URBAN HISTORY & PLANNING
Kenneth T. Jackson,
Professor of History
How did you first learn of the Katrina disaster a year ago, and what were your first thoughts?
My closest friend has lived in New Orleans for 40 years, and he was with me in New York ten days before Katrina hit. I watched the events unfold on television, and my first thoughts were that no city has suffered such total destruction from a natural disaster since Pompeii fell victim to an earthquake.
Given all your work on American urban history, was the New Orleans catastrophe predictable, and if so, in what ways?
Much of New Orleans is below sea level and the city borders both a huge lake and the Mississippi River. Because hurricanes have been common in the Gulf of Mexico for generations, it was inevitable that the Crescent City would someday be slammed by a catastrophic storm.
Where are we one year later: what are the outstanding problems that still need to be addressed? If you could advise New Orleans policy-makers, what steps would you recommend being taken to improve the situation in the years ahead?
In addition to the obvious problems of what and where to rebuild, New Orleans must come to grips with three issues in which it has been unique in the United States: crime, corruption, and a closed business and social elite. While these problems are in some ways typical of all urban places, nowhere else in this country are they so extreme and so intractable.
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