Tuesday, September 27, 2005

How to forget the land of opium dreams

Joel Kotkin (subscription required) argues that the first step to recovery from Katrina is to get out of New Orleans. What's that they say about doing the same thing but expecting different results. I think it's swamp gas poisoning.

The piece ends with some sensible advice:
A less extreme but equally sensible course can be applied throughout the Gulf region by steering new development -- through either environmental or insurance restrictions -- further out into the interior.

More broadly, as a nation, we may want to consider ways to encourage greater development further inland. Americans have been crowding into the coasts for generations, even though one of our great assets is the broad interior hinterland. Our continued population growth -- from 310 million now to 400 million by 2050 -- may make repopulating the hinterlands more economically viable. Instead of offering "homesteads" or funds for repeated rebuildings on the crowded, and sometimes dangerous, coasts -- particularly in below-sea-level New Orleans -- it might make more sense to encourage settlement and investment deeper into our nation's interior.

This was the essence of much of 19th-century federal policy, which gave incentives for canals and railroads, as well as providing cheap or free land on the Plains. This could also bring new life to parts of country that have been losing jobs and people for a generation, but may now be ready for revival. With the Internet and small-jet travel, some of these areas, such as the Dakotas, are already showing signs of becoming more competitive in the national and global economy. It is a trend worth boosting, and may come to be the most attractive strategic lesson to emerge from Katrina and Rita.
I wonder what James Lileks would think of the proposal.


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