New Orleans is in the news for flooding... again. And once more, the systems in place to keep it from flooding are in question. This time, though, not in the question of them failing--in the question of them working. Because... if the Morganza Spillway is opened, which could potentially save New Orleans from a possible 25 feet of water, hundreds of people's homes and acres and acres of farmland and fisheries will be ruined. And if you read the comments beneath the articles on CNN.com, you see the inevitable questions... "Why don't people just wise up and move out??" "What's the point of all this obviously expensive engineering and tax dollar spending wasted on this area that floods all the time anyway??" "Why should we save this city??" Obviously, I get extremely heated about this, because, as you can tell, I am completely head over heels in love with my city, and I could go on and on and on about how beautiful, unique, wonderful, magical, this place is. But what good does that do, really? Gets a load off of my chest, sure, but opinions hardly work to convince people. So here I am (slightly calmed down after a cup of tea) to make a case for the Crescent City, and why EVERYONE (even people who don't live here) should be concerned about protecting New Orleans, and how that, in turn, leads us to an obligation to help others.
New Orleans was founded and maintains it's dominance because of one thing... the Mississippi River. It's a port. In fact, it's the largest inland port in the United States. In 1718, when New Orleans was founded, there was no faster means of transport than water. Overland travel was tedious and slow, and could not handle the movement of large amounts of cargo or people. The Mississippi is connected to a network of 19,000 miles of inland waterways that fan out from the River itself, right into the heart of the continent. In fact, 70% of the nation's waterways drain into the Mississippi River as it flows past New Orleans, and by New Orleans, it's DEEP, over 100 ft., which means that it can easily accommodate GINORMOUS ships with massive amounts of cargo, and it's a few miles inland from the Gulf, which means a natural safe harbor for those ships. Planting a city in New Orleans' location was the 1718 equivalent of plugging directly into the world-wide web. Goods could be brought in from all over the world because of the close access to the Gulf of Mexico and then easily distributed throughout the nation because of the River's vast veins of waterfront access. It was primarily to gain this access that the United States made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 from Napoleon, which at that time DOUBLED the size of the nation, but it would have been useless if New Orleans would not have been included because it's whoever controls New Orleans who controls the use of the Mississippi River.
New Orleans as a port is no less relevant today. Over 6,000 ships move through New Orleans every year, making it the world's busiest waterway. This single port in one year can generate $2.8 BILLION in tax revenue and support $37 billion of the United States' output. 5 MILLION tons of steel were imported in just one year, and it's the nation's top port in coffee and rubber. The Port of New Orleans boasts the world's longest wharf, which can handle up to 15 vessels at one time. In fact, the world's FIRST World Trade Center was right here in New Orleans.
The industries of the New Orleans area have a vital impact on the nation. Louisiana is the nation's largest salt producer and represents 19% of the country's natural gas reserves and 11% of the nation's petroleum. Obviously, with the marine background shipbuilding and repair of US Navy vessels is a large business in New Orleans. The Higgins boats, which are recognizable as an instrumental marine vehicle in the D-DAY Invasion, were built and tested in New Orleans, which is part of the reason why New Orleans is the location of the National World War II Museum. It also serves as a big port for cruise ships, with over 700,000 passengers moving through the city annually. A big draw for those tourists is the fantastic food, especially seafood. Louisiana Seafood accounts for 40% of all seafood that Americans eat every year.
The Tourism Industry is massive in New Orleans, and rightly so. There are over 35,000 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, which, by the way, is 15,000 MORE than Washington D.C. The iconic New Orleans Streetcar is the oldest continually operating streetcar line in the world. Another icon, the Superdome, has hosted more Superbowls than any other stadium. New Orleans' signature holiday, Mardi Gras, alone is a billion dollar event, and let's not forget Jazz Fest, or the vast array of festivals that draw in millions to the city every year.
When I travel, the thing that amazes me is how much New Orleans is represented in so many other places. When I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last July during one of their street festivals, I saw booth after booth of "New Orleans style" food! I ate in a "New Orleans" restaurant in Oklahoma City! I popped into a "New Orleans" pub in London, England! The famous Disney ride, Pirates of the Carribbean, opened in Disneyland in a section of the park titled "New Orleans Square". Everywhere, people's hearts are striving for the spirit and feel of this city.
"But it's so dangerous to live there!" "It floods all the time!" "What about hurricanes??" Well... what about hurricanes?? Personally, I don't mind dealing with a natural disaster that gives you ample time to get you and your loved ones well out of harm's way. You-Know-What would not have been the mess it was if it hadn't been for MAN-MADE mistakes on the part of government agencies that AREN'T BASED IN NEW ORLEANS. Predicting blizzards doesn't really give the amount of time for evacuation that hurricane prediction does, and as far as tornadoes are concerned, there's barely any warning for those, and earthquakes give no warning at all! You can't escape nature no matter where you go, and where there's nature there's ALWAYS the potential that it can become hazardous.
As far as flooding goes, the original city of New Orleans, the French Quarter, is built right next to the River ON HIGH GROUND!! Even when 80% of the city was underwater, the French Quarter and most of Uptown New Orleans was HIGH AND DRY!! New Orleanians really had to start dealing with flooding once the city had grown larger and spread out away from the River. But even after our worse flooding, the city has bounced back ENORMOUSLY! In fact, there are more restaurants open NOW than there were BEFORE the Storm (we locals tend to shy away from the K-word, preferring to refer to it as simply "the Storm"). Every city in the world has its own storms to deal with. I believe that our battle with the elements gets more publicized because deep down, the world would be disheartened without the knowledge that there is someplace truly and naturally vibrant and magical. It would be as if something bad were to happen to Disney World. Oh yes, I went there. I'm also a massive Disney fan, and I think it's because Disney is such an awesome counterpart to New Orleans, in that Disney is man-made magic that can be pin-pointed to individual design choices, visions, and elements, and New Orleans magic seems to well up unseen but felt, beating in its music and its streets. You can see clearly why Princess and the Frog is one of my favorite movies.
I think everyone should keep in their hearts and minds the people that have been affected and will be affected by the flooding that has occurred because of the River that gives our city its life-blood. But I think it's unnecessary to quabble over "if's" or "maybe's" because not opening the Morganza Spillway will not save its residents from flooding. The River will run over no matter what, and in it's path, injure the very jewel that gives it it's fame. We should be there for those people that will be driven out of their homes, and offer every service and hospitality to them, because as New Orleanians, that is our obligation to others, our price of protection to anyone, who like us, is at the mercy of the elements. Should New Orleans be saved? Absolutely. And in being saved, we must pay it forward, and reach our hands out to others.
*The concrete info from this article was taken from information researched by the New Orleans Marketing and Tourism Company and from City-Data.com.*