Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Cabin Project expanded

I'll get back to my normal posts soon. I need to get this information out and available first. If anyone has an inside route to decision makers, please get this information to them. I'll try to get it to some of the right folks as well, but there can't be too many cooks in the kitchen this time.

As many readers of my other blog know, I've covered many natural and man-made disasters throughout my career. The typical American reaction to a disaster is to clean up, rebuild and get back to normality before attention and funds wane. This process typically begins immediately after the event or within the first two to three days following a massive catastrophe.

The magnitude of Hurricane Katrina's tragedy eliminates the normal reaction cycle. The real clean up won't happen for at least five months. Rebuilding should probably only be accomplished in areas above sea level. Normality as it was will most assuredly never be realized.

I discussed earlier the usefulness of building cabins at local state and national parks. I didn't expand enough on the concept and its immediate use. I'll do so now.

The cabin project would do the following for displaced hurricane victims:
* Create temporary housing.
* Create portable jobs and income.
* Create a sense of accomplishment.
* Reduce mental stress.
* Reduce crime.
* Provide incentive to stay and succeed in the region.
* Salvage displaced family structures.
* Create a sustainable need for construction workers and increase single-family residence starts.
* Families to live with their beloved pets.
* Provide future jobs for retirees.

Additionally, it would promote regional eco-tourism and provide:
* Temporary housing for future disasters
* Future income for regional, state, national and other parks.
* Future income for regional businesses - particularly restaurants.
* Lodging for small, nature- or family-based trips of reunions.
* Community recreation.
* Additional venues for small-scale and community performances.
* Educational opportunities for regional students.
* Overflow housing for large-scale regional events and festivals.

Future posts will detail
* Matters of further consideration

Building upon historical successes
When Europeans first landed in North America, there were no skyscrapers. The pioneers worked together to establish communal towns. They cleared trees, made adequate log cabins and constructed communal facilities. During the westward push, the same process occurred - because the model was successful.

Over time, construction skills were refined and automated. Structures became more grand and the engineering became more complicated. With successful communities, businesses were built and cities developed.

The cabin project would essentially be a rapid history lesson. We already know successful designs. We also have power tools and ample supplies. Only some land and seed money are required to make this project work. In the end, the project will pay for itself 100-fold and help the region grow in a successful and sustainable manner.

The initial purpose of the cabin project is temporary housing and jobs for folks displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Additional benefits include job training, mental health, and community adaptation and specialization. Much later, the cabins can provide self-sustaining recreational and emergency housing as well as some permanent employment.

Those displaced by the hurricane can construct relatively simple, uniform log cabins and additional communal facilities at eco-tourism locations. The construction projects would pay workers for their time. As an additional enticement, displaced survivors would be allowed to reside in completed cabins and receive communal meals for a four-month period at no charge.

This allows workers enough time to acquire money and skills as well as locate a permanent home in the area. As workers acquire skills and accumulate modest wealth, they'll be motivated to purchase new homes in the area. New homes require skilled construction workers and provide real-world income for newly-trained construction professionals.

How it works
People identified as hurricane survivors would be paid for their labor. They would be employed to construct the cabins and be paid a fair carpenter's wage and provided with three daily community meals. Once they have worked a required number of hours, they could request to temporarily occupy completed cabins for four months.

Although the cabins aren't the greatest housing option, they provide some sense of normality and privacy for the workers and their families. Furthermore, the workers could use this four-month period to accumulate enough money to pay a security deposit on an apartment or possibly a business or home.

At the same time, volunteers are invited to contribute labor, expertise, materials and money to the project. Volunteers and community service workers will not be paid. However, their labor and knowledge is needed to expedite the completion of initial cabins. Their contribution would benefit the whole community.

Create temporary housing
Currently, folks displaced by the hurricane fill all local hotels, motels, shelters, sports facilities, religious, and some school facilities and are guests in residences.

Very little space remains for displaced people or those trying to help them. This makes it difficult to reunite extended families and almost impossible to conduct significant business where travel is required. There simply isn't anywhere to put additional family members or business travelers.

The cabin project opens space as workers are provided with temporary housing outside commercial venues and shelters. This not only reduces cost to taxpayers by eliminating the current voucher system, it introduces more tax-paying workers into the system.

Again, the housing is a temporary means to relieve residential congestion until enough homes are built to accommodate the recent influx of people. The project's initial goal is to function as a four-month pressure valve for local housing. Within these four months, new housing can be planned and begin construction. This provides continuing jobs for these trained workers.

When the housing situation is eventually resolved (in about two years), the cabins remain to provide the park systems with future income, tourism and future disaster relief.

Portable job skills and living income
Some workers may already be specialized artisans. If so, these skills will be put to immediate use - most likely on the community facilities. If not, job skills will be taught to workers. In either case, these are portable job skills which can be applied to any growing community.

Since home construction is likely to increase in the area, construction workers will be needed. This is an ideal place to learn basic work skills with lumber, concrete, masonry, electrical, plumbing, construction machinery and other specialties of construction.

Food services
Additionally, such a large undertaking requires on-site food preparation. Trained food handlers can get trained as managers. Others can get trained as food handlers.

Other specialties
In addition to the specialties mentioned, workers can learn or use existing skills in timber work, heavy vehicle transportation, child care specialties, landscaping, supply, acquisitions, bookkeeping, retail services, laundry services, security and many other jobs required to keep a small town operating efficiently.

All these skills directly apply to larger projects throughout the region and across the nation.

Create a sense of accomplishment
One basic need of mankind is purpose. Sitting in a sports venue or motel is not fulfilling and demoralizing to those subjected to this lifestyle. However, constructing permanent structures allows those who have lost everything to begin to heal. It creates a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

Years from now, these same folks can return to visit the cabins or other projects they personally built. It becomes a progressive constant in their lives and source of personal pride and accomplishment.

Reduce mental stress
As mentioned above, homelessness and lack of purpose is demoralizing and stressful. Idle hands don't lead to positive results. Folks with too much time and no missions are more inclined to use drugs and engage in criminal behavior.

Meanwhile, busy folks who are tired at day's end and filled with accomplishment can visit with their family and sleep to begin a new day of work and more accomplishment. The process (work, eat, sleep) becomes a life skill and becomes constant. When it's time to move back into the private sector, the transition is not as stressful either.

Reduce crime
Again, crime is a result of too much spare time with nothing to lose. Working folks with a reasonable income, housing, food and other needs don't have as much spare time and do have much to lose. Consequently, they are less inclined to engage in criminal activity.

Provide incentive to stay and succeed in the region
Southeast Texas is susceptible to hurricanes, tornados and other natural catastrophes. However, it isn't below sea level. Therefore, it's immediately safer than the New Orleans area.

In any community, its future depends upon growth. Southeast Texas actually needs more taxpaying residents to build homes and businesses as well as raise and educate families.

Growth must have some controls to ensure sustainability, longevity and public safety. However, a large influx of lawful residents equates to increased business activity and a larger tax base. These factors allow a city to advance without disruption.

If the city provides new residents with the tools and knowledge to succeed, those folks will become active in the city and help build an enviable community. It becomes a city of destination rather than a city of last resort.

Salvage displaced family structures
Following Hurricane Katrina, families were shattered and scattered across the country. Many people don't know if family members survived or where they could be located if they did survive.

When people are lost in the forest, they must stay in one location to allow searchers to find them. The same holds true for separated families. At least one member of the family must put down roots to allow other family members to locate them and eventually bring the family back together. Southeast Texas should be the safe haven for families to reunite and begin anew.

Create a sustainable need for construction workers and increase single-family residence starts
Although the initial phase of the Cabin Project is to provide immediate work, income and temporary housing, the portable skills acquired apply directly to commercial construction.

With these skills, a modest accumulation of wealth and a motivation to remain in the area, construction workers can build homes for themselves and others. As people settle into homes, they may begin other businesses and leave the construction industry. This allows others to fill those positions.

In either case, the housing sector could experience a boom until everyone who wishes to live here is adequately housed. This boom should last five to seven years.

Families to live with their beloved pets
During the storm, many pets helped sustain the lives of their owners and vice versa. Some of these stories are beginning to emerge and more are on the way. Nonetheless, pet owners are loyal to their buddies. Some New Orleans residents still refuse to leave the city because they refuse to place their pets in shelters.

Pets are allowed at parks. Folks with pets can work and keep their pets at the cabins. Heck, each cabin can be built with a miniature pet cabin for the fuzzy family members. Yes, pet owners must clean after their pets and keep the pet on a lead line. However, it's not a problem to accommodate everything from a Chihuahua to a pet camel at a national park.

Some of the initial communal facilities could include a temporary kennels for 1st-period workers, a stable for larger animals and a veterinary clinic to accommodate the medical needs of these pets as well as injured indigenous animals.

Provide future jobs for retirees
Many folks had worked hard their entire lives to acquire enough wealth for a comfortable retirement. Their lifetime of work and sacrifice was gone in a few hours. Now, they find themselves unable to work as hard as they once could. They also feel disenfranchised by their "evacuee" status and age.

As is currently the case at other park systems, evacuee retirees can easily manage the new cabin facilities. They'll be responsible for fee collection, rule compliance, general cleanliness and communal behavior.

Most retirees are granted respect for their status and wisdom. They can say, "Pick up your trash" to guests without much argument. This is precisely what's needed to keep communal areas safe and clean.

Promote regional eco-tourism
Southeast Texas is a world destination for many eco-tourists. It is the main migratory flight path for many birds and butterflies as well as rich in its own flora and fauna. As more folks visit, it's acclaim and notoriety will spread.

Once the cabins and communal facilities are complete and no longer needed by Hurricane Katrina evacuees, the following sections are knock-on benefits of the Cabin Project.

Temporary housing for future disasters
It would be folly to think no other natural disasters will happen along the Gulf Coast. The cabins and communal facilities could be used as safe havens and rally points during any future extended regional evacuations.

Future income for regional, state, national and other parks
The various park systems can maintain and rent the facilities to vacationers during the "good times." These rentals provide tourists with nice accommodations at a reasonable price.

Moreover, it provides the park systems with an income to maintain and possibly expand the property while providing vacation and educational resources.

Future income for regional businesses - particularly restaurants

The rentals provide the park systems and the local communities with income from rental fees, support services and additional tourism-based incomes. Parks within cities can apply hotel taxes or special district taxes to these rentals to water, support fire prevention, law enforcement, sanitation and other community services provided to these facilities.

The greatest beneficiaries of these new facilities will be local restaurants and even smaller motels. Many first-time or infrequent campers aren't well versed in cooking al fresco. Occasionally, even those who know how to make a seven-course meal on an open fire may still want to celebrate a special event at a fine restaurant while camping. This is an immediate boost to local restaurants - particularly "upscale," tourist-friendly restaurants.

Local motels might be alarmed at this project. Yes, it could reduce maximum occupancy at times, but with more people moving to the area, increased business and other factors. Occupancy rates will actually increase at area hotels, motels and residence inns. Bed and breakfast venues are likely to experience maximum occupancy more often than not.

In a best-case situation, tourists without reservations will need to stay at area hospitality venues because all the cabins are occupied.

Lodging for small, nature- or family-based trips of reunions
Across America, there are many nature-based organizations and religious establishments who hold retreats. These cabin communities would provide appropriate accommodations in a pleasant setting for these large groups.

Although the largest of these organizations already have their own retreat locations, smaller groups would happily use the facilities to expand their current groups.

Community recreation
Much talk so far has focused on the needs of the evacuees and tourism. Let's remember the local communities must support these activities. In addition to the increased business and possible future employment, the local communities must be provided additional benefits to host these facilities.

As mentioned, these facilities will eventually be used as educational and recreational facilities. To ensure local support for the worthy cause, park administrators should allow free local community access to educational and special events on the property. Most currently present these activities freely to the local community as their only "clients." This must be continued once the facility requires access controls (ie. a paid guard).

Since local residents must initially support and welcome the growth, they should be allowed to present a valid drivers license and be granted access to facility programs, activities and facilities (pools, fishing, hiking, etc.).

Local residents would still need to pay to stay in the cabins, but the other benefits are provided as a fair exchange.

Additional venues for small-scale and community performances
Most communities don't have enough affordable venues for small-scale performances or the arts in general. Amphitheaters, small recreational facilities with stages, modest art museums or so-called art spaces could be included in the park system construction plans to accommodate community-based arts programs.

Educational opportunities for regional students
As is currently available at larger park system facilities, education should be a large part of the total project. From the initial phase to the long-term phase, education should be a central theme to allowing the facilities to continue and add value back to taxpayers and visitors alike.

Initial phase education
Once some cabins have been completed, evacuees will occupy them. Although most will be too tired to attend, evening classes should be scheduled each day as well as non-exclusive worship sessions for ALL various religions.

The children's courses should provide education in events typically not considered "urban" to expand their view of the world and increase their life and eventual professional skills and appreciation.

Evening classes during the initial phase could evolve into something such as:
Monday: Social service programs for evacuees / basic real estate planning for first-time buyers and basic financial programs to accumulate wealth
Tuesday: Life skills (swimming, CPR, basic first aid)
Wednesday: Introduction to reading, writing and arithmetic / advanced computer-assisted business cources
Thursday: Business skills training
Friday: Evening services (Muslim), social dance or concert
Saturday: Day - Children's courses (equestrian, tennis, golf, canoe or sailing and other fine arts); Evening - services (Jewish, Pagan), social dance or concert
Sunday: Morning - service (Christian); Afternoon - community picnic and family play time (bounce houses, horseshoe tournaments, etc...)

Long-term education
Monday: Forest safety and survival
Tuesday: Life skills (swimming, CPR, basic first aid)
Wednesday: Introduction to plants
Thursday: Introduction to wildlife
Friday: Evening service (Muslim), social dance or concert
Saturday: Day - Children's courses (equestrian, tennis, golf, canoe or sailing and other fine arts); Evening - services (Jewish, Pagan), social dance or concert
Sunday: Morning - service (Christian); Afternoon - community picnic and family play time (bounce houses, horseshoe tournaments, etc...)

Obviously, these are examples. Courses should adapt as identified and needed.

Overflow housing for large-scale regional events and festivals
As the area grows, so will the size of festivals, tournaments and other large-scale events. The cabins will augment the hospitality venues and their ability to handle tourists, vacationers, business travelers and conventioneers.

Mental Health
Peace of mind is good. If folks know they have a purpose, an income, food and shelter and - most importantly - a future, they can begin to decompress from their recent trauma and adapt to their new future.

A human's basic needs must be met before normality can be realized. Once all the needs have been met (Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs or John Gray's"tanks"), the victims of this tragedy can find peace.

Matters of further consideration
The following matters will need further consideration as they pertain to this project and evacuees. I'll post some thoughts on them in the near future:

Public transportation
Work hours
Commute time
Pay rates and taxation
Tax incentives to businesses providing raw materials
Park system expansion for this purpose
Historical parallels as an educational study (small-gauge trains, etc)

In the meantime, some folks will start getting insurance settlements on their damaged property in Louisiana. With the Cabin Project in place, these folks can combine the insurance settlements with their other new skills to become active, meaningful members of the Southeast Texas community.

Again, if anyone knows someone who can help speed this project into realization, please send them a link to this post and let's begin healing and rebuilding.

Enough for now,



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