As I complete the editor’s introduction to these articles on institutional disruption and transformation in New Orleans triggered by Hurricane Katrina, Corona splashes her colors over maps of the earth. The hurricane pales in comparison with the pandemic, but one contrast between the two occurs to this participant/observer in both.
Prior to Katrina most institutions necessary to proper city functioning—including city administration, police department, and courts—were broken or stretched to the breaking point. As you will see in these articles, following the storm, business and civil society leaders, cooperating with government officials when possible, challenging them as necessary, led dramatic changes in city ethics institutions, community/police relations, property tax assessment, and so on. Such changes could only have been envisioned and executed locally. And so, they were. The base of power for post-Katrina change was local.
By contrast, it is inconceivable that the primary impetus for responding successfully to the coronavirus could come from local communities. They are perfectly suited to lead charity, education, and support, but societal recovery from COVID-19 depends on effective, efficient, and functionally integrated macro-systems of food, housing, banking, education, health care, public safety, unemployment, transportation, and small business support. Macro-system functioning also requires aggressively targeting corruption. Terms like “price gouging,” “bid rigging,” “malfeasance,” “payroll fraud,” and “insider dealing” begin to surface as the trillions of public dollars required to pay for these very expensive programs are released. A stolen and a wasted public dollar have in common that neither achieves its intended public benefit. The base of power for responding to the corona pandemic is at the top.
Cowan, Michael A.
"Special Issue Editor’s Introduction: Practical Wisdom and Institutional Transformation in an Urban Disaster,"
New England Journal of Public Policy: Vol. 32
, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholarworks.umb.edu/nejpp/vol32/iss1/3