USA Today on April 7 carried an article about green homes being built in New Orleans neighborhoods wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. “More than 500 homes are being built with features such as solar panels, rain-catching cisterns and eco-friendly materials.” Hmmm.
Certainly it’s better that such green features are being included than not, but the long-term wisdom of these developments is questionable. Sustainability isn’t just what and how you build, but where you build. With a strong likelihood that these new homes will be destroyed by a hurricane or flooding in the coming decades, a better choice would be to build elsewhere. The neighborhoods are still largely below sea level, adjacent to the Mississippi with its extensive levees – and oh yeah, the delta’s eroding and Atlantic hurricanes are getting stronger. One category 3 or above storm strikes within 100 nautical miles of the city every decade on average.
Of course no place is completely free of natural disaster risks, and reconstruction of New Orleans is a thorny issue given the need to provide housing to people with few alternatives. But, before extolling the green features of new homes in the area, a look at the broader picture is in order.