Forget the Yanks, Here Come the Dutch

NEW ORLEANS--Today's Times-Picayune points out what's painfully obvious: the biggest man-made engineering disaster (per Dr. Bob Bea, co-author of the ILIT report) ever to befall an American city has fallen completely off the national radar screen. New Orleans got only one passing mention, in reference to its growth in charter schools, in the four national candidates' debates. New Orleans may be, according to the old slogan, "the city that care forgot", but, judging by this campaign, it's certainly the city America forgot.

Enter the Dutch. The good news this week, aside from the fact that the city has been filled with conventioneers, Raiders fans, and attendees at the Film Festival, was the one public session of Dutch Dialogs II, a project by David Waggoner to involve Dutch experts in re-imagining the relationship between New Orleans and its neighboring bodies of water. To a packed house at Tulane University, Waggoner and his fellow participants in a two-day weekend series of planning sessions, unveiled a new vision: an end to the Corps of Engineers idea of fighting a war with water (one we're doomed to lose), and a beginning to a notion of living with "urban water" for twinned purposes -- greater safety and added value to neighborhoods and communities.

Up on the wall were the vision as designs and maps. The team advocated rediscovering the network of canals that New Orleans used to have, canals that have been largely buried by the same mentality that put the Los Angeles River in a concrete coffin. They proposed tearing down the ugly (and fatally flawed) walls that line the drainage canals that remain in New Orleans, and opening neighborhoods to a view of those canals -- waterfront living, anyone?

And, unlike the planners who gleefully descended on the city in the wake of Katrina, welcoming it as a "clean slate" for their notions, the Dutch proclaimed respect for the street grid, the circulation system of the communities, and for the cultural history of the neighborhoods.

It was, in short, an inspiring trip to Dreamland. In reality, the future of New Orleans is still in the hands of the water warriors who almost succeeded in drowning it. Not that the candidates noticed.