New Orleans The planning process as a charade continues to be played out in the wake of the drama of New Orleans. Yesterday, a reported $2.4 Million contract with AmericaSpeaks, veterans of a similar show-and-tells in the wake of 9/11 in New York, yield a reported crowd of perhaps 2400 stretched from the Convention Center in the city to other venues in Atlanta, Houston, and other cities linked by web cast and video screens. Quite a bit smaller than the advertised pre-event numbers of almost double that of course, and of course at the cost per person, they might have been able to do better just passing out money. Several tables reported that they came for exactly that reason since they were paid to attend.
But, no matter one participant reported by the Times-Picayune (www.nola.com) perhaps summed up both the tragedy and farce best this way:
…as the session wound down, the group united on an issue that has been a common thread through the unified planning process. Casandra Goins, a social worker and eastern New Orleans resident living in Kenner, spoke up first.
“What,” she asked after seven hours of question-and-answer, “is the purpose of this?”
Isabelle Maret, an urban planner at the University of New Orleans and the table’s facilitator, ventured an answer: “What we need to do is create a list of priorities and projects to give that the LRA to begin to rebuild,” said Maret, who lost her Gentilly home to flooding.
“It’s OK to discuss and plan,” Goins said. “But they discuss and plan and nothing happens. . . . I know that it’s a process. But it’s almost like an obstacle course to see what you can endure.”
The process steered to this obvious conclusion by master planner, Steve Bingler, and the Concordia group, who continue at every event to pronounce themselves delighted by the results, also proved once again that leading the crowd to water does not mean they will drink, because when allowed a voice, no matter how quickly it will be ignored, the participants continued to reject the “steering” and manipulation of the planners.
Despite hearing that they can only impact about $200 Million in expenditures (and this is worth examining some more — what is the point if this is now all of the money that matters in this affair!), the crowd listed $8 Billion on their “needs to be done now list.” Participants continue to reject the Bureau of Governmental Research, Urban Land Institute, and Canizaro efforts to shrink the footprint of the city, arguing for the right to return and the need to rebuild across the city. Levees and education continue to be at the top of the list along with other infrastructure demands. Participants were clear that one could not allow market forces to make the decision on rebuilding low and moderate income housing.
Mayor Ray Nagin took the mix of opinions as a continued endorsement of his laissez-faire approach (or is that lack of any approach?) to the rebuilding.
ACORN had 600 people pre-registered to attend with probably half of that number actually in the room at the Convention Center.
People still want help 15 months after Katrina so that they can come home, while millions continue to be spent either not at all or willy-nilly with damn little focused on actually making it possible to return. There’s still not much happening but fiddling, even though the place has already gone down.
Eventually, government and pompous planners are going to have to start pushing and pulling and begin to listen to what people need and responding, but the time still seems not to have arrived. At least not yet!