By Matt Bennett
On August 29 world and local news outlets all across the country broadcasted those unforgettable hurricane Katrina images in commemoration of her ten-year anniversary. New Orleans’ historic Lower Ninth Ward, once painfully poor monetarily yet resiliently rich spiritually, gone. A Grand Isle pier, once reeling with three generations of anglers fishing side-by-side, ravaged. Even LSU witnessed its own Pete Maravich Assembly Center transform from a lively basketball arena in to the biggest triage and acute care field hospital the United States ever saw. For many Louisiana natives, a decade ago feels like just yesterday. And from May 1 until November 30, a lot of locals can’t help but wonder, if another storm of parallel power were to set her sights on the Bayou State again, how much better prepared would we be now than we were then?
Director of the Coastal Sustainability Studio and associate professor at LSU’s School of Architecture, Jeff Carney, kindly sat down with Dig Magazine and weighed in on the pressing issue.
“From FEMA, to local governments ability to respond, to the amount of elevation and sort of improvements in community infrastructure that we’ve seen in the last ten years is significant,” says, Carney.
Citing a $14 billion levee system, Carney emphasizes how, “Yes, New Orleans is definitely better prepared.”
However, better preparedness from government agencies and costly infrastructural advancements only stand up for so long against storms 400 miles wide with sustained winds of 100-140 miles per hour. Statistics like these make it incredibly difficult for small barrier-island communities like Grand Isle that sit at the mercy of the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters.
That being said, Carney points out, “Can any community be prepared for Katrina?”
Many also wonder, with Louisiana being such a historical state, how can we implement new sustainable architectural designs without losing the charm and personality residents love and tourists put money into year after year.
“To me, if we’re talking about reconnecting cities and towns and architecture to the natural environment, we need to be more aware of what the natural environment’s telling us. To me, that’s a return to the vernacular architecture of this place.” Carney continues, “It’s important to, I think as an architect, to allow architecture to grow and realize that we always are developing and changing the way we actually live, and that’s a good thing. And in fact, I think a lot of architecture that we’ve seen and planning concepts that we’ve seen in the last ten years do a good job of actually getting us back to a place where we’re actually really paying attention to the environment.”
Sometimes you wonder, what happened in those ten years since the storm? Where did that decade go? The answer lies in the incredible amount of progress we’ve seen since. Katrina knocked a number of gulf coast communities down for the count. But, like a resilient boxer, most of those small towns and big cities fought back from unfathomable tragedy and rose again to their own two feet long before the world counted to ten. Today, locals hook speckled trout off Grand Isle’s 400-ft fishing pier while tourists enjoy beignets covered in powered sugar at The Big Easy’s famed Café Du Monde. Sure, there’s still a long way to go, but like the Lower Ninth Ward’s own Fats Domino passionately sang in his revered song Be My Guest, “everything gonna be alright.”