To Rebuild, Or Not to Rebuild?

Gary Kaltbaum
As you probably know by now, it is Mardi Gras time in New Orleans. I decided to take up the question of whether New Orleans should be rebuilt to its former greatness. You see, I know how fabulous the city is. I had an office in Metarie in the '80s and loved my stays at the Hyatt next to the Superdome. But in my research of the subject, I came upon many compelling arguments against rebuilding. Here are just a few quotes:

• "If you threw a dart at a map of the United States 999 times, you could not hit a worse spot to locate a metropolis."

• "Currently, pretty much every long-term trend cuts against the safety of New Orleans. Levees are subsiding; coastal wetlands (which can slow storm surges) are continually disappearing; and sea levels are rising. Most importantly, the Atlantic Ocean appears to have entered an active hurricane cycle, with the potential to fling storms at the Gulf Coast for years to come. "

• "Surrounded by two large flood-prone bodies of water, New Orleans lies as much as 10 feet below sea level in some places, and is sinking deeper every year. With scientists seeing an era of more intense and more frequent tropical storms, it sits in the bull's eye of Hurricane Alley."

• "It makes no sense to have levees keeping the Mississippi River from flooding into New Orleans, like it naturally should."'

• "There is another face of New Orleans that, as a visitor, you may not have seen — some of the worst slums in the country and, away from the grand historic neighborhoods, vast areas of rickety, substandard housing. New Orleans is a desperately poor city, and the bad news is that it’s unlikely to get better — ever."

• "Even if New Orleans is rebuilt to proposed 'new standards,' whatever they may be, it is doing it in defiance of geologic history and environmental principles. In the longer term, or perhaps even in the shorter term, it is an unsustainable situation."

Tough to argue with those thoughts.

Let me start by saying I do not believe government cures all ills — nor should it — but in this case, it should. After all, Venice and Florence were rebuilt in 1966 after massive flooding, with no guarantees. Has everyone forgotten the great fire of Chicago? How about the San Francisco earthquake? Look at those great cities today. I spent three days down in Homestead, Florida after Hurricane Andrew, helping the National Guard. Miles and miles were leveled. I did not hear one person say NOT to rebuild. I am sure there were questions then — and look what happened. How can anyone be okay with spending billions of dollars rebuilding Iraq, but have a question about rebuilding a major American city? It makes no sense.

New Orleans is a one-of-a-kind city. I could tell you about the 400 years of history. I could tell you about the culture. I could tell you about the Shrimp Creole and the Bananas Foster at Brennan's. For me, there should be no debate about whether to rebuild — the debate should be on how to rebuild. I am not an architect like George Costanza, nor am I an engineer. The French Quarter and other areas are already open. I would suggest maybe letting some of the low-lying areas remain as they are. But as for the rest, let's get out the tools and rebuild, and for God's sake, get someone with a working abacus that knows what kind of levees will do the trick. Ignore the naysayers, and do right by the people. This is about the people.

Tune in this weekend to our Business Block, Saturday beginning at 10am ET, for more with Gary Kaltbaum and the entire FNC business team.

Gary Kaltbaum is president of money management firm Kaltbaum & Associates. He can be heard nightly on his nationally syndicated radio show "Investors Edge" on over 50 radio stations. He is a regular on FNC's Business Block. Visit Kaltbaum's Corner on for more.