In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, we as a nation watched as one of our nation’s beloved cultural capitals suffered immensely. As a former resident of the area, I was left with a sense of loss and simmering anger. The situation called for compassion, a quick response, and heroism. What transpired could be best described as apathetic, shockingly slow, and utterly regretable.
Residents of the area will have to deal with the aftermath for years to come. Indeed, many cities and towns along the Gulf Coast are struggling with how to pick up the pieces and begin the long rebuilding process. The fact that many towns were literally washed away means that planners must essentially start from scratch. This is why many so-called New Urbanists have rushed to the delta to attempt to put in place a long-term planning process by which towns and cities in the region can bring back a sense of community and foster sustainable local economies.
The principles of New Urbanism are catching on in a region that has recently been dominated by strip malls and casinos. The creation of walkable neighborhoods and low-impact transportation methods can significantly reduce local pollution and greenhouse gases. Critics typically deride New Urbanism as a ‘Disneyesque’ pining for yesteryear, which may at times be a fair visual assessment. However, the New Urbanism movement, headed by the Congress for New Urbanism, can make serious arguments for its adoption on climate change merits alone.
The jury will remain out on whether New Urbanism creates the hope and stability in an area that so desperately needs it. However, city planners and active citizens across the nation should take note and help to generate positive discussions about how to create vibrant, low-impact communities. And we should all lend a hand or a kind thought to those affected by Katrina.