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Building Back the Big Easy: Lessons from New Orleans’ Recovery from Hurricane Katrina

Artessa Saldivar-Sali's picture

Housing being built in New Orleans neighborhood.

For the East Asia & Pacific Transport, Urban & Disaster Risk Management team of the World Bank, a recent study trip to New Orleans was an eye-opener about how even the richest society in the world can face challenges that are strikingly similar to those of our client countries. In a city that is famous for the excesses of the French Quarter, the opulence of the Garden District and (since that fateful August in 2005) the desolation of the Lower 9th Ward, we saw how the impacts of a disaster are made all the worse when prosperity is not shared.

Two years after Katrina, I made my first trip to New Orleans to study the reconstruction process. The Lower 9th still had mountains of debris from flattened houses on most blocks. Where houses still stood throughout the city, FEMA’s iconic Urban Search & Rescue ‘x-codes’ remained as eerie signposts on the road to recovery.

A Profound Sense of Place – The Intangibles of City Life in New Orleans

Chandan Deuskar's picture

City Street, New Orleans, LA, USAA recent learning trip to New Orleans by the East Asia and Pacific Transport, Urban and Disaster Risk Management team introduced the unique charms of this city to many of us for the first time. Anyone who has been to New Orleans will remember the city for its historic but lively French Quarter, its living jazz tradition, with bands of talented local musicians playing for tips in the narrow streets, its Mardi Gras floats, its Cajun food, the oldest continually operating streetcar system in the world, and the varied history of the city that has resulted in its distinct Creole culture. As Dave Roberts, a local tour guide, explains to tourists, this was where the classical music tradition of the French colonialists came into contact with the pulsating African rhythms of freed slaves escaping to Louisiana from Haiti. The fact that jazz music was consequently born in New Orleans “was not a coincidence,” he says. “Few things are.”

Everywhere we went in New Orleans, we heard painful stories of those who had lived through Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But what was striking was the pride that the residents of New Orleans have in their city and their determination to rebuild it. As my colleague Artessa Saldivar-Sali describes, city officials and the US Army Corps of Engineers have dedicated themselves to strengthening the city’s defenses in order to ensure that the next time the city is hit, it is better prepared. Well-educated New Orleanians and outsiders have come to work at the city redevelopment authority, the disaster preparedness agency, and community-based affordable housing organizations. These are people who could easily abandon New Orleans for well-paid private sector jobs in other US cities but who have chosen instead to use their talents in aid of the poor and vulnerable and towards the greater good of their city.

Electric Car Craze

Nebojsa Borkovic's picture

Electric car charging in AmsterdamThe future of road transportation needs a change from the conventional system as societies move towards better resource use, driving the idea of sustainability. The future demands a move from gasoline and diesel powered cars to something more sustainable. As this reality becomes more evident, electric vehicles (EV) are sure to be a major catalyst to this movement. Getting from point A to point B is no longer as simple as hopping in a car, stepping on the gas pedal and having the pleasure of carefree driving. We are now living in a very different world where global warming and depleting oil reserves are at the forefront of many discussions and drive new technologies. The electric car could be the answer that people are looking for. Despite being on the market for many years, EVs have not been well integrated because of the lack of infrastructure and their lack of appeal to the average consumer.

Why Running a City is Like Paddling a Canoe

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Canadians are supposed to be good in a few things: skating, painting trees and rocks, welcoming newcomers, writing engaging stories that surely must have a meaning in there somewhere, and paddling a canoe. The canoe—a bit like the moose—holds an almost mythic place in the Canadian psyche. Anything and everything can be compared to canoeing. This metaphor is apt when applied to city administration.

An experienced and comfortable pair of paddlers can take a canoe almost anywhere and through whatever waves, winds and rapids that might arise. Over any sort of distance, solo kayakers with their fancy paddles and cramped storage compartments are no match for a canoe with tandem paddlers. Canoeing is the most efficient and gracious way to travel on open water—the secret to good canoeing, as with city administration, is good communication and a ‘little-little, big-big’ approach.

Learning, Labbing and Loving It: When Cities Come Together to Learn

Victor Vergara's picture

Participants of the Global Lab on Metropolitan Strategic PlanningOn April 19th, the Annual Regional Assembly of the Regional Planning Association (RPA) of New York looked some what different. In the audience were representatives from 10 cities and World Bank staff. RPA was launching the 4th Regional Plan for the New York region, and other cities were there to listen, learn and bring their own experience to the table. Why metropolitan planning and why New York? What brought this group together and how does peer-to-peer learning bring a new dimension to the process of learning? How does it influence better outcomes and a rich iterative process of evidenced based learning? Let’s start at the very beginning.

Make a Wish: Climate Change or Energy Poverty

Mats van Kleef's picture

Make a WishIf you could have just one wish, would you choose to solve climate change or energy poverty?

Resolving these two calamities is fundamental to the wellbeing of the planet and people. Climate change is caused mainly by the consumption of energy and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Energy poverty is the lack of access to modern energy services. Helping 1.3 billion people access electricity and 2.6 billion people to have clean cooking facilities will greatly increase the world’s energy consumption and resulting GHG emissions. Spending money to mitigate climate change uses valuable resources that could more directly benefit the poor who have so little energy and such unhealthy cooking facilities. How do we address both energy poverty and climate change? This is as much an ethical dilemma as a technological challenge.

Frick and Fracking

Chelsea Martin's picture

Fracking in New South Wales

New fracking practices have increased the availability and decreased the cost of natural gas. This is having an enormous impact on energy systems around the world. There are numerous potential applications for natural gas including, but not limited to, use for transportation fuel, residential use, and electricity generation. Since the economic potential of exploiting this resource is so large it is likely that Canada, along with the US, will continue to ‘frack it all’ and reap the economic benefits on the global market. Other countries like China are joining in as well.

The largest increase in use of natural gas is for electricity generation. Natural gas fired power plants are appealing for many reasons. They can supply reliable base-load as well as peaking power. Also, they can be planned and built in less time than say, nuclear power stations, and for lower capital cost. Since fuel is available and cheap, natural gas power plants will continue to be built, and existing plants will continue to operate.

Bus Rapid Transit Comes to Washington, DC

Duncan Gromko's picture

Bus Rapid Transit in Delhi, IndiaA Bus Rapid Transit – BRT – system is coming to Washington, DC in the spring of 2014. The proposed corridor will connect Crystal City in Arlington with the Potomac Yard in Alexandria.
 
This is good news for DC residents, who are currently dealing with the worst traffic in the country. DC commuters lose an average of 67 hours per year because of congestion, resulting in an additional 32 gallons per year per commuter of gasoline wasted.
 
BRT systems address traffic problems by creating dedicated lanes for buses. As shown in the above photo of Delhi, cars are physically restricted from bus lanes. This allows buses to travel faster than cars, making them a more attractive transport option for commuters and reducing car usage. Basically, a BRT is an aboveground subway, except that it costs 1/10th the price.

District Energy – A Smart Option for Cities

Robert Reipas's picture

Let’s talk recycling: Not plastic and paper, but power…

Combined Heat and Power SystemThese days, by far, the majority of electricity used in high-income countries comes from thermal power plants; these operate by heating water into steam that then spins a turbine. Thermal power plants, however, typically only use 33% to 48% of the total heat they produce. The rest just gets released into water or air. It’s a shame; if only there was a way to recycle all that ‘low-grade’ heat.

Today, 37% of the energy demand in OECD countries is for heating of buildings; only about 21% of energy demand is for electricity. We use much more energy for heating and cooling than we do for electricity.  The low-grade heat that gets wasted by most power plants is still hot enough to be used for heating (and cooling) and water heating in buildings.

Why do we use so little of the heat we produce? That’s like buying a tub of fried chicken just to eat the skins!

A Fourth ‘R’ ?

Kevin Wagner's picture

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…  Recover.  As the population in large cities worldwide grows, waste management becomes an even bigger challenge.  Recycling programs can divert large amounts of materials from landfills but some garbage still needs to be disposed of in landfills or Energy From Waste (EFW) sites.  EFW facilities are capable of recovering energy from garbage that would otherwise be unused in landfills.

EFW and landfill gas capture systems operate on similar principles:  produce steam to turn a turbine which generates electricity.  The difference is the fuel used to produce the steam.  Landfill gas based electricity generation relies on methane from the decomposition of organic material, while EFW facilities combust the solid waste.  Both are good options as they prevent methane gas from escaping into the atmosphere.  Methane has a global warming potential 72 times that of carbon dioxide.  Both options sound good, so which is better?  The better question is:  ‘How much land and money do you have’?

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