Katrina's Imprint highlights the power of this sentinel American event and its continuing reverberations in contemporary politics, culture, and public policy. Published on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the multidisciplinary volume reflects on how history, location, access to transportation, health care, and social position feed resilience, recovery, and prospects for the future of New Orleans and the Gulf region. Essays examine the intersecting vulnerabilities that gave rise to the disaster, explore the cultural and psychic legacies of the storm, reveal how the process of rebuilding and starting over replicates past vulnerabilities, and analyze Katrina's imprint alongside American's myths of self-sufficiency. A case study of new weaknesses that have emerged in our era, this book offers an argument for why we cannot wait for the next disaster before we apply the lessons that should be learned from Katrina.
The United States has one of the largest and costliest flood control systems in the world, even though only a small proportion of its land lies in floodplains. Rivers by Design traces the emergence of the mammoth U.S. flood management system, which is overseen by the federal government but implemented in conjunction with state governments and local contractors and levee districts. Karen M. O’Neill analyzes the social origins of the flood control program, showing how the system initially developed as a response to the demands of farmers and the business elite in outlying territories. The configuration of the current system continues to reflect decisions made in the nineteenth century and early twentieth. It favors economic development at the expense of environmental concerns.
O’Neill focuses on the creation of flood control programs along the lower Mississippi River and the Sacramento River, the first two rivers to receive federal flood control aid. She describes how, in the early to mid-nineteenth century, planters, shippers, and merchants from both regions campaigned for federal assistance with flood control efforts. She explains how the federal government was slowly and reluctantly drawn into water management to the extent that, over time, nearly every river in the United States was reengineered. Her narrative culminates in the passage of the national Flood Control Act of 1936, which empowered the Army Corps of Engineers to build projects for all navigable rivers in conjunction with local authorities, effectively ending nationwide, comprehensive planning for the protection of water resources.
Humanity is deeply committed to living along the world’s shores, but a catastrophic storm like Sandy—which took hundreds of lives and caused many billions of dollars in damages—shines a bright light at how costly and vulnerable life on a shoreline can be. Taking Chances offers a wide-ranging exploration of the diverse challenges of Sandy and asks if this massive event will really change how coastal living and development is managed.
Bringing together leading researchers—including biologists, urban planners, utilities experts, and climatologists, among others—Taking Chances illuminates reactions to the dangers revealed by Sandy. Focusing on New Jersey, New York, and other hard-hit areas, the contributors explore whether Hurricane Sandy has indeed transformed our perceptions of coastal hazards, if we have made radically new plans in response to Sandy, and what we think should be done over the long run to improve coastal resilience. Surprisingly, one essay notes that while a large majority of New Jerseyans identified Sandy with climate change and favored carefully assessing the likelihood of damage from future storms before rebuilding the Shore, their political leaders quickly poured millions into reconstruction. Indeed, much here is disquieting. One contributor points out that investors scared off from further investments on the shore are quickly replaced by new investors, sustaining or increasing the overall human exposure to risk. Likewise, a study of the Gowanus Canal area of Brooklyn shows that, even after Sandy swamped the area with toxic flood waters, plans to convert abandoned industrial lots around the canal into high-density condominiums went on undeterred. By contrast, utilities, emergency officials, and others who routinely make long-term plans have changed operations in response to the storm, and provide examples of adaptation in the face of climate change.
Will Sandy be a tipping point in coastal policy debates—or simply dismissed as a once-in-a-century anomaly? This thought-provoking collection of essays in Taking Chances makes an important contribution to this debate.