Work: Unified New Orleans Plan
Following Hurricane Katrina our team was selected by a vote of neighborhood citizens and the New Orleans City Planning Commission as the strategic recovery planners for Districts 3 & 4 (these are the two largest of 13 districts and include 27 of the City’s historic neighborhoods and 43% of the post-Katrina population).
In five months, we held over 100 neighborhood meetings (in schools and churches, on front porches and in corporate offices), working closely with residents to design and submit 50 specific, realistic “bricks and mortar,” action-oriented architecture, urban design and planning proposals for funding by the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), for residents who needed to return to their neighborhoods and homes. The urban design plans and strategies address the immediate and long-term needs such as infrastructure, home repair, public housing, open space, sustainability, transportation, education, community centers, environmental mitigation, recovery communications, safety and preservation.
The Unified New Orleans Plan was initiated to include all neighborhoods and citizens in the planning and recovery of the City. Our objective was to successfully integrate neighborhood input through an in-depth, “bottom up” process that listened to all citizens as opposed to the first round of “top down” planners that quickly and unilaterally dictated plans, without discussion or community input, the wholesale destruction of many of the city’s most historic neighborhoods. As UNOP Principal Planner of Districts 3 + 4, we led our management team of neighborhood planners helping 1/3 of New Orlean's population set, prioritize, and follow-through on recovery and rebuilding goals.
Damage caused by Hurricane Katrina + Rita cost approximately $125 Billion USD. Insurance covered only $80 Billion of the losses, according to Swiss Re. Flooding caused half the damage. It destroyed or rendered inhabitable approximately 300,000 homes, leaving 100 Million cubic yards of debris.
What Katrina taught us was that our communications system was broken. It was broken between the local community and the city. It was broken between the city and the state, and the state with the federal government. It was broken inside the federal government itself. Our planning work clearly telescoped the voices of the community, at a very visceral level, all the way up-the-chain to understand the immediate and long-term action plan to recovery.
We indicated precisely—after a thorough on-the-ground assessment of the post-storm conditions—where funding would provide the largest recovery impact, we recommended creative policies and financial incentives that would optimize return on the investment, we mapped out how to prepare for and mitigate future storms, and we provided the community with a system for how to access and share information with each other, work together, and with their elected officials upon our absence.