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BGR wins national award for role in planning reform

Aug 3, 2009

The Bureau of Governmental Research’s work to reform planning and land use decision making in New Orleans has won the award for Outstanding Policy Achievement at the Government Research Association (GRA) national conference in Washington, D.C. GRA, the national organization for governmental research professionals, recognized BGR’s efforts for inspiring a citywide reform movement and a charter amendment giving the city’s master plan the force of law.

The origins of the charter amendment trace back to BGR’s 2003 report, Runaway Discretion: Land Use Decision Making in New Orleans. Runaway Discretion examined the malaise surrounding planning and land use in New Orleans. It found that land use decision making was plagued by unclear ground rules, an unpredictable process, unbridled City Council discretion and an unhealthy lack of mechanisms for citizen participation. It called for the city’s Master Plan to bear the force of law and for a meaningful neighborhood participation system.

In 2006, at the urging of citizens and planners, BGR followed up with Planning for a New Era: Proposed Charter Changes for Land Use Decision Making in New Orleans. That report formed the foundation for the citizen-driven amendment process of 2008.

The 2008 charter amendment, placed on the ballot with the unanimous approval of the City Council, was true to the central elements of BGR’s original proposal. It would require land use laws and actions to conform to the city’s forthcoming Master Plan and mandate that the city create a system for meaningful neighborhood participation in land use decisions. In November 2008, voters approved the amendment. The master planning process is currently in full swing.

“It is always an honor for BGR to be recognized by its peers around the country,” said BGR Chairman Hans Jonassen. “But planning reform is a work in progress, one that will depend on the continued vigilance of citizens during the current master planning process and beyond.”