Rebuilding New Orleans

The following are general guidelines for development plans:

Principles and Priorities

The long-term development of the new New Orleans needs to be guided by the principles of urban and environmental sustainability, social equity and the preservation of cultural diversity. The outcome of any development plan will have to be judged in terms of these principles. Ensuring this outcome will require a transparent decision-making process that includes citizens, non-profit organizations and academia.

Beyond these overarching, guiding principles, development plans will have to prioritize the following areas, all of which are interrelated and must be pursued parallel to and in constant coordination with one another:

Urban Planning - Sustainable, environmentally friendly and community oriented development must also respect the cultural, historical and architectural heritage of New Orleans. In consultation with community organizations, residents, and urban planning experts from academia, policy makers should strive to rebuild in a way that harmonizes with the natural environment, prefers compact development and mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods, connects communities and businesses, integrates park space, and is pedestrian-friendly. Any building codes in low-lying areas must take flooding into account. Development plans must furthermore integrate adequate storm protection and emergency evacuation measures.

Local Involvement - No development plan will be accepted unless it is transparent and developed in consultation with community-based organizations and their representatives. The policy-making process must have built-in structures that allow community access that goes beyond the status quo electoral representation currently in existence. Community-based groups must have a real "seat at the table" and empowerment to participate in open meetings related to planning initiatives. Their needs and opinions, expressed in their votes, must have legislative force and be recognized as constituting a mandate for policy makers.

Good Government - Aside from involvement and empowerment of citizens, good government means transparency, accountability and results-oriented management.

Public Transit - To connect people, communities and businesses to one another and to foster a better sense of community, any modern and progressive city must have a dignified, efficient and citizen-friendly public transit system. New Orleans was once famous for its streetcar system. The redevelopment of such a system, in conjunction with environmentally friendly busses, a regionally interconnected light-rail system, bicycle lanes, and bicycle rental stations would reduce automobile dependency and the resulting traffic and pollution. It would contribute to a greater sense of connectedness and community, a pedestrian-friendly environment, and improved physical health.

Regional Cooperation - Progress in New Orleans and the surrounding region of Southern Louisiana have long been impeded by artificial boundaries, regional segregation and lack of cooperation. New Orleans depends on the areas that surround it, and these areas depend on New Orleans. There should be greater coordination between these naturally interconnected communities through inter-regional meetings, improved communication channels, regional public transit, and merging of redundant or competing social services.

Housing, Rental, and Property Rights - The citizens of New Orleans and Southern Louisiana, whether renters or property owners, have a right to return to their neighborhoods and contribute to rebuilding and economic growth. To protect this right and to foster the return of citizens, there should be an indefinite moratorium on evictions and community oversight of condemnation proceedings. Furthermore, as a short-term solution for New Orleanians seeking housing in the city, we believe trailers located on surface parking areas in the city, as opposed to City or Audubon Park, would allow returnees proximity to jobs and services. On the grounds that housing in safe living space is scarce, public stewardship of parking space is justified to allow for the return of anyone residing in the city at the time Katrina struck. Anyone who is a legitimate resident of New Orleans, whether renter or homeowner, should be guaranteed a dwelling in the city - if necessary on land previously used for commercial purposes.

Elections - Every effort should be made to inform dispersed citizen of elections, candidates and issues, as well as to ensure that local elections are accessible to all such citizens until they choose to register in a new district or state. This access may be via traditional absentee ballot or voting using electronic means, such as the Internet. No election should be considered legitimate unless every potential voter residing in the city at the time Katrina struck has a chance to participate.

Health - An effective citizenry and strong economy depend on a healthcare system that works and is accessible to all. Quality healthcare for all people and the rebuilding of city and regional medical complexes, especially teaching hospitals, must be a top priority.

Education - The only way to ensure long-term sustainability of New Orleans and Southern Louisiana is to build a strong educational system. Without it, our region will not be attractive to families or businesses, and the economy will suffer. This has been a major problem in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Correcting it should be one of the highest priorities of community-based organizations and the government on all levels.

Wetland Restoration - The tragedy of Katrina was greatly exacerbated by long-standing public policies centered on the automobile, the fossil fuels they consume and the extraction of that fossil fuel. One result of those policies has been the loss of coastal wetlands and other natural storm barriers. In the face of more frequent and more powerful storms and to correct decades of coastal abuse, wetlands restoration needs to be an integral part of any development plan. Wetlands are a natural part of the the system in which our communities must exist. They are not only precious for their own sake, they also serve as a natural buffer against storm surges and provide a way of life, food and recreational opportunities. It is possible to rebuild wetlands immediately with out-of-source sediments delivered by pipeline, and over time with the deposit of natural sediments. Second, it will not be helpful in any way to use debris, refuse, scrap, or dead plant materials in the marsh. The marsh is not made of such things. It needs sediments. Debris and biomass can be recycled in other ways.

Environment - For the sake of citizens' health and long-term sustainability, the human footprint on natural ecosystems should be minimized. Such a standard should apply to building codes, energy use, highway development, pollution levels and waste management. Redevelopment plans should foster "green rebuilding," environmentally friendly housing and substantial park areas throughout the urban context. It has been estimated that Louisiana could derive 80% of her energy needs from renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources and sustainable building materials can be the foundation of a new economy that would eventually replace the oil-centered economy and its accompanying coastal erosion and pollution.

Jobs and Business - Without compromising the standards of sustainable and environmentally friendly development, community involvement or fair wages, government needs to make New Orleans and the surrounding region attractive to businesses and workers - with particular attention to businesses and citizens dispersed by Katrina. There is already a growing base of rebuilders and trade workers flowing into the city. Services industries must be fostered to serve this base. Continued economic growth will call for government assistance and incentives. If the city prioritizes the development of first-class social services, healthcare and education, then both businesses and workers will be more attracted to the new New Orleans. The economic vision should not be limited to tourism, shipping, and service industries: In addition to renewable energy - including research, manufacturing and agricultural components - the information technology, music, and film industries must be aggressively fostered, as should the "green building" industry and small businesses.