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 nolaplans.com

"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."

1 comment:

Bobbi said...

Awww... the good old days...not much has changed!