Saturday, May 27, 2006

Steamrolling the recovery

If a letter from one professional planning group assigned to one neighborhood under the New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilding Plan is an indication of the general approach, we are about to be steamrolled by someone with an agenda.

The Bring New Orleans Back Commission Strategic Framework Development Process Point Three called for "planning grants and technical assistance to the city's neighborhoods" for a process in which the neighborhoods would first justify themselves, then come up with a plan for reconstruction.

After a quiet period while the city sought FEMA or other assistance to hire professional planners to assist in this (this Business Week article gives some backround to that process), the New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilding Plan process has finally begun.

The organization set up by the New Orleans City Council can be found here. The home states that the group will "work with neighborhoods to develop revitalization plans that are thoughtful, can be implemented, and formed into a citywide recovery and improvement plan for submission to the state and federal government."

Neighborhood activists in Midcity were disturbed to find out (on very short notice) of a public meeting sponsored by planners associated with the New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilding Plan process, with only three public meetings to be held, the last to present the planners recommendations.

But that's not the view of the planning team working on one neighborhood, which is rejecting months of work by neighborhood activists (and insulting them for trying). The residents of that neighborhood took the Bring New Orleans Back comission's charge for neighborhoods to prove their viability and to come up with a plan seriously have been meeting for months to do just that.

Imagine their surprise at this email response (currently circulating via local email lists) to an invitation to join their regular meeting from the planning group assigned to that neighborhood :

I appreciate the information you have sent to me. No one from our Neighborhood Planning team will be attending your volunteer group meeting on Saturday.

Although your efforts may have been well intentioned prior to our assignment to the Neighborhood Planning project currently underway, we ask that you respect the residents of (the neighborhood) and the planning team assigned by allowing the process to flow uninterruptedly. At this time my presence may only serve to confuse citizens in (the neighborhood) who may get the false impression that there is an association between our funded professional effort and your volunteer splinter group who has no official capacity to produce a "plan" for (the neighborhood). You are invited to continue to attend our meetings and participate as other citizens have in our official planning effort and appropriately present information you have gathered.

The information will be treated as a single point of view, however, until a consensus of those living in the individual neighborhoods has been reached. Points of view by those living in the neighborhood and expressed in our meetings will be given more weight than those by non-residents. We have begun to gather our own information through in-field surveys and other research methods and through neighborhood meetings we have begun to have.

We will put pertinent material into our report and make recommendations that we feel is most relevant to the recovery effort.

We would appreciate you explaining these facts and the ad-hoc and unofficial nature of your effort to anyone attending your meeting. Please explain that there will be duplication of effort in what you are attempting to achieve and our planning process since we may be going through similar steps to gain information and insight into the needs and desires of the neighborhoods for which we are attempting to plan. Thank you for the invitation, non-the-less. [sic]

If this is the general view of the New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilding Plan and not just an individual, then we are about to be steamrolled by somebody. The only reason I can think of to reject months of work by a neighborhood organization is that the fix is in, and neighborhood organizations are not invited.

JayBatt the Hutt may be gone from the council, but apparently his spirit of cooperative and complimentary neighborhood development lives on in the NONRP.

Ed. Note--I removed the neighborhood reference and name of the planner from this post until I can give the person named as the signatory of the letter a chance to respond. References to the neighborhood name in the letter have been replaced with "(the neighborhood)".

What unbelievable arrogance. Billes and Manning should be fired immediately for sending an insulting communication like this to residents of a destroyed neighborhood.
Good grief. That's pretty hard to digest. I must be missing something. I thought that the whole point was that the neighborhoods would have to demonstrate some sort of viability, which would, of course, call for some kind of neighborhood based organization. This makes no sense to me.

My word verification was "thejkr" LOL.
I saw this on my neighborhood association listserv. My first thought was that perhaps we were overreacting, but you read that letter more than once and it's very clear what it says: Go To Hell.

Similarly, we just learned that there is a bill in the Legislature to create a Gentilly Improvement Association that will be the politically appointed, official money handlers for recovery. Uh, guys, we ALREADY HAVE a Gentilly Civic Improvement Association that consists of neighbors helping neighbors rebuild the neighborhoods. Our own Rep went and put in a bill to usurp our efforts and to put a bunch of political lackeys in charge of our recovery. We're trying to get that bill withdrawn or at least revised to include a MAJORITY of actual residents on the committee. So the lesson is, don't turn your back, and don't bend over in the shower!

Thanks for posting this and alerting everyone to the slimy deeds that are going on.


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