Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new data viz, set to a brass band score, tracks 78 years of the state’s submergence.
During the last 78 years, the Louisiana coastal area has suffered an annual loss of 16 square miles—that’s as much as a whole football field in less than an hour. The Guardian recently examined whether New Orleans is becoming a “modern-day Atlantis.” Here’s Jeff Hebert, director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and the city’s chief resilience officer from the article:
“If you look at post-1930s development in New Orleans in contrast with pre-1930s development, you’ll see a city that lived with nature for much of its history and then engineered itself out of its natural environment.”
One of the main culprits of this land loss is the man-made levees built to protect residents from Mississippi River flooding—the very same ones that gave out during Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago, causing devastation and displacement that people are still reeling from today. These levees stop fresh water and sediment from caking the delta. This lack of sediment, along with canals dug to reach oil and gas wells and rising sea levels, has caused sea water to seep inwards, submerging 25 percent of coastal land since 1932.
At the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, programmer-slash-artist Brian Foo created a musical data visualization representing 78 years of Louisiana’s land loss. Foo (who has undertaken some interesting musical projects in the past) transformed U.S. Geological Survey data into music using sound samples from the famous Rebirth Brass Band from New Orleans. Foo’s song starts as Rebirth’s 25th anniversary song (jaunty and joyous) but soon starts to fade, leaving the listener with—quite literally—a sinking sensation.
“As land is displaced by water, the instruments and vocals in the song become stretched and diminish,” explains Foo on his website. “I wanted to make the music sound like it was slowly being submerged in water.”