Laurie Johnson, independent consultant, moved the discussion from a focus on statewide recovery in Louisiana to recovery planning activities in New Orleans. She participated in these efforts as a planning consultant with the Unified New Orleans Plan , a nonprofit activity funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Johnson characterized the Unified New Orleans Plan as a citywide planning effort to obtain input from both official New Orleans and neighborhood groups and private citizens, including many residents who had been forced to move away from the city after Hurricane Katrina struck. The planning group had four months to complete its work, which included holding four rounds of district meetings with stakeholders and three outreach efforts called community congresses, the most expensive part of the process. Johnson indicated that even displaced persons were involved in the discussions and that 2,500 participants from five cities were linked together by satellite during the second community congress. The plan that evolved was based on the public’s priorities and these were determined through the planning group’s engagement with stakeholders and included: safety from future flooding; empowerment to rebuild safe, stable neighborhoods; opportunity for all to return; and equitable access to public services. According to Johnson, the planning group envisioned a plan that would cost $14 billion to support several core programs, including those to help residents rebuild appropriately and to elevate homes, restore and upgrade the physical and social infrastructure of the city, and rebuild health care institutions.
Johnson noted that the Unified New Orleans Plan was submitted to the City Planning Commission on January 30, 2007. This became a part of the final recovery plan for the city that was approved by the City Council on June 21, 2007, which led the way for the Louisiana Recovery Authority to give the city access to $117 million in federal Community Development Block Grant Funds. According to Johnson, coming nearly two years after the storm, this was crucial initial funding to further recovery efforts in the city.
Johnson indicated that after the Office of Recovery Management was established by the mayor in December 2006 to serve as the focal point for recovery efforts in New Orleans, to its credit began borrowing from the Unified New Orleans Plan. In providing an update on the office, Johnson noted that it was in the implementation and financing stage, which involves prioritizing public projects, integrating projects into the city’s capital budget, tying the city’s recovery efforts with other city functions, and obtaining recovery funds for such activities as blight cleanup.
In looking ahead to future challenges facing New Orleans, Johnson posed a number of questions which have planning and research implications these include:
Can future flood risk be reduced sufficiently and in time?
What long-term public investment is needed in catastrophic recovery?
What will be the impact of the emerging demographic shifts in the city?
Johnson noted that all of these questions need to be thoroughly answered, and that while there is some relevant data on them, there is far from enough to draw definitive conclusions. This makes future recovery planning and decision making problematic.
Discussion following the presentations included questions about the costs and benefits of mitigation measures in New Orleans, the need for local capacity building to meet the challenges of recovery planning and program implementation, and the difficulties of passing on lessons learned from previous recovery experiences.