Disaster Relief as Class Warfare

One of the problem with arguments that New Orleans shouldn’t be rebuilt (7/20/07 post, no permalink) is that they ignore our government’s history of rebuilding towns in hazardous environments.

In 1993 Malibu had its worst fire since the 1930s, killing 3 and doing $1 billion in damage. The town occupies the narrow strip of land where the Santa Monica Mountains meet the sea and has a chronic fire problem, so this wasn’t exactly unpredictable (recommended reading: Let Malibu Burn). Every few years there’s a fire, every couple decades there’s a really big fire. So, why would anyone live there?

It’s worth the risk to have a slice of paradise.

Says Michael Visbal (he of shameful hillside home that must be supported by 16 steel beams) in this LA times article. Plus big government has got your back: In 1993, a federal disaster area was declared and the FEMA director assured the town that they would have “all the aid they need to rebuild homes and lives.”

Moreover, there was never any question that Malibu would be rebuilt. I haven’t been able to find any articles or editorials from 1993 that opposed rebuilding. It just wasn’t part of the discourse. Flash forward to New Orleans in 2005, and the discussion is much different.

Of course, there are problems that arise with having a city in the floodplain of a major river, which also gets battered by hurricanes. But guess what: many, many cities are adjacent to rivers or coasts. It’s where we people like to put our cities. And other countries have figured out many ways to stop flooding.

Anyway, flooding is a much more common problem than Malibu’s fire ecology, and in that we the people have decided to assist in the rebuilding of the latter we need to assist in the former. After New Orleans is rebuilt, there will be legitimate space for a discussion of disaster relief and where people should and shouldn’t build. But that has to wait until after the poor, black city receives the same treatment as the rich, white city.

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