I live in South Florida, on high(ish) ground. Katrina came past and gave my neighborhood a little slap, on her way out to the warm gulf waters, where she organized into a cat 5 hurricane. Now 1.5 million people are homeless, jobless, and in shock, just from New Orleans alone. There’s no guessing how many will be dead when all is accounted for.

Entrepreneurs and businesses have always gone where the resources are. Regular folks follow behind because that’s where the jobs are. Government comes along and surrounds a swamp with levees, and calls it a city.
And of course the Army Corps of Engineers comes along and turns 2000 miles of winding bottomland river into a 1000 mile ditch, contained (theoretically) by 14 meter levees. Homes, factories, and farms fill the bottomland right up to the levies.

In a free society, you can’t prevent people from trying to turn a swamp into a suburb, unless you buy the land and turn it into park or preserve. Ever since agriculture started on the Nile, we’ve known that flood plains are great places to grow crops, so you don’t really want to take them out of production. Of course if you dam off the river, the plain is no longer renewed, topsoil leaches away, and the land starts to sink even lower. Then there are lots of places in this country where the ONLY justification for building homes is gorgeous location, like Miami Beach and all the other sandbars on our Atlantic coast, or the muddy, fire prone hills above Los Angeles.

People have to find work, they have to live where they work. New Orleans grew where it did because it was a handy place for a port that served the Mississippi, there was rich fishing in the gulf, it was marginally drier than much of the wetland around it.
But, like Venice,” it’s been sinking since it was built,”:http://www.pubs.asce.org/ceonline/ceonline03/0603feat.html and just like the proverbial frog in a slowly heating kettle, few have ever decided it was time to get out.

But you can’t expect to live below sea level next to a sea, or on a flood plain, or a sand bar, or a muddy hillside, or a dry pine forest, and be safe. Should governments issue building permits in swamps? Should insurance companies write fire policies on wooden houses in pine forests? Flood policies on swamps and flood plains? Should governments try to control mighty rivers from headwaters to delta, destroying wetlands and the buffering swamp? Should governments dredge millions of tons of sand back onto the beaches of Miami every time a hurricane scours them out? Do citizens have a right to settle in the path of disaster? Does government have an obligation to make extraordinary efforts to prevent that disaster?

Whether we ever get New Orleans dry again, or not, perhaps it should be condemned as unfit for human habitation. Made partly into a memorial (To stubborn denial in the face of the obvious?) and the rest back to wetland. We certainly need the wetlands, and I’d bet that if the Mississippi was allowed to set her own course, in only a decade or two the entire bowl of New Orleans would become fine breeding grounds, once again filling the gulf with life.

I’m not sure I even know my own position on all this, but I’ve lived in the path of hurricanes for many years. I can’t help but stroll the beaches of our barrier islands, looking at houses and condos, built on SAND BARS, and ask, “Are these people nuts? How can they live here and expect sympathy and support when a storm sweeps the land right out from under them? What lunatic zoning board said it was alright to sell condos on sand bars?” The buildings do sit on pilings driven a dozen meters or more into our very soft bedrock, but that only means they might not wash away immediately, instead perching on stilts in the Atlantic ocean, when the storm moves the barrier island out from under them. And it will, sooner or later.