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Swamped city: New Orleans and nature

At least once every hurricane season, the city of New Orleans finds itself in the national spotlight. Each time a major Gulf hurricane edges its way toward the mouth of the Mississippi, media from around the country descend on the city to capture footage of residents boarding up, packing up and preparing to face off against the worst nature has to offer.

Indeed, such scenes have played out on numerous occasions throughout the city's long history, and coping with nature has become second nature to the citizens of New Orleans. As LSU Geography Professor Craig Colten discusses in his new book, "An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature," the city, which sits well below sea level and is virtually surrounded by water, has been profoundly affected by its precarious location and the wetland environment from which it emerged.

"It basically tells the story of New Orleans as a place that was an ill-suited site to become a major metropolitan area, and how, for centuries, humans have struggled to convert, reshape and manipulate it into a place that could support a major population," Colten said of the book.

In the book, which is published by LSU Press, Colten covers a period from around 1800 to modern times, tracing the efforts by residents and government to "modify" New Orleans' natural environment. Perhaps the greatest challenge city leaders faced during this time period, Colten said, was water.

"The primary concern was how to deal with excess water, both in the form of the river and in the wetlands in the back of the city," he said.

Early in the 19th century, the Mississippi River was a primary source of flooding in the city, and the book describes the engineering efforts that slowly, but largely successfully, dealt with this problem.

"The river presented a hazard in terms of flooding, and I wanted to examine how society dealt with that and organized itself to begin building a barrier a barrier that needed to be exte
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Contact: Rob Anderson
rander8@lsu.edu
225-578-3871
Louisiana State University
13-Jul-2005


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