Thursday, September 08, 2005

Silver Linings

As the bulk of the life-saving effort is behind those dealing with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, it’s time to begin to look beyond tomorrow, and toward the future.

As we do so, we must, of course, review our collective performance in this emergency to fix the problems we had so we can do better next time. It’s soon going to be the appropriate time for the inevitable, unavoidable, and extremely distasteful blame game (although many have already jumped the gun on that one). But whether your approach is to fix problems or to fix blame, these functions are both backward looking, not forward looking.

What we really need now is for people to start looking forward. The silver linings of the dark, wrathful clouds that were Katrina and its aftermath are the opportunities that face us if we truly look forward.

The opportunities ahead face individuals, local communities, the region, and the nation as a whole, if we only stop our backbiting, political wrangling, or self-serving opportunism long enough to recognize them.

Those who have been dependent on the government or the largess of others for their basic needs have an opportunity to overcome their dependency lifestyle with an independency mindset. For individuals who, before the hurricane, were living at or near poverty level, were unskilled, and barely made enough for their families to survive, the opportunity is to get involved in the reconstruction of their communities, and in so doing learn skills that can lead to a comfortable life in the future.

Of course for these individuals to benefit from this opportunity, they need a hand up, not a hand out. If we have people in the public and corporate worlds really thinking ahead, we'll be setting up skill training centers near all shelters (in the effected states and in the cities where many of these have been evacuated to). We'd be teaching the currently homeless who have no prospect for returning to their old jobs (not just NOLA, but casino workers in MS, etc, too). What would we be teaching them? Basic carpentry and masonry skills. Worksite safety. Drywall hanging. Paving. Stringing electrical, telephone, cable TV. Plumbing. So many other basic skills. Lets license folks on bulldozers, backhoes, and forklifts, in the parking lot of the Astrodome.

Home Depot and other big hardware chains run classes for folks wanting to do home improvements, so they've already got SOME capability to help with this. So do community colleges and other publicly and privately funded skill training centers. The effected areas outside NOLA already need these skills. By the time NOLA is ready for folks to begin working, we can have the folks ready to start doing the work on their own city. We can set up temporary worker camps near the city for those doing the work.

The best part of all is that this is an opportunity for ALL concerned. Clearly the opportunity for the individuals who get good jobs by learning basic skills and use those jobs to get experience and even more skills is potentially life-changing.

For all levels of government, this same situation is an opportunity to simultaneously reduce those who are dependent on the government, increase the numbers of those paying taxes, and make necessary repairs and reconstruction happen with a workforce that has a vested interest in the quality of the outcome.

For the business world, the opportunity is to bring into their workforce fiercely loyal employees who will appreciate and enjoy working for a company that has shown faith and hope in them. It also offers them an opportunity to build a fiercely loyal customer base. As those folks are raised from poverty or subsistence, they’ll be building homes for themselves and their families. Aren’t they more likely to go to companies that helped them in their time of need when spending newfound wealth to build homes?

This, of course, is just one set of closely related opportunities that exist if we’re bold enough to seize them. There are so many possibilities that we can exploit it’s impossible for one blogging soul to imagine them. Those who rebuilt the Mississippi coast after Camille tried to do this. They saw the opportunity to bring wealth into the nation’s poorest state by building the coastal casinos. Lets hope the next version of Southern Mississippi is as bold in its design, but does a better job of preparing for the next major hurricane (no more floating facilities, please).

New Orleans must be rebuilt (don’t argue – it WILL be rebuilt, so lets get over that discussion and decide how best to do it). What do we want NEW New Orleans to be? Do we want it to continue to be an industrial/port city? Then lets make it the best industrial/port city in the world. We have the opportunity. Do we want it to be the most ‘wired’ city in the world? We have that opportunity, too. Would a modern transit system have made that city and its outlying areas easier to evacuate, better to live in, and an economic boon? Build one. For that matter, can we rebuild it to be safer from the next storm? Compartmentalize it with more levees within the city limits? Backfill the below-sea-level areas and build on top of it? We did it to Manhattan Island over a hundred years ago and it seems to be working so far.

Regionally, there is a lot of infrastructure that has been damaged or destroyed. Here’s an opportunity. Did I-10 need to be widened? Let’s widen it. Were there enough rail lines? Build more in the rebuilding process. Were the shore-bound portions of pipelines - the life’s blood of the rest of the country – too vulnerable to storms? Fix that problem now by hardening, redundancy, and reducing our national dependency on them to begin with by building other facilities elsewhere, creating a regional mass-transit system that pays for itself, and exploring REAL alternative energy sources (ethanol? Give me a break).

We need our politicians at ALL levels to stop looking backwards for the witch hunt long enough to appoint some truly forward-looking folks to lead the reconstruction planning. We need those who can grasp opportunity from the jaws of disaster. We need them to produce some unconstrained ideas and figure out later either how to pay for their ideas or how to get as close as we can with the funds available.

And then the partisan politicians can get back to their name-calling and finger-pointing while real American leaders rebuild the south.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home