Book Review: Cowen’s “The Inevitable City”

Danny Fitzpatrick, Contributing Reporter

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Google the word ‘leadership,’ and you’ll find more than 47 million hits. Many people know great ways to lead in theory, but few have had to put those skills to use to help rebuild a city. 

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, President Emeritus Scott Cowen was tasked with reopening Tulane, leading the education task force of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission and helping social programs find their footing in the city. 

Cowen’s new book, “The Inevitable City: The Resurgence of New Orleans and the Future of Urban America,” has dozens of rich accounts of passion and love for New Orleans during the trying post-Katrina era.  

Cowen, who retired as President in the summer of 2014, discusses the growth and renaissance of New Orleans post-Katrina. While the book has a predominately positive perspective, Cowen does not shy away from pointing out areas that still need work. 

Highlights of the book include chapters on education reform in the city, a deeper look into the physical reconstruction of the city and some public service startup charities that have taken root after Katrina. Tulane’s contributions are also a primary focus of the book. 

Despite the focus on leadership and reinvention, the most appealing part of the book is the stories of citizens helping out the greater good.

Cowen ends each chapter reviewing skills the reader can learn from these citizens’ examples, but this repetition takes away from the overall message of the text. Instead of just letting a courageous action speak for itself, Cowen emphasizes the fact that a leader needs to be courageous. 

Cowen’s life anecdotes serve as strong examples of how to show courage in the face of disaster. The book shows evidence that Cowen was instrumental in both revitalizing the Uptown area and helping reform the entire city. 

His explanation of the decisions behind how and when to reopen Tulane proves to be a particularly interesting chapter. 

“In the aftermath of the storm, I began thinking a lot about the history of Tulane: who we were and who we might become,” Cowen said in the second chapter of the book. 

Cowen had to make difficult changes including cuts to science and engineering, varsity sports teams and faculty members. The book gives Cowen’s reasoning for all of the choices he made in the post-Katrina days.  

He will also have a book signing Oct. 9 in the Jefferson Parish Library in Metairie. 

As members of the Tulane community, this book is a must-read to see how the institution has changed and helped mold the city of New Orleans.