By nature, I'm a cut-my-losses-and-get-out kind of person; when something reaches the point where it's not worth the bother anymore, I'd just as soon abandon it and go on to something else.

But then I saw this:

These are places that routinely flood, year after year. And given the vagaries of flood insurance, Uncle Sam usually ends up paying the steep reconstruction costs, with quite a bit of controversy surrounding such bailouts (no pun intended). After all, these people may get renovated homes, but they're still living in a flood plain, doomed to suffer misfortune again.

The bill for New Orleans and its environs will likely be far higher than what we're estimating now. But no matter what is done, when the city is rebuilt it will be rebuilt atop land that still sits below sea level. Dikes may be restored, levees may be reinforced, but nothing will change that fact.

Which makes me wonder: why rebuild at all? After all, we'll simply be postponing the inevitable. And given the increasing problem of coastal erosion in Louisiana — certainly helped along by Hurricane Katrina — future threats are looming ever larger.

And despite the manifest logic of this position, I hated it. Hated it.

I mean, we're not talking about a bad relationship, a failed business deal, a treaty turned topsy-turvy. We're talking about a city of half a million people, the hub of a metropolitan area of a million and a half, a city with nearly three hundred years of history to show for itself, a dream destination for thousands every year.

New Orleans is there, not because of some accident of fate that plopped it down in a suboptimal location, but because, over the years, millions of people have wanted it there. And one of the great privileges of living in this land is being able to live just about anywhere you want.

Not that everyone actually appreciates this privilege, even in faraway Minnesota:

There are vast townhouse projects cropping up on every ridge, spilling along the highway. Not ugly ones, either. None of those "ticky-tacky" houses that so offended the sneering sensibilities of ungrateful Boomer brats forced to do childhood in the godless potato fields of Long Island, dreaming of the day when they could move to the city, live on the fourth floor, read Kerouac by a candle stuck in a fiasco, and wake to the sound of beer bottles dumped out when the bar closed. Real life. True life. What do you have in the burbs but starlight and silence? What's real about that?

Reality is where you find it, in a cozy inner-ring suburb, in a McMansion that sits in the corner of an old truck farm, in a second-floor walkup on the Lower East Side — or down by the Mississippi delta, sweating in God's own atmospheric gumbo.

No, I don't think we ought to be rewarding people with endless largesse from the Treasury for wanting to live in places that prove problematic. (Homeowners in Louisiana already pay the second-highest insurance premiums in the nation, trailing only Texas.) But I'm damned if I'm going to tell them they can't live there.

The Vent

#451
1 September 2005

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