CRP Offers Plan for Rebuilding New Orleans’s 9th Ward

News
February 14, 2007

CORNELL CHRONICLE — With help from Cornell planners, residents of New Orleans' 9th Ward have been given a significant voice in how their community should be rebuilt following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Kenneth Reardon, chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning (CRP) at Cornell, presented "The People's Plan for Overcoming the Hurricane Katrina Blues," Jan. 6 at Holy Angels Church in New Orleans.

The plan for recovery and renewal of one of the city's poorest and hardest-hit areas was based on meetings with community organizations and five days of intensive fieldwork in October. Students conducted door-to-door surveys of more than 230 households in the Upper and Lower 9th Ward, and site assessments of 3,500 properties and 400 businesses. A group of 85 students, 65 of them from Cornell, also assessed 27 parks, public facilities including schools, and street conditions in the ward.

Beyond the physical conditions of the predominately African-American area, the comprehensive 237-page report also considers social, economic, cultural and historical factors. The plan -- produced in partnership with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) -- provides an "equitable, sustainable" vision for the ward with recommendations to improve the conditions that existed for residents before the hurricane.

"We managed to collect primary data that's essential for rational policy-making that few other groups have done," Reardon said.

The group of about 10 politicians and community leaders responding favorably to the proposal Jan. 6 included New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas.

"He was very impressed with the systematic nature of the survey of the community and all of these efforts to get a picture of the existing conditions -- much of which is contradictory to what has been said about the 9th Ward," Reardon said.

Among the report's findings: Many more buildings than previously believed are structurally sound and should not be demolished.

Sixteen months after Katrina, much of the Lower 9th Ward was still unoccupied, lacking basic services and beset by crime -- although as many as 80 percent of residents are dedicating their time and limited resources to renovating their homes.

"It really struck me that what those people have had to bear throughout the years is what is really going to help them with the recovery," said Cornell graduate student Crystal Lackey, one of the team leaders.

Some residents commented that the students were the first to show interest in them. "These people had very little but were so grateful that the students had come down and listened to their story," Reardon said.

Participating were student planners in Cornell courses in urban design, contemporary planning and neighborhood planning taught by Jeremy Foster, Richard Kiely, Reardon and Michelle Thompson. The project also involved 20 student planners from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Earth Institute at Columbia University (with Cornell civil engineering alumna Rebekah Green, a postdoctoral researcher, providing field survey training).

Planners presented a draft to ACORN Dec. 13, and eight Cornell students and four faculty completed the revisions by Jan. 5.

A planning committee of the New Orleans City Council will review the plan Feb. 1. The city wants to mount three large-scale recovery projects "to show the potential of development of the city, and we want to show that the 9th Ward can be one of those first-tier projects," Reardon said.

Further suggestions are being sought for a revised final copy of the plan due Feb. 15, and the ACORN-university partnership is approaching trade unions and other community organizations as potential partners. The People's Plan can be seen at http://www.rebuildingtheninth.org.

The project is ongoing in three spring courses at Cornell. A writing seminar taught by John Forester will produce a book on lessons from the field in equity planning. Pierre Clavel's students in The Politics of Community Development: The Progressive City are combing Cornell's extensive planning archives for materials to prepare a resource guide of progressive recovery options for New Orleans; and Richard Hayes, a CRP graduate and ACORN's director of special projects, will lead a workshop in identifying financial and development opportunities. Reardon also expects to have students return to New Orleans this spring and summer.

Cornell's role in the project is supported by the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

By Dan Aloi

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