from other places as well as the daily visitors who work in shops, in offices and seem to have so many lunch meetings. Some places did their best to drum up local take-out business via social media and word of mouth, but one by one, almost all in my quadrant have closed. Boards across windows and doors started going up at shops and galleries first, and then hotels and bars and cafes followed. It’s startling the first time you see the dark lobbies and gated locked parking lots 24 hours a day of a hotel normally lit up and staffed. You think about those workers that you saw 5 or 6 times a day for months or years and wonder if they will be back. (The bell captain at the little hotel down the street told me he had 120 days of PTO to use, but was still angry that he had to go home.) Yet even when the businesses began to shutter, some street traffic continued, albeit lighter than normal for a few more days. Then one day this week, I walked to Jackson Square and there was not a single person there.

At 2 in the afternoon. In sunny, 85 degree weather.

You’ll still see people walk a few times a day with their happy dogs, (saw a guy with his leashed ferret a few days ago), evening get togethers on carefully-spaced chairs on the street, a few tourists, and always some street people. The Mayor is slowly moving the homeless into hotels; the guy who lives in the window recess of the Presbytere Museum told me today that he had just missed the cut off to get in the Hilton Garden Inn by 6 people. I’d say the best way to describe his reaction was slightly stung. I told him they’ll find a place for him soon; he seemed to brighten at that. I think he looks forward to that mostly because he misses talking to people, he misses the hustle.  I mean, even the silver guy’s paint is almost entirely worn off. The musicians who are staying in the apartment across the street come out to the balcony in the afternoon and play music quietly but seem to have little of the animation and long jams that they offered in the first days. You make eye contact with strangers, but there is a bit of a hesitation in being too chummy; you don’t want to encourage them to slow down and stay around here. Some neighbors have chalked “Go Home; Be Safe” on the sidewalks; but those who get it are already home, and those who don’t get it, won’t. It’s odd to see the energy seep out of these entertaining streets, but at least we have a strong reason to believe much of it will return. In the meantime, we can save ourselves, our friends, and our neighbors by killing as much of it as possible. #nolacorona

Since that post, I have thought a lot about these silent streets since this post as the days tick by and wondered more and more about how and even if it will recover. Then, something my clearly exhausted but happy pal who owns a cafe in the Marigny said to me (as he bagged up order after order for folks patiently and happily waiting outside his place) struck me:

my business mantra right now is adapt or die.” 

Or as Arundhati Roy brilliantly said:

this pandemic is a portal.

Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” 

That portal can be hard to see in this anachronism of a neighborhood, charmingly designed for 17th and 18th-century living, and then made into a stage for visitors from other places to get a quick taste (and purchase) of that earlier time before heading back to their modern world.

Yet, even though it is primarily a stage, many things about this Quarter still work: the scale of it, the design of small apartments set above small storefronts, small well-run hotels, its nearness to the city center safeguarded behind massive well-engineered earthen levees instead of poorly-designed concrete walls such as those found in 9th ward or in Lakeview, utilities underground,  the highest ground, neighbors dealing with each other in shared alleys, on sidewalks and via on-street parking and so on. And because it is usually spared damage because of the care taken to maintain its facades for the tourists, it can quickly become a gathering place once again when hurricanes or floods devastate much of the city. Last but not least, this tourist center requires thousands of daily workers who become as dear as next-door neighbors, many of whom residents see more than their family, often relying on more than they do on far-off relatives.

Still, now as I venture out to the other parts of the city during this shut-down to get items, I see what I do not see here: restaurants and stores that have quickly adapted. From distilleries selling hand sanitizer or cocktail kits for homemade happy hours, cafes selling quarts of cold-brewed coffee or working with farmers to sell just-harvested items alongside their prepared items,  even fine dining places pivoting to offer a family meal (and 1/2 price bottles of wine) by drive-by pickup, they all seem to know what their neighbors would pay for and how often to serve them. Those businesses have bulletin boards,  funny, aspirational chalk signs for passersby and have become eyes and ears and care for their neighbors.

Orange Couch set  up for physically-distanced ordering at the side door

In these 90 or so blocks, enough locals live here so that we actually do have many neighborhoody things like drugstores, veterinarian offices, postal emporiums but it has become clear during this moment that even much of THAT relies on the millions of visitors who also come to these blocks, or it relies on the pockets of workers who, currently unsure of when or if they get to return to their store or will put that apron on again, are saving their bucks. Or maybe it doesn’t rely on those dollars at all but the business owners just think that it does. For whatever is actually true, what is clear is that almost all of them are closed. And they closed fast.

A few businesses tried to use social media to convince local folks to get items, but locals from other parts of town have been penalized and confused far too often by the parking rules here to dare to drive in. And even if they do brave it once in a while, most are not able to afford or stomach the majority-rule visitor-obsessed restaurants often enough to be familiar enough to check in with the others now.

As for residents: even though numbers have climbed steadily in the last 20 years, now at around 4,000 with around 1000 at or below poverty-level they mostly divide into the worker/residents of the Quarter (although far fewer than when I was one) now without income and the very very rich who have everything they need delivered by Amazon living behind their gates and private driveway.  Since 2000, owner-occupied units have risen from 24.6% to 48.2% with renter-occupied down from 75.4% to 51.8%;  fewer of us renters and therefore likely less of us remaining who seem to live here because we love it and not because we depend on it for work or because it is a family inheritance or peccadillo hideaway. As a result, those able to go get items from the restaurants who tried to offer food is even a smaller group than those other areas of town.

The other obvious issue clearly seen now that the Quarter is only serving its residents: it is so very very white which wasn’t the case when I moved here as a teen. And even though it has become clearly whiter in terms of residents since the pre and post 84 World’s Fair development furor,  on a normal day the cross-section of tens of thousands of workers, hustlers, and visitors allow the FQ to be as diverse and energetic as any place in this city, pound for pound, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Not right now though. The only faces of color or heard talking in other languages here during COVID-19 have been the sanitation folks, grocery workers and security personnel. The usual Quarter workers and artists who represent the diversity of our city are home in their own neighborhoods which since 2005 are far far from here. (Which ironically, also means that the multi-generational food entrepreneurs offering good, culturally appropriate food to a cross-section of New Orleanians are also now far from here.) That diversity is the heart and soul of what makes New Orleans interesting and important. And when we reopen, it’s possible that many culture bearers and much of our indigenous knowledge base may just not care to keep fighting their way back here this time – or the next.

All of this calls into question the future through this portal: what will an economy only based on tourism offer our city, once disruptions come again and again, as we have to expect they will?

More simply and directly, what will remain alive after just this one shutdown? And what if the US opens up later this summer just as we hit the height of hurricane season?

In only a month, I have already seen 1-2 brand-new commercial For Rent signs, talked to business owners who are mulling the idea of not reopening their storefront that cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars per month, and have heard of a few neighbors who are moving away to live with family or to cheaper cities to replenish their savings. One has to imagine that restarting the tourism wheel will take a while, especially when rumors (and logic) have it that JazzFest will likely not operate in 2020 or if it does at all, be a much smaller and leaner version. We’d have to assume the same will go for French Quarter Fest and others as they depend on sponsors as much as visitors. Connected to that is the outcome we have to expect if the seasoned staff of the past few decades that ran our best places like clockwork will not return intact.

So the question is how will we look once through this portal? Will the French Quarter adapt as it always has, or will it finally “die”- meaning become smaller, less lively, maybe owned by more out-of-towners with deeper pockets who move more to the middle in terms of what they present as New Orleans? That could mean losing what had been a critical mass of authentic experiences and becoming too small to entice enough visitors to hold this city together.

Or maybe – just maybe – this old city will just adapt as it has so many times previously.

In 2008, the book Building the Devil’s Empire offered the intriguing analysis (via many years of archaeological digs around the old city) that by the mid-1720s due to the failure of New Orleans as a tobacco exporter and the effect of Law’s Mississippi Bubble bursting,  France had basically given up on this colony, although not turning it over to the Spanish until the 1760s. Yet those digs show lively trade and activity in those 40 years, proving that New Orleans became a smuggler’s capital by turning its attention to the Caribbean to find its own opportunities even though that was against French law. That “rogue colonialism”, as Dawdy names it, she believes was mirrored in 2005 when the federal government did its best to thwart returning residents and stymie small businesses yet many found a way around that to survive and even some to thrive.

That rogue colonialism is clearly an adapt or die portal which could be vital for whenever the country opens back up for business. Do we have another one in us here? And if so, what will that version center on: regional food?  port activities? design for climate challenge places?

And maybe to help that, possibly commercial rents in the FQ will come down to reality. Maybe people will see the need for downsizing their place to something smaller and more communal as only the Quarter can offer. Maybe my idea of Canal Street and Pontalba being offered tax credits to become rent-controlled to entice residents to move upstairs into all of those decaying camera shops will happen.

I hear bike shops around town are doing bang-up business right now; maybe we’ll see a few open in FQ again.

Maybe less crap made in China will be for sale in our shops and more useful services for all residents can return. Shutter repair? Seamstresses? Metalwork? Mule-driven delivery around the city?

Maybe the French Market can add a splash park on the concrete pad, a storefront library, citywide compost drop off and community or senior services along its many block span to serve the entire city in some manner?

In any case, the way through this portal does seem to require a push to something new even if it might actually resemble something old and tested.

The question is: can we begin to turn in that direction?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’eau Est La Vie and Greta: How Dare You

From Greta to the UN today:

This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.

How dare you! For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight. With today’s emissions levels, our remaining CO2 budget will be gone in less than 8.5 years

You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that. The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control. Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences. To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world had 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes.

How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years. There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today. Because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. 

You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

 

From our local leaders:

Here in the bayous of Louisiana, our water and way of life is under threat, and we need your support.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the very same company behind the notorious Dakota Access Pipeline, is trying to build a 162 mile crude oil pipeline across Louisiana called the Bayou Bridge Pipeline (BBP).

The BBP will pollute our water, crossing an astounding 700 bodies of water including Bayou LaFourche, a critical reservoir that supplies the United Houma Nation and 300,000 Louisiana residents with clean, safe drinking water.

BBP will destroy our economy. Existing oil pipelines have already created enormous problems for our crawfishing industry. The BBP will only make these problems worse, creating dams in the Atchafalaya Basin dozens of miles long that irreparably damage the ecosystem and make fishing for crawfish impossible. The crawfishing industry supports thousands of good jobs in Louisiana. The BBP will only create 12 permanent jobs.

The BBP violates indigenous sovereignty. Along its path of destruction, the BBP would impact sacred mounds and threaten drinking water of the United Houma Nation, a tribe that has been seeking federal recognition for decades. The United Houma Nation has not been consulted and has not given consent for the construction of this pipeline.

The BBP will destroy our coast. Wetlands are sponges for floodwaters. The BBP will destroy 150 acres of wetlands in its path and will “temporarily” impact 450 more acres. Wetlands are vital to a resilient Southern Louisiana, and already because of climate change and development, Louisiana is losing an average of one acre of coastal wetlands per hour. The State of Luisiana is frantically trying to figure out how to save our coast, but building the BBP will make the situation worse.

The BBP will increase flooding. The loss of wetlands also means increased flooding. When flooding is worse, our communities suffer. Our homes our damaged, our crops are destroyed, our infrastructure is eroded, our families get sick, and our economy is harmed.

The BBP is a climate disaster. It will create the carbon equivalent of 30 new coal plants. The BBP is not compatible with our global mandate to limit climate change to 1.5℃.

Our growing network of impacted landowners, tribal members, environmental justice communities, and fisherfolk have submitted comments, spoken out at hearings, and demanded proper environmental reviews and that our concerns will be taken seriously. None of this has happened. ETP has swindled landowners, bought our politicians, and refused to address any of the community’s needs. Enough is enough. If our leaders won’t stand up to stop this pipeline and protect our water, then we the people of Louisiana will.

We are building the L’eau Est La Vie camp to protect our water and our way of life from the Bayou Bridge pipeline.

Donate now

 

Also check out the work of:

Autumn Peltier, Mari Copeny Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, Xiye BastidaMelati and Isabel Wijsen

 

 

bye bye Dryades Public Market

I guess sticking a tagline with your name is good enough for people to think your business served a cross-section.

This is what every story led with: “Dryades Public Market … the grocery with a mission (italics added) in Central City is closing today.”

Maybe the name public market fooled some people; really there should be a way that they should have been stopped in using that. Unfortunately, there is not.

As someone long involved in local food systems, I watched this idea sited on the ever-valiant Oretha Castle Haley with hope but more trepidation, and even a little more skepticism. Here are 2 posts from my public market blog where I referred to this entity.

In the late stages of design, I had been contacted by the developer, but I pretty much ignored the emails. (1) I felt there were better minds likely in the fray already, (2) I didn’t trust the local partner to do right by farmers based on what was being reported to me by some of them, and (3) I had moved on to more national work and felt I couldn’t give as much local context as I once had.  Still, they kept calling, so I went to meet with them.

In short, they strongly suggested to me that they knew their local partner was full of shit but felt they were too far along to stop. (I also remember that they kept telling me how many parking spaces this place would have-in exasperation, I finally said that in terms of what they wanted to happen and in knowing the area, parking wasn’t going to be the draw that it was for their projects in NYC. That they needed to let that go.)

What they wanted was some help in figuring out how to still make the idea work. We tossed around some ideas, but the lure of the food hub concept was too hard for them to resist  (although my memory was my only suggestion was to dump the partner publicly and reach out to a cross-section of chefs/farmers/organizers to come up with something else. They were definitely not gonna do THAT at that stage.) So what New Orleans ended up with was 3 different plans in about the same number of years: the “food hub”concept, followed by the “food hall” concept (run by good people who brought in other good people but had to do it without the financials being figured out and without a rebranding kickoff), and the last which was a bit of a desperate dab of a high end specialty store and a hot food line. All in all, nothing worked, even with a lot of truly well-meaning people doing their best to make it work.

I see people on Twitter calling for this to be relocated or even revived because of the “food desert” issue, but it is hard for me to see how people think this idea can work for either of those issues. (Also see folks calling out for ALDI’s or Trader Joe’s to come in to the site. Umm, not only is the square footage not even CLOSE to their wheelhouse, but the characteristics of a successful site for either is not even close to being present in New Orleans proper. It sucks but that is what it is. Capitalism.)

Food desert as a term doesn’t adequately describe the problem and for most organizers across the U.S, has been replaced by food apartheid.  This situation also is better served by that latter term, as OCH has long been one area well known for across-the-board disinvestment by the usual money for the 30 years before Katrina. Now of course, every developer is there using it to build more upscale apartments and eateries which serve only the new population. That is apartheid.

I also see people on social media responding to the news of this closing asking for the “culture to be saved” as if DPM had ANY relationship to our diverse, locally relevant food history or public market/corner store/Schweggie history. Let’s be clear: this blip on our screen is a result of the post-2010 culture designed almost entirely by our “cultural” (read NOT) mayor Landrieu, and the many developers who now have a complete hold on the city. That era was all about “white box delivery” as the goal, with the content being figured out later. Meaning so not New Orleans.

Situating this high end “market” (it hurts me to even write that word in relation to DPM) on OCH, in the midst of the incredible work done by long time activists to fight for equitable development was in in itself a mockery and so out of scale to the rest of the street it was doomed to fail because New Orleanians cannot be fooled.  Because what is true of New Orleanians is that, in terms of good ideas, they don’t believe they start with buildings; they believe they start with relationships, and they could see that this one had few.

If you were going for some level of authenticity, you’d go to Cafe Reconcile, Ashé Cultural Arts CenterRoux Carre, Casa Borrega, Church Alley (before it moved), Zeitgeist (also before it moved), bank at Hope Credit Union and so on. If you did those things, I find it hard to believe you would also enter the clubhouse that was J&J/DPM and spend your money there. And many of those “unfooled” New Orleanians I talked to said exactly that.

And yes, I went. I tried. And I felt out of place, and manipulated by a few wicker basket of bananas and apples and fancy water and a jar or two of local honey being sold to me as a grocery store. I left angry and embarrassed as to what this neighborhood which has survived so much was being offered even as the money was falling all over New Orleans. A crappy clubhouse.

So let’s be real and call this what it was: a bad experiment unworthy of OCH and New Orleans, learn from it,  and move on to better ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the city, he had many friends

From local activist/writer/publisher Rachel Breunlin today on FB:

A very old crow was on the edge of the neutral ground on Esplanade this morning. I stopped to check on him and he flew a little distance away. His murder of crows was stationed in the live oak trees around him. A neighbor said she had fed him this morning and that the year before she had buried a crow who died by her house and the others visited for days: “Aren’t crows the keepers of departed souls?” I went home and called Michel to see if we could take him to the animal rescue but when we returned, he had been hit by a car. We stood under the calls of the crows who flew around his body. In the city, he had many friends.

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That we notice, honor, and mourn all living things is one of the great characteristics of the New Orleans experience.

 

Rachel’s Neighborhood Story Project Website

New Orleans is at the forefront…

…of another trend, but this is one that we pretend doesn’t exist: as the recipient of the effects of climate change. Yesterday the city of New Orleans had another of those weather events that never used to happen. Dangerous winds, flash flooding and sideways rain swamping the city within a few hours, destroying the preparations for a festival about to open its doors in the Mid City area of town. This is how my pal, legendary hatmaker Tracy Thomson of Kabuki Hats described what happened there:

It happened about an hour before the Fest was scheduled to begin; we had just started setting out inventory when the winds picked up. We both were in the tent trying to hold it down, during a frightening half hour when we heard screams and wails and crashes. At one point our side walls unzipped with the force of the wind; I peeped out and it looked like our tent was the only one left standing. After what seemed an eternity I was looking right at andy as he was holding down the tent when the wind lifted him right off the ground and he and tent went flying. Nothing left but a mangled mess was left, the same all around us.

Monitoring Twitter and FB throughout, I felt the fear and stress from those stuck at that venue as well as from dozens of other spots as people sat in their cars with water rising and smartphone battery draining, saw trees topple around them or looked out a restaurant window, unsure if it was safe to head home. I had water rising in my courtyard and even noticed it creeping over the front curb close to the doors of the businesses here in the highest point of the city. That level of rain had only happened a few times before in my almost 40-years of monitoring the Quarter.

The weather lady of New Orleans, Margaret Orr was on the air for the entire storm, doing her best to analyze the evolving situation (her awe and excitement over the number of lightning strikes during a storm is one of her charming quirks) while calming folks down. As usual, she was exactly right when she talked about the reason this is happening: extreme heat in the region, more moisture in the air and less land between us and the Gulf of Mexico.

Unfortunately, most New Orleanians didn’t hear that. They only want to talk about one thing- how the “pumps clearly weren’t working.” That narrative is of course based on the recent history of finding out during the LAST flash flood in 2017, SWB had many pumps offline or without personnel and that much of the power supply was offline too. We only found that out after first they lied and said just about everything had been working. So I get it; we got snookered, but even in 2017 what was missing in most people’s analysis is that the city would STILL have flooded based on the amount of rain; it would just have drained hours earlier.

So this time the truth was once again wrapped in a little hysteria, with a big helping of what author-activist Rebecca Solnit calls naïve cynicism brilliantly described in this passage:

If simplification means reducing things to their essentials, oversimplification tosses aside the essential as well. It is a relentless pursuit of certainty and clarity in a world that generally offers neither, a desire to shove nuances and complexities into clear-cut binaries. Naïve cynicism concerns me because it flattens out the past and the future, and because it reduces the motivation to participate in public life, public discourse, and even intelligent conversation that distinguishes shades of gray, ambiguities and ambivalences, uncertainties, unknowns, and opportunities. Instead, we conduct our conversations like wars, and the heavy artillery of grim confidence is the weapon many reach for.

Magazine Pacific Standard highlighted a recent study on how potential coastal flooding is being ignored especially by those who will lose the most:

But humans, apparently, are not all that rational. Despite clear evidence of rising global temperatures, over a third of Americans don’t believe that climate change is happening, according to a recent poll by Gallup. Only 45 percent think that it will pose a serious threat in their lifetime.

Most significantly, if you live by the coast, you’re likely to be less—not more—worried about sea-level rise and flooding than those who live inland, according to Bakkensen and Lint’s research.

Here is what we know.

The pumps of our city are designed to quickly pump an inch of rain the first hour of a storm and then continue at the rate of a half inch. Using the verified rainfall reports during the storm, we had already had 3-5 inches of rain in different parts of the city in a span of 2-3 hours. Please do the math.

We have had an incredible amount of new construction in every neighborhood, mostly taking more green space away or adding weight and size to what had been mostly smaller, more appropriate housing stock pre-Katrina. Everything after 2005 is bigger.

Some of the new council reported on social media during the storm they were checking in to the pumping stations which were operating. The mayor monitored the situation first-hand in person with her directors including those from the SWB, tweeting and posting updates on pumps and issues throughout.

As soon as the rain slowed, the streets cleared quickly.

So a very different situation than 2017. Yet immediately the naive cynicism began: The mayor wasn’t paying attention, the water had “never” been that high previously, every elected official was probably out of town, no rain had been forecasted and so on.

The truth: The rain forecast was only for 20% but pop up storms were said to be very possible especially in afternoon according to the newscasts I watched the night before. Unfortunately, the worst came during the Friday afternoon/night commute and so more people were out on the streets and cut off from their neighborhoods by rising water in all directions; construction sites were not properly secured so people drove into holes where the fencing had blown away or the materials for that construction blocked folks from getting their cars to high ground; based on secondhand reports, the festival staff mentioned previously seemed to not be monitoring the radar closely enough or to have a plan for emergency weather once it began.

None of that was going to be solved by having more pumps.

The bigger issue is what one of the most endangered coasts in the Americas is beginning to deal with regularly.

The rise of sea level is the fastest it has been in the last 2 millennia. We are closer than ever to the Gulf as land slips away and the chemical and oil companies continue to cut away our land to add more pipes to take out more resources. We have lost more than 2,000 square miles since the 1930s. This spring, we have already often had temperatures around 10 degrees higher than normal with very little rain, and this after a colder than average winter. In other words, more extremes. (NOAA released their monthly climate report, making April the 400th consecutive month of above-average temperatures globally.) The summer heat brings those storms that are not part of distinct fronts, but flare up on “subtle outflow boundaries from previous thunderstorms, sea-breeze fronts, higher terrain or in a more random pattern.”  Which means they don’t move very fast either.

The irony is that engineering that everyone expects to save us is how we got into this mess. As geographer/author Rich Campanella has carefully explained to us again and again, “When runoff is removed and artificial levees prevent the river from overtopping, the groundwater lowers, the soils dry out, and the organic matter decays. All this creates air pockets in the soil body, into which those sand, silt, and clay particles settle, consolidate—and drop below sea level.” So yes, the city used to be 100% above sea level; now, it is 50%.

That scarier, less manageable truth also needs to be incorporated into the vital city government need for fixing our current water management system. So sure, absolutely keep an eye on SWB and City Hall but also:

Support the Greater New Orleans Water Plan and the restoration of wetlands. Join the city’s Adopt a Catch Basin program. Reduce runoff on your property by reducing the concrete, cut back on the release of carbon dioxide – especially in summer- with fewer trips in vehicles and less charcoal grilling, try for an economic use of air-conditioning, plant trees, reduce, reuse, recycle (and as someone recently said to me, remember those 3 are meant to be a priority of actions not a choice of one over the other!), add insulation, use CFL light bulbs, turn your hot water tank down, get an audit of other energy uses around your home and workplace and fight the sale of our remaining land to corporations interested in only their profits over our needs and the rightful sovereignty of native people.

Understand the reality at home and around our globe. Be wise and fair AND firm with your city leaders and your world and maybe we can stop the worst of this and get away from being at the front of the pack of those cities that may be soon lost due to climate change.