Will We See Offices Again in the Big Easy?

New Orleans has always embraced visitors, including this editor. But Katrina is one traveler the city wishes it never laid eyes on. Overnight, she changed a place of joy and music to one of devastation and misery. What happens from here? This issue focuses on business and the offices where it's conducted.

10/01/2005


New Orleans has always embraced visitors, including this editor. But Katrina is one traveler the city wishes it never laid eyes on. Overnight, she changed a place of joy and music to one of devastation and misery. What happens from here? This issue focuses on business and the offices where it's conducted. We've broken down hot spots and hot technologies that will dictate the future of office design. But as I reflect on these changes, I wonder how New Orleans will fit into this equation. Some optimists see the reconstruction of the Crescent City as an opportunity not only to create one of the most technologically advanced communities, but also a truly sustainable metropolis. Others predict it will become an American Venice—a place that exists almost solely for tourism. In our letters section, CSE plumbing codes analyst Ron George, on life after great floods, points out the decision to rebuild the flooded areas of New Orleans may be dictated by the ability to get insured—a condition regulated by current standards that may be unachievable.

Ron, a volunteer firefighter, is one of many people trying to help in the Katrina relief effort. Part of that labor involves restoring a semblance of normalcy. The most visible sign of this endeavor is pumping flood waters back into Lake Pontchartrain. A challenge to date has been the fact that many of the giant stations in place to deal with flooding were flooded themselves. Local officials have literally had to bake motors and related electrical equipment to get the pumps back online. Along this vein, this month's How To department addresses water-drenched electrical equipment and what can and cannot be salvaged.

But beyond the cleanup and restoration of basic utilities, what will happen to the city once it dries? On the surface, it's hard to fathom how it can come back, especially with the mass exodus of its citizens to cities like Baton Rouge and Houston. If anything, I would expect to see growth in those communities. And unlike the Chicago Fire or San Francisco earthquakes, people today are much more mobile. But hopefully, I'm underestimating the people of New Orleans. I've visited the Big Easy many times, and was supposed to be there for two conferences in the last two months. But having seen reports of the horrors encountered in the halls of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, it's hard to see trade shows populating the mammoth facility any time soon. Another megastructure of the city, the Superdome, certainly became an icon of the disaster. But what will become of it? There's speculation that it will be torn down. In the face of destroyed schools, homes and core infrastructure, where will money be found to rebuild a sports stadium? What about the city's businesses themselves? The White House has laid out a proposal for major incentives for businesses to return. My question is how can these businesses afford to wait? My guess is we will see a very different New Orleans emerge from this nightmare. Hopefully, it will be in our lifetime when the saints go marching back in.





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