New Orleans finally has a unified plan to rebuild… or so they say.

On July 6th Mayor Nagin announced the creation of what is being called the Unified New Orleans Neighborhood Plan. It will presumably be the final and authoritative planning process that will determine the future of the city. The reason I say “presumably” is because the city has already seen 2 official master planning efforts launched alongside dozens of autonomous neighborhood efforts. The planning process has been nothing short of chaotic so far.

First there was the Bring New Orleans Back Commission (BNOB). BNOB is now pretty much a dead fish. Part of its demise had to do with lack of funding (although the people behind it could have easily raised the cash to keep it going if they wanted to, so it’s a little mysterious as to why this has been reported by the press as a reason for its disappearance). Another factor in BNOB’s dissolution was its starry eyed plans for the city that called on the federal government to bestow billions in funding for wild projects like commuter rail networks and massive downtown cultural developments. Congress apparently balked at this almost arbitrary wish list. But another significant factor was the grassroots protest against BNOB’s blatant plans to wipe whole neighborhoods off the map. After BNOB released its final report on urban planning both rich and poor, black and white communities erupted in protest.

The forces behind BNOB are probably happy to see their commission receed from the foreground. After all, it brought too much attention to their interests without giving them any more actual power over the planning process and the future of New Orleans. This set of real estate developers, financiers, and local business elites will have enormous power over the process anyway. The new plan provides more cover.

The second plan was initiated by the New Orleans City Council earlier in the year when they retained the Lambert Group, a planning firm charged with drafting concrete ideas for the future of the city’s 49 most damaged neighborhoods. When the City Council initiated this process it was clear that they were openly cutting into the authority of Mayor Nagin’s BNOB Commission. Mayor Nagin and the City Council now say that the Lambert Group’s work will be folded into the Unified New Orleans Neighborhood plan so as not to waste the effort and progress that many neighborhoods have already made.

The Unified New Orleans Neighborhood Plan is being funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to the sum of $3.5 million with the Greater New Orleans Foundation adding another million.

Now that the city has a real plan it is expected that work will be completed by the end of the year. At this point New Orleans will finally be eligible to receive funding from the Louisiana Recovery Authority (billions of dollars).

Beneath this surface dozens upon dozens of local groups and activists organizations have been working to rebuild sections of the city and plan for the future, all them operating in spite of what the authorities decide. It’s unlikely that their work will find its way into any official plan. But that’s not the point for these homeowners, public housing residents, renters, organizers, and agitators. For them the point is to make sure that whatever plans the powerful come up with cannot be implemented in the face of community resurgence. If the powerful choose to plan for the future without democratic participation, then they will no realize their plans. The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund has a slogan that captures it well:

“Nothing about us, without us, if for us.”

So folks make their own plans while the officials announce yet another master plan of their own…

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