A flood can be devastating to a community, and what happened to New Orleans is doubly so. Unlike most waterfront, coast and shore communities, where the richer homes align with the flood risk, the poorer sections of New Orleans suffered proportionally greater loss.
But that tragedy is not at issue, here. The tragedy is the next flood, the next storm that will "Take Out" the Big Easy.
As of 2008, the broken landscape of destroyed properties still litter neighborhoods of New Orleans and nearby Gulf communities. The legacy of 2005 should not be a replication of the same foolish designs, inappropriate to the unique conditions there.
To illustrate - rebuilding with wood / lumber in an area known for termite infestation is ill advised. Before the flood, it was estimated that over 85% of the homes in New Orleans had termite damage, varying only in degree.
Another problem - high water table. You don't dig basements unless you want a swimming pool.
And let's not forget the flood dangers, from storm driven surge, or the Mississippi river.
In other parts of the world, where indigenous people live with the threat of high water, flooding, or storms, they elevate their homes above the flood threat. That's a viable solution - but expensive - when applied to modern buildings, constrained by code.
We know that "old fashioned" lighthouses, built as cylindrical towers, endured the battering of wind and wave.
Let's imagine that lighthouse cylinder - expanding - expanding - expanding into a ring wall. Inside that robust ring wall, we build apartments attached to it. And let's build another ring of apartments. Between the two rings, we have a main street (circular). In the middle we have a round park, nestled safely within. Add a hefty watertight double gateway, and we can laugh at storms and floods.
Let the ground level be reserved for private enterprise, retail shops, restaurants, and general mixed use. Upper levels are reserved for apartments and offices. Have each upper level feature a continuous balcony so one can walk completely around the ring. Add a bit of delicate ironwork for that "French Quarter" ambience.
Such a ring village can be designed for 300, 400, 600 or more people. Within walking distance, one can find shopping, services, and perhaps one's own vocation, conveniently close. The ring village, with its central park, is ideal for families. Add elevators spaced around the ring, and wheelchairs have full access.
A series of ring villages, in the flood prone areas, would become instant refuges in the "next event". Unlike a levee breech which can threaten a whole community, a network of double ring villages aren't threatened by a single breech. If the surrounding area floods, each ring village becomes an island. Prudent designers need only add a drop down dock, and the folks can use boats until the water subsides.
Circular walled communities aren't new. In China, the Hakka people built cylindrical earthen clan homes, called Tulou. Faced with similar problems of a hostile location, and the need for security, these rammed earth structures were "dirt cheap" and did the job.
With modern reinforced concrete and technology, and a bit of common sense, New Orleans could be rebuilt into a cluster of neighborhoods, round and robust, safe from storm surge and calamity.
For info on Hakka Tulou: