Despite our best efforts, government can't solve every problem. We run our cities as well as we can with what we have and hope for the best. And sure, we don't mind if the feds or the state gives us some money, but we don't really expect it, nor do we even necessarily think it's fair that they do. Each city has to carry most of its own weight.
I got to thinking about this after I heard an editorial on National Public Radio a couple of weeks ago. New Orleans resident Michael Depp was describing the obligation that he and his neighbors feel the nation owes to their city. “America owes us levees that will buffer us from Category 5 storms,” he said. He went on to wonder why it wasn't obvious to the rest of the nation that no one would return or invest in the city until it was properly protected. “We insist that America lives up to its obligation to rebuild New Orleans.” And if it doesn't, he threatened, perhaps New Orleans would have to cut off the oil and natural gas that flows through the area. “After all, what would we owe to a nation that claims to have already met its obligation to us while we think it owes us far more?”
But what does the nation owe to a single city? Are we obligated to support the unsupportable? To rebuild even when the city lies in imminent danger of another disaster? To fortify it against any conceivable danger? Or do we tell New Orleans that we have gotten them over a rough patch, and now it's up to them to do the rest? Do we tell them that it is inherently and obviously absurd to live below sea level 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, so they need to find a better place to call home? Or at huge public expense do we rebuild the levee system to protect the city from any conceivable storm? If the nation pays the tab to rebuild New Orleans, then when a city sitting astride a major fault is destroyed by an earthquake, I guess we also rebuild that. And when a city snuggled up next to the Mississippi River is washed away, we rebuild that as well.
Despite my lifelong commitment to government as part of the solution, I feel that everyone needs to tend his own garden. If you live in a place that can't be protected without unreasonable expense, then maybe you need to think about moving—or else be prepared to suffer the consequences when the inevitable disaster strikes. The nation does indeed have an obligation to its cities and citizens, but that does not mean we can make life risk-free. Make the good places safe and let those who want to live in endangered places bear their own burdens.
Editor in Chief