Thursday, September 6, 2007

734 Environmental Justice, Olmsted, Hurricane Katrina and a Planet of Slums

Message no. 734[Branch from no. 733] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Friday, March 30, 2007 4:10am Subject: Re: relational summary

You are absolutely right that Katrina was a planning and design disaster, not a natural disaster, and that it affected the poor because they always are forced to occupy the risk prone areas for which adequate investment has not been made. This is one of the subjects in Mike Davis' great (but sobering) book, Planet of Slums.

summary is here:

You would probably also benefit from reading about the fight that Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. had with the city of Los Angeles after he designed a flood control area around the L.A.River that would have made it a necklace of parks and bike paths and recreation and wildlife areas and one of the most beautiful places in the country. Instead, because only the poor working class lived around the river, the city ignored him and his great designs until the flood of 1938 killed hundreds of people and destroyed businesses. Then they called in the US Army Corps of Engineers, again ignoring Olmsted, and put the river into a concrete straight jacket, an eyesore that is with us to this day that wastes the cities fresh water and pollutes the ocean, and is a nest of drugs and crime. Pehaps you are also aware that a National Geographic article from 2003 alerted the public to the hurricane danger, based on a government report that predicted the breaking of the Levees and the total destruction of New Orleans and that city environmental planners begged the government to strengthen the levees and were ignored. Like September 11th, we knew what was going to happen, but didn`t mobilize against it. The mentality that prevents action is a cold calculus that says "most of the people who die will be people from social and racial classes that don't have much voting power, so we aren't going to do anything. If anything, a disaster will further our political agenda (waging war overseas, converting poor areas into playgrounds for the rich etc.)

This issue is called by our textbook "Environmental Justice" -- a field of study where we learn that the poor are considered expendable by the rich and are mere pawns in a Ponzi scheme to get a few richer at the expense of those who live at the bottom of the barrel. The reason the environments get polluted or are exposed to risk is because it is cheaper to let them be the dumping grounds and to fall into disrepair.

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