30 August 2006

Katrina Anniversary: Rebuild Wetlands

NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans should embrace its watery environment and restore wetlands as it rebuilds, suggests a prize-winning architect hired to design a modernistic central park in the city's downtown, according to an article in Reuters/Planet Ark. Coastal wetlands, barrier islands, and other coastal ecosystems are the first line of defense against catastrophic storms.

Thom Mayne, known for maverick designs, urged New Orleans to treat the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina last year as a chance to re-imagine the city, adding both technology and a dollop of the nature that has been erased over the years.
"If you build it again, would you do it the same way?" Mayne asked. "The answer is absolutely no."

New Orleans is known for the wrought iron and stone of its narrow French Quarter streets and wooden mansions on oak-shaded Garden District avenues, both in higher areas of town.

But most of New Orleans is below sea level, and many of the areas hit hardest by Katrina were developed from land reclaimed from wetlands -- or swamps. State officials and activists are also focused on restoring coastal wetlands to help soften the blow of future storms.

Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005 and killed about 1,500 people in four states, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans, where entire neighbourhoods are still nearly empty.

Putting up fewer buildings, more densely packed with much more open space could help prevent a recurrence, Mayne said.

"What would the open space be? You could even leave huge tracts of property that would return to its original state, a swampland or the estuary, wetlands and they would become sort of future preserves, that actually would draw tourists, by the way," he mused in a phone interview from his office in Santa Monica, California.

"You are literally starting over," he said.

Read the full article here: Katrina

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