Urban Emergency Preparedness: Hurricane Katrina Case


Urban planning can be said to have a long history, just as the history of cities’ formation. The latter can be through the various ancient scriptures of ancient civilizations, indicating the nature of the city as a specific form of people’s gathering. In that regard, the main characteristics of cities are universal, and thus mostly the planning of cities and their systems was mostly identical. Accordingly, the accumulated experience through history indicates that urban planning and development made a huge step toward accommodating the planning process to different stages, considering various aspects as local cultures and political conditions. An important factor, when talking about shifts in urban planning and developments, can be considered the impact of natural disasters. Cities are highly vulnerable to the impacts of crises and natural calamities, where the consequences of such disasters are enforced due to inadequate coordination of management and planning processes. In that regard, this paper provides an example of urban development issues, considerations, factors and consequences, based on the case of the impact of hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans.


Hurricane Katrina attacked the Gulf coast of the United States on the 29th of August, 2005. The hurricane caused the death of approximately 2800 people, destroying lives and property, leaving thousands of people with no shelter. The most impact from the hurricane came on New Orleans and the coastal areas of Mississippi. In three of the most impacted states about 4.9 million people, constituting 41% of the population were living in coastal areas. Accordingly, the most affected part of the population was the economically disadvantaged people. The flood that resulted from the hurricane can be considered as an indicative sign of the weaknesses of the regional planning at Mississippi’s outfall and the flood protection system and accordingly required accelerated planning efforts. Although big stages of restoration were passed, the planning and development in New Orleans might take another period of time.

Social Implication

In terms of planning after the recovery, the considerations to be made as well as the plans for development can be influencing specifically, the low-income part of the population. The confirmation of such a statement can be seen through the convergence of interests between the city’s officials when planning the new shape of the city after the destruction, and the interest of poor individuals, which can be excluded from such planning.

Such exclusion can consider the city’s districts, where the poor population was prevailing and due to crime rates, were abandoned even prior to the flood. Accordingly, it can be assumed that the population that returned to their homes and participated in the restoration process, was the one having the financial possibility to do so, not to mention the population who was not property owners in the first place. Such exclusion although impacting a certain population can turn into a benefit for the city, where it can finally implement the reconstruction of many elements of infrastructure, such as the system of transportation. Although it might seem harsh, often it is true that “the city officials and developers’ perception of public good often fails to consider the interest of economically marginalized residents”, were attracting new businesses to the city’s poor neighborhood results in substituting the low-income residents and buildings formerly in that neighborhood with professional, middle-class commercial and residential edifices” (Alexandre).

The progress in the redevelopment as of 2008, three years after the hurricane can be seen obviously, although the first impression can be seen as slow. The redevelopment process, linking to the previous paragraph on economical implications can be confirmed, where the city is in the process of acquiring the rights of approximately 7,000 properties, which was sold, mostly at a loss, and of which a substantial portion will be turned into parks, community centers and etc. Additionally, approximately $1,1 billion is being put into 17 target zones, “attempting to jolt life back into commercial corridors across the city” (Schulte, 2008). It should be mentioned that through the process of rebuilding the concern of the flood protection is always there, although even after the enforcement of the levees, which are the main emphasis in flood protection, it already had its share of criticism, in terms that their enforcement might enable the system to withstand a Category 3 storm, but not Category 5, not to say that it will not be completely ready until 2011 (Schulte, 2008).


Analyzing the possible practices and strategies used, a clear representation can be provided by the federal policies related to New Orleans restoration. Considering the fact that New Orleans is considered a high-risk area, the efficiency of these policies can be seriously put in doubt, especially knowing the fact that from 1851 to 2005, 75 hurricanes of Katrina’s strength impacted the US. Mainly the criticism can be connected to the fact that these policies encouraged urban development and redevelopment in high-risk areas. In that regard, the guidelines for the policies and strategies, specifically in terms of urban developments in high-risk areas, might include considerations such as providing certifications of the conformity between the development capacity and the market needs, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, limiting financing for developers and property owners in high-risk areas. Accordingly, taking the assumptions that another natural disaster is not unlikely in the future several considerations should be made in the area of flood protection management and the developments of infrastructures such as highways, mass transit projects, bridges, ferry services in high-risk areas, and others, encouraging the urban growth in a particular area (Baen & Dermisi, 2007).

New Urbanism

Assessing the efforts in redeveloping New Orleans, it should be stated that although the main efforts put might seem like scattered excerpts to restore the city to the shape it was before, it also has a general plan which implies a new approach in urban development and accordingly, far exceeds the short term restoration processes. The approach mentioned is New Urbanism, which is mainly promoting “close-knit communities based on ‘neighbourhoods [that are] compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use [which] bring diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community” (Williams, 2006). In short, such principles imply the principles of combining small cities in clusters and string the neighborhoods not on superhighways, but rather on the routes of public transportation, specifically railroad networks. New Urbanism rejects suburbia, car-prioritization and sprawl (Williams, 2006). A step toward the implementation of New Urbanism in the process of planning and development of New Orleans after the hurricane can be seen through the organization of a brainstorming meeting right after the disaster, in which the New Urbanism practitioners provided the ideas and visions for the local engineers and designers, seeking a solution and establishing a framework to operate. Despite the criticism, which included the scope of the ideas, in which everything is planned all at once, the repressiveness of the ideas, the social control integrated into its principles and etc. Additionally, it should be stated that an area of concern can be seen in that the industrial economy is still demanding a larger concentration of people around the enterprises, and which the new cities of such scale cannot provide. The impact of the ideas of New Urbanism can be seen in the action plan for New Orleans titled “The New American City” and developed by the Urban Planning Committee. In this plan, the objectives and the goals put were divided between short-term and long-term. Looking at the long-term goals such points as developing bus rapid transit routes, and constructing new light rail lines, as well as building mixed-income communities can be influenced by the principles of New Urbanism. Additionally, it should be stated that the plan also included storm protection measures that extend beyond merely considering a single element of protection, and which includes other elements in addition to levees, such as pumping and gates, and wetland restoration. Accordingly, the enforcement of the levee protection system was planned to be completed by 2007, and as of 2008, where it was stated that the upgrade would be completed by 2011, it can be assumed that this plan was rejected after all.


It can be concluded that the lesson of the Katrina hurricane is still being taught, and although some consideration might have been taken care of, there is still room for improvements. The ideas of New Urbanism might be an approach to follow, specifically considering the economical and social conclusion that can be made from the consequences of the disaster and the reconstruction process. One thing that should be kept in mind is that such changes require time, a factor that might not coincide with the short-term objectives that were put right after the hurricane.



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