Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Kotkin/WSJ on NOLA vs. Houston

Joel Kotkin has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today that is very complimentary towards Houston. It compares New Orleans' poorly planned response to Katrina to Houston's response to Rita.

In contrast, Texas -- and the Houston area in particular -- has been industrious, building elaborate drainage, sewer, flood and other systems to handle the delivery and control of water into the metropolis. Such foresight has been a prerequisite for great cities from the days of ancient Rome to contemporary Los Angeles. Importantly, this should not be seen as a partisan issue but one of civic patriotism. As New York's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia once noted, "There is no Republican or Democratic way to clean streets."

Both Texas Governor Rick Perry and Judge Robert Eckels, effectively the overseer of Harris County, are Republicans. Two of the most important architects of Houston's infrastructure spending, former Mayor Bob Lanier and current Mayor Bill White, are Democrats; Mr. White, in fact, was the highly partisan former chairman of Texas State Democratic Party.

Houston's investment and planning accelerated following the floods resulting in 2001 from Hurricane Allison, which dumped 37 inches of rain on the area and killed 22 people. When Rita hit, Houston's leadership was prepared to get folks out, something which, despite glitches, was largely accomplished. The city's famed hospitals were ready with secure power sources and the police, as well as the Guard, were prepared to act. Even if Rita had slammed the Houston region directly, it is unlikely we would have seen anything like the catastrophe that affected New Orleans. Houston would have buckled, and some lives may have been lost along with homes and businesses, but its civil society would have remained intact. The Astrodome would never have become a house of horrors.

It's certainly nice to see some positive publicity for Houston on the national level. He goes on to make several other points:
  • Questioning the need to elevate FEMA to first responder status when competent state and local government is far better positioned.
  • Talks about the Gulf Coast as the affordable "coast of opportunity", but that environmental regulations, insurance premiums, buyouts, and conversions to greenbelts/parks need to be used to steer development away from dangerous and flood-prone areas to prevent the need for future federal bailouts.
  • The long-term need to try and steer more population growth away from the high-risk and high-cost coasts towards the interior of the country, especially as we add 100 million new Americans over the next 50 years.
Not sure how to accomplish that last one in a free society, although I've always thought there should be some way to increase our immigration caps on a voluntary basis for states that need and want additional population, particularly in the Midwest, with the requirement that the immigrant stay within a certain set of states for a given number of years.


At 1:21 PM, September 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These comparisons between NOLA and Houston are completely pointless. Only about half of Houston ended up evacuating because the hurricane veered off a direct hit. If the entire city had left, as would have been likely if Rita kept going to Matagorda, we would have been in a situation likely worse than NOLA (tons of cars on the roads, no gas, cars getting swept up off I-10 and I-45 and sent into the sky).

That and we are not built below water (though Galveston and cities lining the channel would likely have been destroyed by a Cat 4 or Cat 5 hit on Matagorda)

Tremendous heat from a high pressure system is ironically what saved our city. There should be no delusions that this evacuation was acceptable by any means, because as bad as the evacuation looked this time, imagine twice as many people trying to leave in the same span of time in the event of a sustained Cat 4/5 aimed just below Houston.

We got lucky, and to think otherwise is the height of hubris.


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