Saturday, December 26, 2009

10 to Watch in 10

Land of Opportunity

When I arrived in New Orleans in the summer of 2006, I started attending every planning meeting I could. While sitting there witnessing history, an American city trying to rebuild itself, I thought to myself, someone should be making a movie about this. And someone was. Land Of Opportunity has been spearheaded by Luisa Dantes, and follows the lives of several New Orleanians over the past few years. They also try to make sense of what it means to rebuild New Orleans. Watch the trailer (they have footage of inside the council chambers the day the council voted to demolish the big 4 public housing complexes).

Tradition is a Temple

Not only has Darren Hoffman's company, Tutti Dynamics, created the first iphone App in New Orleans, but he is also working on the finishing touches on a beautiful and powerful documentary about jazz in New Orleans. It includes new performances by legendary artists, Jason Marsalis, Shannon Powell, and the Treme Brass Brand. Watch the trailer

The Right Question Project

Most people assume that the average citizens' only way to participate is at the voting both. Yet, each day, millions of Americans have interactions with the welfare office, food stamp officials, community health centers and public schools. In most cases, citizens do not have the tools to actively participate and get the answers they need. They feel disempowered and helpless. The traditional approach is to tell people how to solve the problems, but The Right Question project has developed a tool that gives each participant the ability to ask their own questions and actively seek out the answers they deserve. This method treats each individual equally and prepares citizens "who expect accountable decision-making and have specific skills to use to try to insure that there are good decisions and accountable decisions being made. The hundred million encounters individuals have with public agencies on a micro level – currently the endpoint of their interaction with decision-making in the public sector - can be transformed into examples of Microdemocracy."

Crescent City Cafe

When we started NOLA YURP a few years ago, we looked for ways that young people from all over the city could connect with each other. The founders of Crescent City Cafe have not only found a way for young people to connect, but they also help feed the homeless with dignity while they are at it. Recently, the media has taken notice, and they are starting to get the attention they deserve.

Next American City Magazine

Many improvements to cities can be drawn from the best practices of others. We can learn from their mistakes, while taking into account what others do well. Next American City has provided that blueprint, with academic, but readable investigative stories. They also combine their print magazine, with conferences and workshops around the country, and a superb website with daily blogs.

James Perry

With the field set, there is nobody else that will bring the change that James believes in. It is easy to criticize the candidates and to swing back and forth with every move they make, but James has consistently shown he has the policy knowledge and awareness that the others lack. New Orleans deserves politicians who understand what the average citizen is going through, and know the issues. Watch James at a recent debate

The Lens

A key ingredient to a healthy democracy is a news source that reports fairly, accurately and does not mind asking the tough questions. With many dailies cutting their investigative journalists, the public is in danger of being led astray. We need journalists to hold elected officials accountable and The Lens in New Orleans will keep this crucial tradition alive.


This documentary showcases a non-violent movement that portrays a partnership between Israelis and Palestinians. It already has won several awards and gives an accurate depiction of different sides of the conflict. You can read the synopsis, here

Green Street

Three and half years ago, I sat in their studio (upstairs bedroom) watching them mix records and talk about their music. This past year, they won the UMass Battle of the Bands and had some great performances in New York. I've been watching from afar and look forward to seeing what they come up with in 2010.


Over the past few years, we have seen the power of the email list. A good list is now worth a lot of money, and can be a valuable tool to spreading your product, organization or message. Unfortunately, most of the times, we are flooded with emails that we hardly even bother to read. What gets people to sign up to receive your information? According to people at TBD, inside information about a great cause. It's often hard to filter what is out there, and it helps to have a trusted source.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Joe Biden may be on to something

What is happening to Joe Biden's skepticism? From the Sunday NY Times

"The deep skepticism he expressed at that opening session was reinforced by Mr. Biden, who rushed back overnight from a California trip to participate. Just as he had done in the spring, Mr. Biden expressed opposition to an expansive strategy requiring a big troop influx. Instead, he put an alternative on the table — rather than focus on nation building and population protection, do more to disrupt the Taliban, improve the quality of the training of Afghan forces and expand reconciliation efforts to peel off some Taliban fighters.

Mr. Biden quickly became the most outspoken critic of the expected McChrystal troop request, arguing that Pakistan was the bigger priority, since that is where Al Qaeda is mainly based. “He was the bull in the china shop,” said one admiring administration official."

Will we look back at Biden's caution and be remorseful? I watched Nightline the other night and saw young American soldiers sit in tanks, a few explosions, and a profile on the medic. In Vietnam, the media was used for the first time to show the horrors of war. Viewers at the time saw limbs torn off, and the awful cruelty of war. What I saw the other night was mild, eery, and tragically dull. I understood there was a war going on, but it was not happening on screen. Why aren't the images that leave soldiers with severe PTSD being shown to the American viewer?

Again, why are we there? Frank Rich and Thomas Friedman don't know either. Do you?

Friday, December 4, 2009


There is so much on the internet. Where should I find stories of interest?

Sometimes all it takes is

Point, Shoot, Retouch and Label?

"VALÉRIE BOYER is 47, a member of the French parliament and a divorced mother of three. She is tall, fashionable and, dare we say it, slim.

But she has also created a small furor here and abroad with her latest proposal: a draft law that would require all digitally altered photographs of people used in advertising be labeled as retouched."

This woman proposed some bold, innovative legislation. I will continue to follow this story

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

John Brown: 150 years later

I was always fascinated with the story of revolutionary John Brown. Apparently today, so was the NY Times.

David Reynolds, who wrote the piece today, is also behind, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights

Barbara Ehrenreich, who just spoiled America's obsession with positive thinking in her latest book, captured Brown's story and the way Reynolds re-created it, eloquently, ""[F]or all its wealth of detail and scrupulous attempts at balance, [JOHN BROWN, ABOLITIONIST] has a shockingly simple message: Far better to have future generations complain about your methods than condemn you for doing nothing."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Blakely- Mayor, Problem Solver, Recovery Tsar, Police Chief and Heartbreaker

In December 2006, New Orleans hired someone to lead the Recovery. After more than a year of planning, there was a glimmer of hope when Dr. Ed Blakely arrived. He appeared to be confident, emotionally stable, and seemed to have the technical skills to take the planning and turn it into implementation. As an Americorps volunteer, I went to listen to him, on January 29th 2007, introduce himself to the people of New Orleans.

"Tonight at the University of New Orleans Alumni Center, Ed Blakely spoke to New Orleans residents about his new role as "Recovery Tsar." He began by apologizing for having to run out early, but the mayor had a "fire drill." Several interpretations of that phrase could be made, but it was actually supposed to mean a meeting between the city and the tourism industry. But his main point for the twenty minutes that he spoke was, he was the new sheriff in town, " I've been involved in post disaster planning, California after the earthquakes and New York City after 9/11...rebuilding cities is my kind of bag, it's what I do."

At that point, the 150 people in the room gave a huge sigh of relief and at least for one moment, thought the city was going to be rebuilt tomorrow. A few minutes later, Blakely stated his three vital necessities to improving and rebuilding the city. On each necessity, he received a couple forceful claps from a man in the back of the room, but the rest of the crowd was not ready to worship the newest man to take the heat away from Nagin.Vital necessity #1- Rebuilding of our port to support international trade. Vital necessity #2- Make Health Care a Major Export. Vital necessity #3- Tap into the Digital Economy-export New Orleans music. Once the floor was opened to the public for questions, just two, because Blakely had to go to his fire drill, reality set back in.

The first question, asked by a professorial-type middle aged white man, was about how HANO was not allowing
people to return to their public housing units. Blakely said firmly that he is going to Washington to figure it out. Next question. A middle-age black woman, asking what he was going to do about people stealing copper from her home? Very quickly and confidently, he told her that the "police can't do the work the community must do themselves...take a picture," then he got ready to walk out, " and send it to me, and I will put them in jail." Blakely marched over to the woman, shook her hand, and as she tried to kiss him on the cheek, he stormed out of the building as if there was a fire alarm. Mayor, problem solver, recovery tsar, police chief, and heart breaker!"

Almost three years later, he made some alarming comments in an interview conducted by the Cal-Berkeley public access station. Maybe he didn't think New Orleans would see it. The video was posted on October 16th. We almost missed it. But the Times-Picayune analyzed his inflammatory interview yesterday, and it set off a firestorm. I can only imagine the frustrations he faced when he tried to implement his vision. Yet, he was never able to build the diverse coalition that is mandatory to push for reform.

There is always a fine line between emitting confidence and acting arrogant. I know there were people who really respected his work, his intellect and his hope for the city, but he always seemed to over promise to the citizens. We needed hope, but we also wanted public officials to be honest with us about the reality of the recovery. Too many times in New Orleans, public officials promised us the world, but then couldn't even get a major intersection light fixed. As you can see above, he may have been correct about our "vital necessities" for recovery. But by saying in his recent interview, that he wanted to leave more than a year earlier than his summer of 2009 departure, Dr. Blakely mentally checked out prematurely, and ultimately, acted his role, as heartbreaker.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Retrospective on Planning in New Orleans

This weekend planners and academics are gathering at Tulane to analyze all the planning that has occurred since Katrina. It should be interesting to all, especially those who sat in hours of steering committee meetings, voted for their favorite planner, and pressed a button at the Community Congresses.

Three years ago, on my second night in New Orleans, I sat in the St. Joseph's Church on Tulane Avenue and listened to a planner tell residents to write out a wish list, and it will come true. About a month later, the Lambert Plan had turned into the UNOP plan. The first city wide meeting was to be held at the Pavilion at City Park. This blurb was taken from a piece I wrote three years ago. You can find more of the photos and a review of the plans at the site created by Jed Horne and Brendan Nee at

"When I arrived at the Pavilion at five minutes to twelve, there was already a long line stretching out the door. It had the feeling of voting day in any city where the polling stations are inefficient and under supplied. Some people were registered and could just walk in once they received a packet, but others had to wait in line to register. By 12:30, people were still streaming in. In the middle of the room were two large tables with food and drink. On each side, were makeshift dividers, that made six sections on the left side, and seven on the right. The thirteen total "rooms" signified the number of planning districts in the city. I found District 4 and was told to put on the map a red sticker where I lived. It was quite amusing to see a bunch of older citizens with small red dots in their hands trying to get them off their fingers and on to the map. Once everyone had a sticker on the map, it was clear there were too many concerned citizens in our district. While other districts had empty seats, district 4 was over capacity. People crowded around the edges and leaked over into other districts. Behind me was the district that included Lakeview. After Concordia welcomed everyone and gave a brief overview of the process, our district 4 session began. Right from the beginning, it was clear that the citizens had a better understanding of the planning process than the facilitators. Carlos, our facilitator wearing a guavera, a short white moustache and thin reading glasses, began speaking, but was quickly interjected.Nobody could hear him. All of the chatter around the room was quickly invading our privacy, and communication was breaking down. Carlos was way over his head, and was very confused about the process.

Throughout the meeting, he had to look down at his notes to see what to do or ask next. He also still had a red dot on his forehead. Somehow it had not landed on the map. It was embarrassing. Thirty minutes into the meeting, a representative from Concordia had to get on the microphone and tell people to use an "inside voice." I felt scolded. When we were allowed to speak again, we were told by Carlos to break off into small groups and write down what the most important criteria is for picking a planning team. We were also given colorful markers! People wanted planners with experience in urban planning, the ability to implement projects, skills to decode the funding matrix and having the background to address issues of racial and economic diversity. Carlos really liked how we all had our thinking hats on! As I walked around the room listening to different conversations, there was a variation of responses to this organized chaos. In some districts, people were literally yelling at each other, in others, people were just yelling to be heard. Every five minutes, the noise level would rise, and never fall back to the old volume. But wherever I went, I heard similar criticism. People felt patronized. Grown men and women were being treated as children. By 3pm, many people were already too frustrated by the process, and had left. Two Sisters Pavilion had begun to empty out, making it easier for the people remaining, to hear each other. By the time 4pm rolled around, people were fed up and ready to go home. They needed a break since they would be back in just a few days. As people left, you could feel the concern and reservations people had about the process."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Around the Globe According to my Gmail Inbox

A digest of my inbox 10/19/09-

Erica Trani, owner of In Exchange is having a Super Sale

Phoenix of New Orleans (my first job in New Orleans) is making a big push to finish in the Top 10 of America's Giving Challenge.Help them out!

Groundwork NOLA is having an event on October 22nd to showcase their rain gardens.

Very Short List introduces me to "One Love"
is having a graduate school fair at Tulane on October 29th
is telling me to call FED EX ((901) 369-3600) and encourage them to leave the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is spending a 100 million to stop the public option.

Service Nation announces a partnership with Banana Republic.

Mangos with Chilis is showing Wednesday night

Integrated Planning Webinar by Synthesis Partnership

Cruising for the Coast Fundraiser

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Trying something new

Sam Yoon, who I had the chance to meet in February ( the cover of the Boston Phoenix when I was there, was Yoon being carried by Obama and Patrick), came in third last month in his bid for Mayor. When we met in his corner office at City Hall, I was impressed by his humility, and graciousness. He listened, as James Perry(who has now raised money from nearly 600 donors!) explained his story and they bonded over the belief that the old guard had had their moment. It was time for a new generation of leaders. More than six months later, it has been inspiring to watch from afar, as Yoon has joined hands with his former rival, Michel Flaherty. If Flaherty wins, Yoon will join him as the Deputy Mayor.

Today, I got a call from one of their volunteers, asking, with a strong Boston accent, " Since you are a Yoon supporter, will you consider voting for Flaherty?" Yes, I would, but I live in New Orleans. She asked me about the weather, which I replied, "It's hot."

I like their game plan. Also, Alan Khazei is battling for a spot as the new Senator from Massachusetts. Last September, I joined hundreds of others dedicated to national community service in New York City, for a conference that Khazai's group, Service Nation put together. It was an impressive guest list, so when he reported that he raised a million dollars in one week, it did not surprise me. He is still an underdog, but worth watching, and rooting for.

Since Obama is in town, he may want to take a look at recommendations for a New Orleans Cabinet

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

This is what I read this weekend... sometimes out loud

How Taylor Branch decides to spend hours with Clinton in the White House, and then produces this magnificent tome. Chapter two of The Clinton Tapes

The New Yorker had an overview of Larry Summers career and what it means that Obama has picked him as the head of the NEC. This excerpt was worth reading out loud. This is even more provocative than the certain comment he made over a decade later as President of Harvard.

"At the World Bank, in 1991, Summers’s penchant for provocation had led him to sign a memo written by a subordinate, which argued—in a tone that was meant to be outrageous, in the hope of stimulating debate—that developed countries should ship their pollution to the Third World. “The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable,” the memo said, citing the mutual benefits of such an arrangement between developed and undeveloped countries (one group had lots of waste; the other needed ways to make money). It was the kind of argument that would thrill a college debater but which in the world of public policy can be a killer. The so-called “toxic memo” was leaked to the press in 1992, precipitating an avalanche of outrage from columnists and environmentalists. Al Gore, the incoming Vice-President, made it clear that Summers was not welcome in the new White House."

Read the article to learn about what he told Cornel West to make him flee Harvard for Princeton. Just as good as the juice above.

Chapter 2 of The Given Day. The first chapter was read at an airport a year ago. It describes the scene during the first world war of Babe Ruth's train breaking down, and he finds a group of African-Americans playing pick-up. He joins. For me, a year later, the second chapter is set in South Boston. The police, like today, were not paid enough and needed to have intramural boxing matches to raise funds.

The first chapter of Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography, describes his fallout with his brother. His brother had started one of Boston's first newspapers, but Franklin was excluded, for being too young. He ended up falling out of graces with his publisher brother, and painfully details his horrific, yet character building, travels to Philadelphia. The rest is history, inventions, government, and enterprise.

Worthy enough to note-

Gusman finally gets the media tongue lashing he deserves and Next American City recaps the Feast in NYC

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tutti, Twitter and Things

Tutti Dynamics

My good friend Darren Hoffman's company is the first to create an iphone App in New Orleans. "Super Looper." He is also finishing up a documentary about Jazz in New Orleans. Watch the preview

My dad's organization, The Right Question Project, hits the Social Media Universe with a Facebook Fan Page and a Twitter Page

Erez Horovitz, who spent a month blogging and photographing for nolayurp last September

is back in New Orleans capturing photos. He has been traveling around the country, beautifully capturing our country's best and worst attributes. Here are some photos from his first day on the trip. You have to request his friendship to see them. Don't be afraid, I will encourage him to accept.

This opportunity was passed on to me from my friends at Startingbloc, check it out

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Katrina Op-ed in NY Jewish Week

By Nathan Rothstein

In late August of 2005, a hurricane started brewing in the Gulf, gained momentum, and struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast and southern Louisiana. As we now know, the levees that the Army Corps of Engineers maintained, failed, and the rest is history. Deep in the comfort of my college bubble in Amherst, MA, my connection to New Orleans was as weak as the levees that had failed the city. I saw the images of black people waiting at the Superdome and Convention Center -- but then I switched the channel.

Sometimes a college student still needs some pushing from his mother to make social change. I was no exception. In the fall, my mother had received a newsletter from the Hillel about an Alternative Spring Break Trip to the Gulf Coast. She picked up the phone and encouraged me to sign up. The Jewish community, like many other religious communities, had responded immediately to the disaster, in many ways shaming the government's failure to assist Americans in the disaster zone. By January of 2006, Hillel was already sending down hundreds of college students from around the country to do relief work.

Full Article

Monday, February 23, 2009

On the Campaign Trail

From New Orleans to Boston to New Haven....campaign season heats up. And this is only the beginning.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A New Role

As of this month, I will now be the Political Director for the James Perry Mayoral Campaign. Right now, we are testing the waters, getting input, and trying to raise money. Here are some photos from the past few weeks

You can find some more, here and here

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Marketing New Orleans

I spoke to students from Brown who are doing service work in New Orleans about the leadership vacuum in New Orleans.

Ted Hornick, Gill Benedek, Daniel Hoffman, Tess Monaghan, Jon Grayboyes, Hampton Barclay and James Perry spoke about why New Orleans still matters and what needs to happen to more the recovery faster.