Where’s the Public?

Posted in Public Activism with tags , on February 3, 2010 by lexis2praxis

A couple of my informants, and I can’t say who they are, but suffice to say that they are involved in the decision-making process – mourn the lack of public involvement and outrage these days.  They say that four years after Katrina, the public seems to have forgotten about flood protection.  With the U.S. Congress flagging under “Katrina fatigue”, it is all the more important.

Is this true – do New Orleanians have “Katrina fatigue”?  Why aren’t people out on the streets and at public meetings calling for flood protection?

Calculating Culture

Posted in First Encounters, NOLA, Research with tags , , , , , , on February 1, 2010 by lexis2praxis

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here.  A lot has happened, both in regard to the progress of my research and life in New Orleans.  I’ve been wondering how best to approach this blog: there are already so many great NOLA bloggers out there.  While I still want to blog about New Orleans as an engineered landscape, and about the use of levees and walls as the primary means of flood protection, nothing that happens here – culturally speaking – is removed from that.  And given the fact that I’ve learned that the degree to which New Orleans is protected is nearly entirely based on the calculation of economic assets, I think it’s important to write about what it’s like to live here.  Is there something to be said for protecting New Orleans because it is – economic assets aside – New Orleans?  In other words – is it really valuable, in a countable way, as a “cultural wetlands”?

So I will blog about the “culture” of New Orleans, an important component of which, of course, is engineering; and what it’s like to live with walls and water.

Maybe I’m just adding, and preaching, to the choir, but the outsider’s voice is different.  I’ve been practically all over the United States and several other countries, so I have some basis for comparison in terms of personal experience.  A recent transplant to New Orleans, I can speak to the way the place can capture you.  I also have no qualms about how this will “bias” my research.  All research is biased; all results are products of interactions and complex histories.  Plus, the process of study – learning – is really just allowing oneself to be changed.

OMB Budget

Posted in Federal with tags , , on January 28, 2010 by lexis2praxis

It seems that some funding for coastal projects has increased, but the Army Corps of Engineers budget for LA projects may be cut.

On the Relative Purity of Dirt

Posted in Research, Technologies with tags , , , , , on January 24, 2010 by lexis2praxis

There’s a great deal of talk about debris found in levees along Lake Pontchartrain.

The skinny is this: Levees are made of dirt.  Prior to Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers made some levees larger by adding additional dirt.  Back then, it is said, contractors were told to use what they call the “visual inspection” method.  This is the technical term for “eyeballing”.  Contractors were required to look at the dirt they were using to build levees and make judgment calls about how much debris was there.  If they saw debris, they were supposed to remove it.  The reason for this is that levees require a type of clay-based soil that falls within certain requirements in terms of liquid content, plasticity, and consistency.  Too much debris can break up the tensile strength of the soil.

The problem is, dump trucks carry tons of dirt to a site when building a levee.  Just eyeballing, one can’t possibly see all the chunks of concrete and bricks (or as one informant put it, “kitchen sinks and everything”) inside the dirt.  Post-Katrina requirements on levee testing revealed that debris content exceeded restrictions in these locations.  Now, all dirt must be formally tested for debris content; the Corps says it is only using trusted borrow sites (a borrow pit is where they get their dirt); and the compromised portions of levee are being replaced.

Jerseyites in NOLA

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2009 by lexis2praxis

I still have Jersey plates, and every so often someone sauntering by hollers at me “Jersey!” by way of introduction, then announces what part of Jersey they are from.  It used to take a few moments to figure out they were talking to me; now I automatically turn my head as if Jersey were my name.

How Should Recovery Funds Be Used?

Posted in Research, Technologies with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2009 by lexis2praxis

Money to modernize ports could come from unused federal Katrina-recovery funds.

What is a Levee? (Part 1)

Posted in Research, Technologies with tags , , , , on November 9, 2009 by lexis2praxis

The London Avenue canal levee and floodwall

An excerpt from an academic paper (for a list of the references used, please contact me):

Levee [French levée, from Old French levee, from feminine past participle of lever, to raise; see lever.]

The primary meaning of levee, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a reception held by a person of distinction on rising from bed”.  This is a custom still practiced in Canada, where it is a general New Year’s celebration, a social affair in which people recount the past year and anticipate the next one.  The use of the term to describe a social event originates with the Levée du Soleil, the Rising of the Sun, a custom of King Louis XIV (1643-1715).  Apparently the King was in the habit of receiving male subjects in his bedchamber after waking, a custom that was then passed down to subsequent monarchs and later, heads of state and other leaders.  These gatherings were long restricted to men until recently, and now includes women and children in most cases.

The secondary meaning for levee is, perhaps, no longer secondary since Hurricane Katrina, which propelled the term into media and international conversation.  According to Merriam-Webster a levee is “an embankment for preventing flooding, a river landing place, a continuous dike or ridge (as of earth) for confining the irrigation areas of land”.  Petroski defines it as a “natural or artificial slope or wall to prevent flooding of the land behind it … often parallel to the course of a river or the coast” (Petroski 2006:7). A few people (outside of the Delta, of course) have told me that they don’t really know what a levee looks like, and can’t really imagine one.  Of course, people who live with and depend on delta engineering know all about them; in fact, the technology as well as the word entered the U.S. through the Mississippi River delta. Continue reading

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