Stephanie Grace’s recent column on Katrina lessons got me thinking about those we unfortunately didn’t learn very well but would help us today.
• Embrace needed changes to our key infrastructure advised by experts. After Katrina, we finally decided that it is better to have qualified engineers, architects and geologists on our levee boards rather than our cousin Bubba. Our city agencies, the Sewerage and Water BoIard, and the Urban Conservancy, among others, are now focusing on “living with water” as the way to increase our resilience in the future. Unfortunately, the public has been slow to get on board. Let’s do it better this time by enthusiastically supporting the efforts of competent epidemiologists and medical professionals to advise our leaders. We will come out better from this pandemic and strengthen our local and national infrastructure to meet the demands of the pandemics looming in the future. Otherwise, we are allowing our politicians to take the easy way out by standing in front of where the crowd is headed. Again.
• Recognize that government alone can’t do everything. We learned during the Katrina recovery that it was not the Army, the National Guard and FEMA acting alone but their efforts alongside dedicated individuals, small businesses, religious organizations and neighborhood associations that enabled our post-Katrina recovery. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep this up over the past 15 years. Everyone can contribute to the public good, even if only by practicing “social distancing” and helping a group effort to support our community. It’s always been up to us. And it always will be.
• Love your neighbor. And everyone is your neighbor. With Katrina, we learned that all New Orleanians — rich and poor, young and old, black and white — were in the same boat. I’ll never forget how the civic organization One Greater New Orleans sprang up out of the Katrina debris. The result: two more effective levee boards and only one tax assessor, but our city solidarity has gradually declined since the Saints won the Super Bowl.
The old dividing lines of wealth, race, religion and age assert themselves again. Today, it’s not just our city but everyone in the world who is in this boat with us. Every day is permeated with fear, the most contagious thing of all. It turns out that the most effective antidote to fear is not courage but love. We can make our world not only resilient but “anti-fragile” if we recognize that love for our neighbors as well as ourselves and our families will save us.
Let’s really learn these lessons now, and act on them as if our lives depended upon it. They do.