Friday, April 16, 2010
AAG 2010 Interview: Andrew Shears
Andrew Shears is a doctoral student in the geography department of Kent State University. He is presenting on Saturday with Infrastructure as Discourse: The "Safety" of New Orleans and Resulting Environmental Injustice. This interview is designed to give an insight into Andrew's background, his paper's talk, and his thoughts on geography.
Geography can be seen as Andrew's destiny. His mother was a geomorphologist and he was fortunate enough to go to field camps with her. Many family trips were tied into her work. During his teenage years a sort of rebellion took over Andrew with him trying to avoid geography at all cost. However, he must have been wired for geography because after trying out a few other fields Andrew came back to geography. "Everything made sense [with geography]," Andrew told me.
Katrina, New Orleans, and a Call to Action
Besides being possibly predestined for geography, one thing that attracted Andrew to the field was the desire to "try to make the world better." He views geography as a way to study problems, make the problems noticeable, and find solutions.
The cosmos aligned once again for Andrew and his socially responsible view of geography with Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans days after he started his graduate program. At first Andrew sought to avoid Katrina because it was a field everyone was rushing into and he did not "want to be lost in the shuffle." However, after studying the how and why of both the physical and man-aided disaster he could ignore Katrina's impact any longer.
"What was 'Unsaid'"
One thing that struck me was Andrew saying that, from a capitalistic perspective, New Orleans should not exist. The vast majority of cities exist because their location was good for somesort of business and New Orleans was no different (being a port city along the Mississippi River). However, continued sinking into a depression between a large river and a lake, canals that bypassed the city, and the sheer cost of keeping the city dry had made New Orleans a physically risky place to be in that lost its original purpose of being a port city.
However, Andrew pointed out that continued investment into infrastructures gave many people the impression that the city was safe despite it being below a river and lake. However, when Katrina hit the levee system was so poorly designed against a big storm that the levees were easily compromised by the incoming water and the canal system actually made the situation worse. "It is like letting the enemy come in from behind the line" and wrecking havoc, Andrew told me.
The real tragedy was afterwards with FEMA. Andrew said that people were use to seeing FEMA come to the aid after other emergencies. It was unsaid but there was the strong impression that no matter what happened FEMA would be there to save the day after the storm. Sadly, rescue was late for many due to the utter devastation done by the flood water.
How to Improve Geography
I asked Andrew how geography's status in the United States could be improved. His first answer came quickly off his tongue: get rid of social studies. Too often schools only require a social studies course that is a mishmash of history, economics, government, and sometimes geography. A second answer came after that: make sure that the geography teacher is not named "Coach."