What can we do?

New Orleans needs a water plan.

New Orleans sits at the bottom of North America’s largest drainage basin, and it demonstrates an extreme version of water management questions that plague every city on the continent. A Gordian knot of dilemmas about water’s place in the metropolitan landscape—every day and under extreme conditions—New Orleans is a crucible for the examination and resolution of issues whose importance is increasing with climate change.

Planning for water involves both technical and political questions, and New Orleans’s water plan must speak both to engineers and to citizens. The planning process will raise design issues that are rhetorical—what, for instance, should the image of water be in a soggy place, and how can that image help citizens to come to terms with where they live?—and practical—how does rainwater hit the ground, travel through the city, and make its way to the Gulf of Mexico? Questions of expression and pragmatism will come together around public safety. Limiting risk will depend not only on adequate water storage but also on the development of a flood culture that recognizes the landscape’s basic tendencies.

These issues cross disciplines and arenas: they engage planning, urban and landscape design, architecture, engineering, economics, and politics. They involve landscape types from public infrastructure to civic space to private gardens. They demand reckoning with ecological systems from regional to residential scales.