Thursday, April 05, 2007

Big Idea # 751

Of all times in history, this is not the time to fear big ideas. Indeed, it is only innovation of all kinds that will save us.

There is a saying that education is the silver bullet. This is normally posited to emotionalize very abstract ideas, but I mean it this time in a very tangible sense. The people of New Orleans and indeed any coastal city in the gulf region need a particular brand not only of education, which we all sorely lack, but schools themselves.

One of the first and most tragic problems with the Katrina disaster is that most of the people affected were unable to get out of the city. Due to this, any suffering that came due to the levees breaching and the total failure of anyone to get people out or help in any way could have been hugely lessened if the people who couldn't leave had somewhere to go. One of the first visible rescue snafus was the simple fact that no-one had any idea where to go. As a result, when supplies finally did come (too late, oh lord how our apathy besmirches us all) many had no idea where a lot of the people were. I still don't follow their reluctance to look at the news, but that is for another conversation. Many of the people who did gather in undisputed areas of "rescue" such as the airport and the Superdome, were forcibly separated from their families. There is no argument in favour of this and only the total lack of forethought for how much family togetherness means in the wake of disaster can explain it. Since the city is likely to be hit by future storms and hurricanes, I propose a local system of gathering points. Sheltered areas with flood doors, generators, kitchens capable of small-scale stockpiling and manual communications capabilities. I'm talking about the schools.

How much easier would it be for an aging grandparent to go a few blocks to the local school where a whole family can gather? This precludes any need to make hasty decisions about who can go and who can't because they must sit on a bus for thirty hours. This prevents as well the mental exhaustion and anxiety that comes from leaving a certain disaster site for an uncertain make-shift domicile.

How much easier would it be to get the word out? Rather than relying on someone who may or may not watch television or listen to the radio, indeed, someone who can, the kids go to school everyday, they know how to get there. Parents go to teacher meetings and talk to each other. These things are administered by a school board which means it is very simple to know where the people are in a crisis.

Most of all, families and neighbors can easily stay in touch and remind each other where they are. I know I have what feels like a small gps in my head and all of my friends and family beep quietly on it all the time. When one of them is gone, that tiny void can shake the rest of me.

Such buildings are far more costly on the outset than more traditional city school buildings, and so an influx of funds will be necessary to properly survey, render, draw and build them. This means several years of employment in the big easy for anyone who may wonder what they should come home to given the total lack of relief, funding and news coverage over the last two years of any interested party.

My right eye, the more cynical of the two, looks on and doubts that funds of a federal kind would be forthcoming for such a project. This is truly disheartening and very likely the case. My left eye tells me the world is watching. It would be difficult to persuade the international community to fund an educational program in the richest country on earth, but the levees are an arguable international cause. None of us, NONE of us are at all interested in seeing anyone left to starve in a boiling open sewer. The only word I've come up with so far is unacceptable, but that really doesn't come close to how horrifying this was. In my genetic memory is the time during the civil war when Canadians burned down the white house. Perhaps that is why I want badly to light fires when I see gross, disparate, insane, suicidal injustice. I digress.

Due to the interest of other countries as shown when Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and others all offered assistance during the disaster which the US government declined, it is not out of the question to propose international help now. These were all formal offers, many volunteers just stopped what they were doing and showed up. I propose that the Levees of New Orleans be taken under the wing of the UN, the land appropriated where necessary to build and renew, and the actual building and renewing to commence. At the very least, if the UN resolved such a proposal, the US government would have to build something at least moderately feasible in order to save face. As for the current presidential incumbents, I humbly suggest that all women, african-americans from every cultural niche, the working poor, the unemployed, and every musical artist who has the right to vote in the US contact all incumbents of any political stripe with the following instructions: Do something, mobilize something, get something done in the gulf states now or you get nothing in November 08. Talk is cheap and political promises are frankly insulting.

On the subject of mandatory evacuations, there must be something in place that can easily react to an emergency. Light rail is not only environmentally sound, it is cost effective and a boon for cities. I admit before I begin that much rides on flooding not actually happening. This is for an evacuation that needs to happen before the worst. In the midst of a storm, a train equipped with slide-away doors can easily accommodate those who are handicapped or who must bring medical equipment with them in an emergency. Such vehicles if properly built (the right eye winks nastily again) can easily bring small families to the outside of the city to waiting buses or other transport, or they can get immobile people to safe areas within the city. Get on the train, we're going to school!

Funds again remain an issue. This started as an idea about what kind of amenities a building would need to withstand a crisis, and what likely is the easiest way to save as many people as possible. And why wouldn't we?

Why aren't our schools the focal point of our community? Why are we all so sure where the nearest mall is? Is it because schools are linked to an outdated, archaic form of funding based on property taxes? Partially, more on amending that nonsense another time. I think schools are not nearly interesting enough. We should know the Cherokee names for the Smoky Mountains. Maybe if Africa had a real history here, not just jungles and desert, but true songs of the split people, of what happened after Britain and France lost interest, we would better understand the poetry coming from our cities. Too often is it mistaken for verbal violence when in fact it is an aural map spanning time and an ocean. We should know that Biology is not a threat to the Christian God, but a way of better understanding his massive creation. Maybe if we knew these things and gave these knowledges to each other our schools or hospitals or churches or rooftops would not have to be our only salvation in the the time of great rains. Perhaps under these circumstances, we would know each life, replete with it's soul and dignity, is worth saving.

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