When Katrina hit New Orleans a year ago, I forecast that the City would end up as a tourist theme park owned by corporations and populated by just enough underpaid service workers to satisfy the wants of tourists and conventioneers. It would become a disaster Disneyland, an ersatz caricature of its former self, as fake as a Western movie town.
A year later, this bleak conclusion is both obvious and inevitable. The City is enjoying a burst in real estate speculation even as its poorer residents slowly give up hope of ever returning. And of course they would be fools to return, for New Orleans is more vulnerable than ever. Local politicians squabble, while the Federal Government makes empty promises of aid that will never arrive — and what little that does arrive will not be applied to the most urgent task of rebuilding the wetlands that once sheltered New Orleans from the effects of hurricanes. Meanwhile the entire Mississippi delta continues to subside at alarming rates while it is clear that sea level rises are inevitable in the next few decades. At least tourists are easier to evacuate and corporate landowners can insure or amortize for the risk.
New Orleans will be rebuilt, but it will only be a vulnerable inauthentic facade, a corporate Cajun Venice cradled in a sinking alluvial bowl threatened by the seas that once sustained it. Moreover, the same pattern is repeating itself to one degree or another across the Gulf Coast. Towns and homes remain in ruins while casino construction is proceeding at a frantic pace. What could be more appropriate than building a gambling industry at the end of a loaded climatological gun? We would do well to remember that all great civiliaztions have failed by turning everything into entertainment. If the Romans had had the chance, I am sure they too would have built casinos upon the volcano-blasted ruins of Pompeii.