In a nationally televised panel discussion on rebuilding New Orleans, Dean Christopher Edley said the federal government should help residents create a city more vibrant and full of opportunity than the one devastated by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
In a September 15 appearance on the PBS NewsHour, Edley said the reconstruction effort is “an opportunity to build a shining New Orleans that takes advantage of what we’ve learned from the last generation about how to make economic growth real in our hard-pressed cities. So we can create more opportunity, better opportunity for the people in that metropolitan area if we rebuild the right way.”
Edley said “there’s a way to be both hopeful and pragmatic” in approaching the reconstruction of New Orleans. He said it’s crucial that the city’s displaced residents have “a strong voice” in remaking their city. “These are not disposable communities, they’re not disposable families,” Edley said.
Edley served in the White House Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton beginning in 1993, and among the agencies for which he was responsible was the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He noted that even then, how to respond to a catastrophe in New Orleans was a major concern.
“A couple of weeks into the job, the director of FEMA, James Lee Witt, came over and briefed me on some of the major catastrophes for which they were doing contingency planning, and a Category 4 or 5 hurricane hitting New Orleans was right at the top of the list, and he explained why,” Edley recalled.
“This scenario was knowable, and it is preventable to a large extent if we have the right engineering solutions with respect to levees and the treatment of wetlands and so forth; we can build New Orleans back in a way that will be safer, that will be more sound environmentally, and that will create more opportunity for the residents there. It’s a time for being hopeful.”
Edley appeared with UC Davis Professor Ari Kelman and Washington Post reporter Joel Garreau. Kelman, an environmental historian, is the author of A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans. Garreau, a senior fellow of public policy at George Mason University, has written extensively on the history and culture of urban development.