August 4th, 2006
The release of billions in federal funding for the recovery of New Orleans depends on the acceptance of a single, unified plan, covering everything from individual neighborhoods’ redevelopment to city-wide infrastructure. One feature of a such a unified plan must be meaningful public participation in the process, accommodating the city’s diverse citizenry and interests. Without extensive public representation, it is almost inconceivable that a plan would receive the endorsement necessary to begin disbursement of funds, in fact two prior planning attempts, the Mayor’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission, and the City Council’s Lambert-Danzey plan, failed in part because of inaccessibility to the public.
When the announcement was made that the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF), its fiduciary committee, the New Orleans Community Support Foundation (NOCSF), City Council, the Mayor, and the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) had come to an agreement to support the NOCSF’s Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP), Governor Blanco responded, “This process will be democratic and inclusive. Folks who live in the neighborhood will be integrally involved.” Mayor Nagin called the plan “democracy in action” in his own press release on the announcement. Democracy in invoked repeatedly in descriptions and discussions of the Unified New Orleans Plan, and the test of its legitimacy rests above all in the consequential inclusion of citizens. To date, there has been minimal opportunity for substantive public involvement–attendees at a July 30 meeting gave their recommendations for redrawing official neighborhood boundaries, and made their requests for the number of planners and project areas they would like their Planning Districts to have, but these decisions were limited to those in attendance. The selection of preferred neighborhood and district Planning Teams will be the first occasion for a public vote in the UNOP process. The integrity of this voting procedure, therefore, reflects on the integrity of the entire UNOP as a democratic entity and on any of its actions to follow.
Despite less than a weeks’ notice, hundreds managed to attend the two public meetings and neighborhood groups and individuals all over the city are earnestly studying the 15 planning groups and what they have to offer. Many of the hardest-hit neighborhoods have already been working with planners for months — some with the Lambert-Danzey team and some with firms they hired themselves in the hope that when funding did come, they would be reimbursed. The Louisiana Recovery Authority will be administering the federal funds earmarked for New Orleans. With its endorsement of the UNOP and the requirement that UNOP planning teams submit neighborhood/district plans, many fear that months of work will go unfunded and come undone. Having a vote in their teams’ selection process is taken in deadly earnest by thousands of New Orleanians.