January 29, 2007

To Rebuild or Not to Rebuild: Demolishing What is Left and Starting Over?

Over the span of the planet earth’s lifetime there have been many catastrophic natural disasters. Though humans may have missed the first series of ultimate disasters such as the Great Ice Age we have not be spared the utter devastation of recent occurrences. The past few years people around the globe have experienced some of the most devastating of these natural disasters. The tsunami of 2004 absolutely demolished the southern countries off the coast of Asia. Earthquakes, vast flooding, fires, and hurricanes, are all apart of the earth’s natural cycle. However each greatly affects the daily lives of people everywhere.

In American southeastern states of Mississippi and Louisiana Hurricane Katrina left little to be recognized by survivors. Even more ruinous was the affect of the earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, which caused a tsunami and would kill over 200,000 people. Today as people begin filtering back into these disaster stricken areas they begin the rebuilding process, right?

Not necessarily. In many cases the private sector of the effected region are beginning or have even finished their rebuilding processes; Hurricane Katrina flattened two bridges, one for cars, one for trains, that span the two miles of water. “Sixteen months later, the automobile bridge remains little more than pilings. The railroad bridge is busy with trains.” The railroad is privately owned and operated by CSX Corp, whereas the bridge is federally owned. Since days after the hurricane the railroad has been running. To this day the road is yet to be even partially reopened.

All along the region there is very little rebuilding. “Tens of thousands of residents remain displaced … Many crucial infrastructure projects have yet to start… Of $42 billion given to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the agency has spent only $25 billion.” Most of the funds actually received have already been spent on temporary housing, debris removal and emergency operations in the early days of the disaster.

Recent attempts have been made to rebuild the area's lower-income housing. The local public housing authority gave the 'okay' to begin demolishing four different large housing projects. In their place will be newly built homes with town-house architectural style. However this idea is highly controversial as many of the previous tenants find the demolishing to be a ludicrous act; "'It’s very disappointing that at time when the city needs absolutely every single unit they can get, they are demolishing units that could be habitable,' said Bill Quigley, a lawyer for some of the tenants. "However, this is not yielding the result that many hoped.

The ultimate goal was to bring the people back home, but many do not want to return. Even in areas outside of the major devastation lots remain empty. In what used to be the desired real estate market of Florida, "after the dire hurricane season of 2005, the real estate market along the Panhandle [has] ground to a virtual halt." Not only are new buyers of homes skeptical, but so are businesses. The commercial real estate market hurts as well when there is no one to for businesses to sell to. This may become a large problem for areas hit by Katrina.

People are still unsure of whether or not they want to return to their homes and rebuild. Many have already resettled elsewhere with jobs, school, friends, and homes. It may be that instead of rebuilding these areas of destruction that they need to be reinvented. Locations hit by Katrina may become opportunities for new real estate companies to come and capitalize on the tragedy through the purchasing and production of new commercial real estate. With the introduction of such new properties and businesses it may be exactly what the doctored ordered. These places need rejuvenation and they need it soon. The local economies are hurting without local businesses and will do so until the major income earners are brought back into the picture. To rebuild or not to rebuild that is the question.

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