Saturday, June 17, 2006

Katrina and the Cottage

Hurricane season is upon us again and unless you live in Florida your state isn't prepared in event of disaster. We still haven't cleaned up after the last one and have no plans to change things for the better.
"Don't get me wrong," she told me. "I'm grateful that we're here -- there are families worse off than we are." But, she added, she can't let her children go outside because there is no safe or even reasonably clean place to play; the nearby park, popular with drug dealers, is littered with broken glass; the sound of gunshots punctuates the nights; and the psychotic man who lives a few doors down has a habit of banging on her door at all hours. Recently sewage backed up into her trailer, soaking the entire floor. She had to wash everything, which -- given that laundromat prices have more than doubled since the storms -- constituted a financial stretch. "We're middle-class poor people," she said.

She's not alone. Across the state, more than 200,000 people are living in trailers or unfinished houses, many still in tents in the front yards of their ravaged New Orleans homes, without insurance, health care, access to decent public schools or, in many cases, jobs. In fact, so many people are desperate to make their homes livable that FEMA is still delivering trailers to the New Orleans area. To date there are some 70,000 FEMA trailers in some 60 villages in Louisiana alone, with additional trailers parked in yards. And not a single one of those trailers is strong enough to withstand hurricane-strength winds.

What is strong enough for that is the so-called Katrina Cottage, a two-bedroom, aesthetically appealing house that can not only take 200-mph winds but is also cheaper than the travel trailers and, perhaps more important, built to last -- meaning that the Katrina Cottage can serve as a permanent dwelling.
Exactly what is this cottage and why haven't we heard more about it?
The design is one of the products of a one-week session, the Mississippi Renewal Forum, held on that state's coast in October. About 110 architects, planners and designers converged with 80 of their local counterparts at the request of Gov. Haley Barbour to come up with ideas to redevelop 11 small coastal communities that were severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Fifty-thousand homes were obliterated and 80,000 were damaged along a 120-mile stretch of the Mississippi coast.
The cottage, which draws on the design of a Mississippi coastal cottage, is 14 by 22 feet plus an 8-foot-deep porch. Inside the front door is a living/dining area; to the right, a small kitchen with a four-burner range and a full-size refrigerator, sink, and cabinets. Beside it is a full bath. At the back of the house is a bedroom with two sets of bunk beds. There's storage space under the mattresses, and there is one closet. The house has central air and heat. It is sided in Hardieboard, a fiber-cement product, and topped with a metal roof.
Sounds good to me, maybe it could be used all over the United States to provide affordable housing to poor middle class people who aren't able to afford the high priced monstrosities that are called houses nowadays. It looks cute enough to be proud of, otherwise designers wouldn't be looking at it for vacation cottages. The porch idea is wonderful, it adds an element of friendliness and community. If more people spent time on their front porch it would be harder for illegal activities to occur. When you know your neighbors, you are more likely to look out for them.

Americans need to rebuild a sense of community instead of retreating into their homes and trying to pretend like it is their own little castle, leaving the outside world to fend for itself. Right up until something bad happens. As long as the cameras are on the situation it is important, then the tragedy fades from the public consciousness and the people who still need help are abandoned and labeled as being not worthy of help.

Stopgap measures very rarely work, we should be proactive instead of reactive. It shouldn't take a disaster to remind us that there are people who don't have access to the internet, cell phones, cars to move them from a warning zone or the money to all of a sudden take a trip out of town.

I wonder how the cottage would withstand an earthquake.

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