Lance Hill / Guest Columnist
First Published in The New Orleans Agenda, August 31, 2006
NEW ORLEANS, LA — The media is full of stories these days blaming the slow neighborhood planning process in New Orleans on Mayor Nagin or the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA). What is omitted from this analysis is that the biggest set-back to the recovery planning resulted from the Bring New Orleans Back Commission (BNOBC) issuing a plan that proposed eliminating huge portions of the black community and called for an immediate moratorium on all building in flooded areas. The neighborhoods not slated for immediate “greenspacing” were to have their fates decided by April by proving that more than 50% of the community was going to rebuild–all to be decided before some neighborhoods, like the predominantly black New Orleans East, were even re-opened to home owners–and without any input from the 80% of the black community that rented and remained in exile.
The public reaction to the BNOBC “smaller footprint” plan unveiled in January 2006 was so overwhelmingly negative that Nagin quietly declined to fund the balance of the planning process (this is confirmed in today’s Times-Picayune story). Nagin had little interest in bulldozing his only potential voter base after his erstwhile white business supporters abandoned him in favor of Ron Forman. It took the Mayoral election in May to decide the final fate of the BNOBC plan–and Nagin’s re-election, this time with overwhelming black support, drove a stake through the heart of the plan.
So the whole planning process, this time allowing for the participation of neighborhood members, had to start anew in June. Whatever mistakes Nagin, the City Council and the LRA have made, the people who deserve the primary blame for the current planning delay are the ones who attempted to destroy entire black neighborhoods on the argument that they were flood hazards– which turned out not to be the case based on the newly released Base Flood Elevation (BFE) maps. Note that on the BNOBC map that the ninth ward was slated for “greenspace” while the white Lakeview neighborhood, which is according to the BFE maps is even further below sea level, was not slated for “greenspacing.”
So who are the sources for the stories pinning the blame for the current delay on Nagin and the LRA? In many cases, the sources are the very people who engineered the discredited BNOBC plan (one national print story used eleven sources to explain the delay: every single source was white and most were rich and powerful and representatives of groups that had either designed or promoted the BNOBC plan).