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How Can Communities, Cities and Regions Recover From Disaster?

10/05/2005 4:00 PM Kirsch
Lawrence Vale, SM '88, Professor and Head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT School of Architecture and Planning; Thomas Kochan, George M. Bunker Professor of Management,; Co-director, Institute for Work and Employment, MIT Sloan School of Management; J. Phillip Thompson, Associate Professor of Urban Politics, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT

Description: Are Cities Resilient? Disaster Recovery, Past and Present"

Will New Orleans rise again, and if so, in what form? Lawrence J. Vale offers both comfort and caution. "In the last 200 years, there has been almost no case of a major city anywhere that hasn't been rebuilt after a major disaster," he says. Whether post-bomb Hiroshima, or Chicago after its 19th-century inferno, urban disasters become opportunities for "building back bigger and stronger," says Vale. Citizens and policy makers share narratives around these common traumas, of the sustained horror but also of inevitable progress and possible redemption. The issue for New Orleans will be how politics and economics attach to these themes. Will the city become "a Disney camp, Mardi Gras festival all year round," wonders Vale, or will people from the housing projects and from the ports also be allowed a seat at the table?

"Hurricane Katrina: What Would FDR Do?"

Franklin Roosevelt got the approach just right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, says Thomas A. Kochan. "He understood instinctively the need for cooperation 'and called for business, labor and community groups to work together in the war effort." Partisan differences melted away in this national crisis, and a set of innovative practices emerged that set the standard for generations, from worker training to pension plans. But the current administration caters only to specific political and economic interests. Just look at its futile effort to bail the airline industry out after 9/11, Kochan points out. "30 billion in losses later, it's still an industry in shambles," he says. With Katrina, where there's clearly a need to "learn from the best practices of labor, management and community groups," the administration is in fact "cutting wages, dividing society, labor and management."

"Do Poor Communities Have a Role in Rebuilding New Orleans?"

Poverty and racial exclusion go back 400 years in New Orleans, says J. Phillip Thompson. And, Thompson notes, a black mayor is no guarantee that the poor will have a voice in New Orleans, since white elites long ago stripped the mayor's office of real power over education, development, environmental safety. New conflicts are bubbling up today around Katrina within the black community, says Thompson. But the disaster may still offer a chance for positive change, he believes. "You do not have to abdicate the city to whoever shows up '.By addressing the needs of the poor in New Orleans, we can develop a solid blueprint for rebuilding cities and regions in the entire nation."

Host(s): Office of the President, MIT Response to Hurricane Katrina

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