News

University of Sydney professor delivers a lesson from New Orleans


11 March 2008

The New Orleans' city authorities who allowed unsuitable housing and oil drilling in the municipality are at least partly to blame for the damage done by Hurricane Katrina, according to the University of Sydney professor heading up New Orleans' recovery.

Professor Ed Blakely, who is also professor of urban and regional planning and policy at Sydney University, made this assessment when he presented a prestigious public lecture in Texas on the weekend.

"No one can say if global warming caused Hurricane Katrina [although] the combination of winds and warm water were unprecedented," said Professor Blakely of the University's Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning.

"But the greater damage to the environment started long before the hurricane. The real damage started with oil drilling that allowed extraction to do damage to marsh lands that guarded New Orleans for nearly 300 years from severe wind and water swales.

"Once these marshes were removed the protection for the City and Region of New Orleans was denuded."

Additionally, he says, "New Orleans was issuing building permits in the eastern swamp lands to developers and land speculators.

Professor Blakely said "money and power doomed the environment." Public servants, believing the "the notion that private rights trump public stewardship", failed to act with "good reasoning and deep courage."

Professor Blakely delivered the prestigious Elliot Richardson Lecture at the Annual Conference of the American Society for Public Administration in Dallas, Texas, yesterday (Sunday 9 March).

The theme of the lecture series is Ethics and Integrity in Public Service. Conference organisers felt Professor Blakely's effort to recover New Orleans and his experience and expertise in public administration and service made him an excellent choice to deliver this address.

The lecture series is named in honour of Elliot Richardson, a former Secretary of Heath, Education and Welfare in the US Government, as well as a former Secretary of Defense; Attorney General; and Secretary of Commerce.

He is most remembered for his stance during the Watergate investigation when he, as Attorney General under President Nixon, chose to resign rather than carry out Nixon's order to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.

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