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Environmental Building News Offers Ten-Point Plan for Rebuilding New Orleans

Brattleboro, VT (October 04, 2005)

In an in-depth editorial in the October, 2005, issue of Environmental Building News (EBN), BuildingGreen president and EBN executive editor Alex Wilson lays out a bold plan for how to approach the reconstruction of New Orleans in a way that protects the environment while respecting the city's culture and the well-being of its residents. Only twice before in our history--with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906--has this nation faced such wholesale reconstruction of a city. The rebuilding of New Orleans offers an opportunity to address sustainability on a scale that has not been tried before.

"In many respects, New Orleans should not be rebuilt in its present location," argues Wilson in the editorial. He points out that the combination of subsiding land, rising sea levels resulting from global climate change, and deep shipping channels carved into the Mississippi River delta that funnel storm surges toward the city make rebuilding the city in its present location a dubious solution. But he suggests that the momentum for rebuilding New Orleans where it is will be so strong that relocating the city is almost out of the question. "New Orleans is almost certain to be rebuilt in its present location," says Wilson, "and proponents of sustainable design and building should be part of the discussion about the rebuilding."

EBN's ten-point plan for New Orleans, which was developed with the help of the newsletter's Editorial Advisory Board and other experts in sustainable planning and design, is summarized below:

  1. Institute a Sustainable New Orleans planning task force. This task force, comprised of leading national experts in sustainable development and community leaders from the New Orleans area, should develop a series of neighborhood, community, city, and regional plans over the next six to twelve months.
  2. Pursue coastal and floodplain restoration as the number-one priority in rebuilding New Orleans. Rebuilding without addressing the fundamental hydrologic forces that influence this region would be folly.
  3. Immediately establish Sustainable New Orleans enterprise-zone businesses to salvage and warehouse building materials. Even as the planning gets underway for rebuilding New Orleans, locally owned businesses that employ residents should be set up to deconstruct damaged buildings and recover materials that can be used in rebuilding.
  4. Rebuild a levee system around the city that is second to none. If New Orleans is to be maintained in its present location, a levee system able to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and storm surges is critical. Where possible, the levees should be integrated into a perimeter park, providing a new recreational amenity to the city.
  5. Create Sustainable New Orleans overlay zoning for the city to ensure that the goals of sustainability, safety, and urban vitality will be followed in the city's redevelopment. Emerging from the planning process outlined above, the zoning should provide for mixed uses, pedestrian access, energy efficiency, renewable energy systems that can help residents weather extended power outages, and a strong platform of building science for all construction.
  6. Retain and restore those buildings that can be salvaged. While many of the buildings not leveled by the flooding will have to be demolished due to moisture, mold, and structural damage, those buildings that can be detoxified and renovated should be salvaged.
  7. Mandate or incentivize green building. The city, state, and federal governments, as well as insurance companies and banks, should encourage going well beyond minimum standards in the reconstruction of the city. Affordable housing should be built at least to Enterprise Foundation Green Communities standards, and public buildings should be required to meet LEED(R) Gold standards.
  8. Work with ecologists and fisheries biologists to create more sustainable fisheries for the Gulf Coast. Because seafood is such an important element of New Orleans's economy and culture, and because local fisheries have suffered from heavy pollutant loadings, protecting and rebuilding those fisheries should be a high priority.
  9. Clean up the new brownfields of New Orleans. The most ecologically responsible means, including bioremediation, phytoremediation, and ecological restoration, should be used to detoxify the pollutant-laden sediments left by the flooding.
  10. Work with industry to clean up the factories along the Gulf Coast. As part of rebuilding efforts in the New Orleans region, partnerships should be forged among industry, government agencies, environmental organizations, and affected residents to find long-term solutions for greening the industries in this area, which is known as "Cancer Alley."

"These tasks will be both challenging and costly," acknowledges Wilson, "but the huge investment of taxpayer money needed to rebuild New Orleans and the surrounding area means that the end product should be in the interest of the broader American society." He suggests that New Orleans can emerge as a model for sustainable development, charting a course that other cities can follow. "Let's not look back at the rebuilding of New Orleans as a lost opportunity," he says. "Let's work together for a future that the city--and all of America--can be proud of." Text of the full editorial can be found at

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