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November 21, 2005

Help a City, Be Like Bono

Last night's 60 Minutes featured two stories that grabbed my attention: one on the current condition of New Orleans, another on the incomparable rock band U2.

The segment on New Orleans painted a grim portrait of destruction and decay, eventually questioning the logic of rebuilding the city on its current site, or commencing a gradual relocation.

12 weeks after Hurricane Katrina, almost 3/4 of the residences are either completely destroyed or uninhabitable. Such a tiny percentage of the population has returned that businesses are not sustainable. And according to one expert, the Gulf of Mexico could potentially turn the city into an island - a concavity supported only by artificial levees - within the next 80 years.

The other story about Bono and U2 didn't actually reveal anything I didn't already know. For the record, I've been crazy about this band since I was in grade school - I even wrote an article comparing them to my running career once.

What always strikes me is the passion and conviction that Bono displays in taking on causes that others say are impossible. One of his major goals is to end world hunger, a task of such monumental difficulty that Bono himself has called it "this generation's moon shot."

Honestly, I don't think that's accurate - the moon shot was probably easier. After all, it didn't rely on widespread geopolitical cooperation. But Bono believes that such lofty ambitions are firmly within our reach, once enough people care enough to be called to action and contribute in some manner.

So where am I going with this? Curiously, not too long ago I received an e-mail announcement for the 2006 Mardi Gras Marathon, reporting that the event would carry on as scheduled in February 2006.

To say the least, I was shocked. I can't fathom how they could stage an event in the city, not to mention finding 26 miles of roads that aren't damaged or contaminated. Assuming people travel from out of town, where will they stay? The complications seem overwhelming.

Yet at this point, they plan to carry on. It would be the first major athletic event held in the city since Katrina.

No, I'm not planning to run it. But the marathon web site describes a way that anyone can contribute: by making a donation to the race, with all proceeds going to the rehabilitation of New Orleans.

With a donation of $50 or more, you'll receive a race t-shirt with the slogan "Come Back to the Big Easy."

Should New Orleans be rebuilt? Should they be attempting to stage a major race in the wake of such tragedy? These aren't questions I'm qualified to answer.

But I like it when a running event has a positive fiscal impact on a community, and I like it when this normally self-centered activity we do embraces an outreach cause.

Even if the race is terrible, putting on the event can send a symbolic message - that people of the area are soldiering on, persevering despite enormous hardships ahead of them. Who better to represent this sentiment than marathon runners?

Not all of us can travel to the Gulf Coast to participate in the race or assist the rebuilding effort. But if enough people feel called to action, their contributions can collectively sustain the relief effort for a short period of time, and have a lasting influence on a community in need.

So check out the race website, and consider supporting their efforts. And spread the word.

I know one thing: if Bono were a runner, he would definitely do it. And he wouldn't think it's impossible to rebuild the Big Easy.

After all, restoring a historic city shouldn't be as tough as a moon shot.


David 11/24/05, 5:15 AM  

I saw those 60 Minutes segments too. I couldn't help but think if the old joke (?) yarn (?) that the next "big one" in California will send half the state off into the Pacific Ocean, never to be seen from again.
I came away from the TV show not believing the US Army colonel who hesiatted, then said he'd live down the street from the levey; I could see the loss of bayou ground in the aerials; and am a believer that they should build a new city north of Lake P. I'd run/contribute for that.

Donald 11/24/05, 10:39 AM  

It's definitely a tough call. I live close to San Francisco so my wife and I think about that scenario a lot.

Sure, it's a logical decision to relocate New Orleans, but there's so much history and affection for the city that it would be tough to just say goodbye.

For instance, if there is a devastating earthquake that levels SF, does it make sense to rebuild it again, even though the fault line still runs directly underneath? You could potentially have major quakes every few years.

Yet I don't think you could convince anyone around here that the city (SF) should be moved or abandoned in such a case.

Anyway...it will be interesting to see how things develop down there. Thanks for the input.

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