As the little children living in exile from watery New Orleans chant, "I want to go home," experts try to figure out how to rebuild a housing stock that includes submerged wooden shotgun homes and brick homes in the predominantly working-class and poor Lower 9th Ward and graceful gabled homes of the more affluent Lakeview district.
One approach that comes to mind would mirror a tactic Los Angeles used after the 1992 riots. Then-Mayor Tom Bradley appointed some of the city's best private, public and political minds to Rebuild L.A., and charged that large committee with figuring out how to make a phoenix rise from ashes.
"What the hurricane has done, it has wiped several slates clean," Kristina Ford said. She's the former executive director of the New Orleans city planning commission. "Ideas that were considered far-fetched can be considered."
Ideas like the creation of a reconstruction czar or a federally authorized think tank with the authority to cut through red tape, end government foot-dragging and lure back to New Orleans those survivors who choose to abandon their homes.
Ford, who teaches land use in the environmental studies department at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, sees an opportunity to protect the entire city from future storms by, for example, elevating the housing in the hard-hit Lower 9th Ward as high as that in the barely damaged French Quarter.
To lead the resurrection of New Orleans, she would like to see President Bush and Congress create a redevelopment authority to be in charge, responsible for finding new ideas while the floodwaters are being pumped out. Federal involvement would supersede local jurisdictions.
"The best minds in this country would drop everything to come to New Orleans to re-imagine what you could do. The problems would require all the learning they have had," she said, mentioning urban planners, scientists, environmentalists, architects and engineers.
Although Ford would choose her old boss, New Orleans' former Mayor Marc Morial, to lead the charge, he has some ideas of his own.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Morial urged the appointment of a reconstruction and resettlement czar for the affected areas in Louisiana and Mississippi -- someone authorized at the highest federal level to oversee the reconstruction, slash red tape and speed the FEMA process.
His picks: either Colin Powell or New Orleans native and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.
Of course, not everyone agrees. There is "some initial appeal to a czar," said Larry Rosenthal, director of the UC Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy. But he's not convinced that approach would accomplish anything.
"The existing arrangement of political stakes in New Orleans will easily defeat that charismatic leadership from outside," he said.
What's needed, Ford said, is someone who knows New Orleans and understands what makes the culture rich and diverse.
She said she would prefer a triage approach rather than bulldozing entire neighborhoods. Officials could go house to house, leaving undamaged homes alone, rebuilding where possible and knocking down only those homes that aren't reparable.
She also sees a good chance to restore the wetlands, and to consider a multibillion-dollar plan by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana that would reinforce levees.
All evacuees -- not just the affluent or professional -- must be able to return to New Orleans, Ford said. "The music that originates in New Orleans does not originate from people who all have jobs as accountants."
Times staff writer Diane Wedner contributed to this report.