In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while various government bodies scrambled to address the myriad tragedies and emergencies that arose from the disaster, one critical question went largely unanswered and ignored: What was to become of the historic homes damaged in the storm and ensuing flood?
Obviously this question was of secondary concern at the time—where human life and safety are imperiled, the primary focus of government officials should be on restoring order and ensuring their constituents are protected. Precisely because of the existence of more pressing issues in a time of emergency, therefore, it is important to have a prepared plan addressing how best to incorporate historic preservation law into recovery and rebuilding efforts. In many areas, and in New Orleans in particular, historic architecture and ambience play a large role in forming the identity of the community; if a community is rebuilt without its identity in mind, its residents will not truly be able to return home.
In this paper I will discuss in more detail why a system for addressing historic preservation concerns in a time of emergency is necessary and what that system should entail. Part I includes a description of New Orleans, how the New Orleans historic preservation statute functions, and what the results were in historic districts affected by Hurricane Katrina. Part II is a brief description of other areas that have experienced large-scale disasters, with an exploration into how the various responses affected the goals of historic preservation. Part III details a proposed solution -- that emergency provisions be written into local historic preservation statutes to govern how the statute will function in a time of emergency, and what those provisions should look like.
Although the typical procedure put in place by the historic preservation ordinance may not be feasible in a time of emergency, a modified or alternative version of that process would best protect the interests of preservation while allowing local government to sufficiently respond to the needs of the community.
Christoff, Annie, "House of the Setting Sun: New Orleans, Katrina, and The Role of Historic Preservation Laws in Emergency Circumstances" (2006). Georgetown Law Historic Preservation Papers Series. Paper 18.