Second, as we did with homeland security, this nation must commit to a serious reordering of our social contract and a more inclusive definition of citizenship. It is morally and politically inexcusable for such a wealthy nation to withhold from so many the social and economic resources necessary for household and neighborhood stability.
A failure to nurture individual self-sufficiency contributed to the sudden death of whole communities in New Orleans. A failure to nurture a broader idea of community contributes to continued ghettoization across America.
Yet a more inclusive social contract is possible in the United States. Cities such as Houston and Atlanta have proved willing and able to absorb desperate and displaced thousands and to integrate them into the fabric of local life. Countless advocacy groups and nonprofits have reached across the Katrina diaspora to support families abandoned by their government.
Now the local, state and federal governments must assume their obligations to engage in meaningful planning for a truly public purpose rather than deferring to real estate developers, campaign donors and self-interested elites.
Third, the restoration of our best social contract ideals will rely on aggressive, imaginative urban planning. This appears to be a critical failure in New Orleans, where public officials have been slow and cautious in their duty to rebuild a city of mixed incomes and shared resources.
Yet that city, rich with unparalleled history and cultural depth, could be a model for America if it followed a radical premise: That what is good for its poor will be good for its middle class, too.
David Dante Troutt is a professor of law at Rutgers Law School-Newark, and editor of " After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina" (The New Press, 2006).