September 2, 2005

Land Use - Part II

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New Orleans

It is a challenge, how to think about the tragedy that is New Orleans and the gulf coast. Puzzling over why such a thing happens combines thoughts about physical realities, planning processes, degrees of knowledge and science.

Having recently returned from a month in Amsterdam it is eye opening to realize that the physical history of the two cities, Amsterdam and New Orleans, are so similar.

Over a period of 500 years the Dutch managed to construct dikes, canals and windmill driven pumps to support the growth of a thriving city built on a sinking peet bog. They defied the North Sea, the Amstel river and the Zuiderzee, an enormous brackish lake. Similarly, New Orleans sits below sea level on a sinking peet bog bordered by a river - the MIssissippi, an ocean - The Gulf of Mexico, and a large brackish lake - lake Pontchartrain. The two cities adopted similar methods of controlling water and protecting valuable real estate and these methods have worked for a considerable length of time.

To my way of seeing things the difference today, in preparedness for extremes, lies in different degrees of willingness to accept and act upon the sciences of environmental study. There is a lot of discussion now about whether the severity of Katrina is a product of global warming and why New Orleans and the surrounding areas have been shorted on funds for levee improvements in spite of good science and appeals for help.

There is no clear answer about why New Orleans was not better prepared and scientists are among the first to answer with caution. But the difference I see between the Netherlands and Louisiana is the recognition that climatic change is occurring in an unprecedented manner and unprecedented events of water inundations are a probability to be planned for.

The August 19, 2005 issue of this newsletter offered a brief reference to The Internationale Architectuur Biennale, Rotterdam, May 26-June 26, 2005 titled "The Flood" which focused upon long range planning for anticipated extreme changes in ocean levels and implications for global coastal communities. Attendence at the conference was well represented globally; unfortunately (unfortunate from my perspective) Americans were conspicuously absent.

I listened to an interview on NPR with a professor from Louisiana State University who spoke of the extensive levee systems of south Louisiana that protect real estate valued at $150 billion. These are lands devoted to agriculture, oil, gas and tourism. One would have hoped that the best of science and long range planning would be sought and applied to protect such assets.

The following are links that cover various views expressed in recent days about the role of global warning reflected in the power of Katrina and other storms expected to come.

Katrina's real name
By Ross Gelbspan | August 30, 2005
Boston Globe
Web Link -

Storm Turns Focus to Global Warming
By Miguel Bustillo, Times Staff Writer - August 30, 2005
Los Angeles Times
Web Link -,1,2676962.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

Experts Foresee More Katrinas
Brace for more hurricanes, say experts
Agence France-Presse, August 31, 2005
Web Link -

Bulk of This Season's Storms Still to Come
Aug. 30, 2005
Web Link -

Aug. 30, 2005
Web Link -

Stormy Weather: Can We Link it to Global Warming?
By Jim Motavalli
Web Link -

Environmental Degradation

Corporate chain stores are consuming undeveloped land at a staggering pace. According to some estimates, retail space per capita in the U.S. has tripled in the last twenty years.

That's not even counting the acres of parking and miles of roadways needed to access these sprawling developments. Most of this growth has been in the form of big box stores. A typical big box store is three to seven times the size of a football field. It requires 1,000 parking spaces and generates 10,000 car trips every day. Even smaller chain stores are typically designed to encourage driving and inhibit walking and other forms of transit. The consequences include habitat loss and rapidly escalating amounts of air pollution and storm water runoff. This massive over-building has also led to an epidemic of vacancy as downtowns and older shopping centers close down. The U.S. is now home to more than 500 million square feet of vacant retail space.

Rebuilding Community-Rooted Enterprise
Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Author, "Hometown Advantage"
Web Link - Rebuilding Community-Rooted Enterprise

Following is a link to a PDF file addressing agendas and opportunities for - "A socially, environmentally and financially sustainable global economy must be composed of sustainable local economies."

Local Living Economies: The New Movement for Responsible Business
By Judy Wicks
President of the White Dog Cafe and Co-Founder of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies
Web Link - The New Movement for Responsible Business

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August 2005
Click any picture to see enlargements.

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The Land Ethic

The Sand Contry Almanac
by Aldo Leopold

The Community Concept

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of independent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community, but his ethics prompt him also to cooperate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.

Web Link - A Classic Ever New - Sand Country Almanac

George Beggs 9/2005 - Feedback is welcome

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