To Be Better, New Orleans, Think Smaller

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and now, it appears, Hurricane Rita, New Orleans is about to face many of the same problems that plagued Galveston after its natural disaster. Swatches of the city now lie in a toxic stew; they won't be habitable again for years - if ever. Businesses are shuttered. Thousands of people who have fled aren't coming back. In Baton Rouge, companies and refugees who had been in New Orleans a month ago are buying office space and housing stock, relocating on the fly.

AT the turn of the last century, Galveston, Tex., was one of the most important cities west of the Mississippi. With a population of 38,000, it had a critical port, a thriving banking sector and more wealth per capita than just about anyplace else in America. Its streets were paved with oyster shells that shined in the moonlight.

Then, on Sept. 8, 1900, Galveston was struck by a hurricane that killed thousands and flattened the city. It never recovered. The merchants, the bankers and all sorts of other service-sector workers fled to Houston, never to return. Businesses died. The port shrank to nothingness. "Galveston was left without a tax base," said Paul Burka, senior executive editor of Texas Monthly (and a Galveston native). Houston went on to become the city that Galveston had once aspired to be.

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