In The News › Schools, streets, trees top most planning lists

Sep 23, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Schools, streets, trees top most planning lists

Schools, streets, trees top most planning lists
Saturday, September 23, 2006
By Coleman Warner
Staff writer

In the first glimpse of what flood-damaged New Orleans neighborhoods want most as they work to recover from Hurricane Katrina, planning reports to be released today highlight ordinary features of civic life: rebuilt streets and sidewalks, redeveloped school properties, new streetlights, restored police and fire services, spruced-up landscaping.

Those might sound like standard services and amenities in many places, but they’re far from standard in post-Katrina New Orleans.

“The neighborhoods are really modest about what they’re asking for,” said Sheila Danzey, a local consultant who helped direct the planning. “They want streets, parks and schools.”

But planning meetings that elicited feedback from 46 neighborhoods, a months-long project funded by a $2.9 million grant from the City Council, also generated a litany of urban-renewal ideas that reflect unique sentiments from each area.

And they showed that residents are open to more than minor changes; they see the recovery as a real opportunity to make serious improvements in their neighborhoods.

There are calls, for example, for a clinic and wellness center in Gert Town, near Xavier University, and for a refurbishing of the Harrison Avenue neutral ground in Lakeview. Neighbors of the historic St. Roch Market on St. Claude Avenue want to see it restored, while eastern New Orleans residents envision a tree-shaded walking and bike path alongside the Morrison Canal.

And the reports are rife with bold ideas, such as a plan for a new town center for the devastated Lower 9th Ward near North Claiborne Avenue, and for a linear park along a shuttered rail corridor stretching from Treme to the cemeteries at Canal Boulevard.

Push for ‘early action’

Just how much money will be available for the recovery wish lists remains to be seen. Neighborhood leaders already have been warned that securing money for many of their high-priority ideas won’t be easy.

Restoring streets, parks and schools figure heavily into a more than $2 billion estimate for projects designated as “early action” or “mid-term” priorities by residents who participated in the planning exercises. That sort of spending level far exceeds money available to New Orleans in the form of federal block grant money to be doled out by the Louisiana Recovery Authority, although many of the infrastructure repairs ultimately may be covered by Federal Emergency Management Agency grants that are in addition to the LRA budget.

The planning consultants say it will be essential for neighborhoods to push for “early action” by the LRA on many infrastructure repairs and said they should aggressively seek public and private grants that fall outside the LRA’s control. To that end, the plans released today offer suggestions on what projects may qualify for two or more sources of grant money.

A survey of 740 New Orleans residents of flooded neighborhoods in late July and early August, ordered as part of the planning, also showed that most are optimistic that their neighborhoods will be rebuilt and improved. But pollster Silas Lee said the survey revealed high frustration as residents wait for talk of recovery plans to produce results.

“I equate this with being eternally pregnant,” Lee said. “Something has to happen.”

Public presentation today

The bundle of recovery plans, produced by planners hired by the City Council, will be discussed today during a five-hour City Hall meeting that begins at 1 p.m.

Detailed proposals for each neighborhood, including architectural renderings and project lists, will be posted after 8 p.m. today on www.nola.com, The Times-Picayune’s affiliated Web site.

Results of the planning exercise will be studied by city, state and foundation officials who have fretted about painfully slow recovery planning in New Orleans.

At some point, the reports are expected to be made part of a “unified” planning effort, agreed to by city officials and backed financially by two foundations. By December that unified effort should generate plans for the entire city — including neighborhoods that didn’t flood. The next batch of plans also will give close attention to broad infrastructure needs, such as transit and water services, that affect many neighborhoods.

The planning now winding up didn’t cover “dry” neighborhoods, such as those in Algiers, and gave fragmented treatment to infrastructure repair needs, documents show.

The City Council is widely credited with jump-starting post-Katrina neighborhood planning after an unsuccessful attempt, because of a lack of money, by Mayor Ray Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission to craft a broad recovery plan.

But the council’s project has drawn mixed reviews. The Bureau of Governmental Research blasted the hiring of Danzey and Paul Lambert, a Miami-based consultant, without competition from other firms, and a smattering of neighborhood leaders later said their work seemed poorly organized.

Leaders in a few flooded neighborhoods, including Broadmoor and Central City, were already developing revival plans of their own and decided not to participate in the Lambert-Danzey team’s plan. And a breakdown in consultant services to a neighborhood group in the Tulane Avenue/Gravier Street section, near downtown, nearly resulted in its being left out, although Danzey said Friday that work on that plan was getting back on track.

The consultants’ work with a broad mix of Gentilly neighborhoods was praised by Scott Darrah, president of the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, who said “I’m looking forward to the results.”

In Faubourg St. John, Lisa Amoss, head of a planning committee, said the City Council process resulted in a solid list of recovery ideas for the historic neighborhood that must be refined in the so-called unified process.

“It’s not a fleshed-out plan,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Crime prevention popular

In a few severely damaged enclaves, planning meetings turned up an overwhelming desire for a government buyout, rather than recovery ideas, Lambert said. Such was the case with a residential area around the site of the closed Agriculture Street Landfill in the 9th Ward, and the Edgewood Heights section near the junction of Interstates 10 and 610. Long before Katrina, Edgewood Heights was plagued by poor drainage and street access, Lambert said.

The planning process turned up several proposals for police substations, as well as a few for beginning use of police surveillance cameras near crime hot spots, reflecting citizens’ strong desire to use recovery money to fight crime. Residents in the Marlyville/Fontainebleau area, for example, want to build a police substation and install surveillance cameras.

Ideas for redeveloping flooded school sites ran the gamut from simply restoring schools for use by a returning student population, as seen, for example, Uptown with Cohen Senior High and Crocker Elementary, to converting schools into community centers.

In the Hollygrove area, residents are calling for transforming the Bethune School site into a community center complex that will offer a library and playground. In Gentilly, residents want to restore and reopen Jean Gordon Elementary or Henry Schaumburg Elementary, adding a community center to the reopened school, while demolishing Bienville Elementary and converting the site to green space.

Plans for shoring up neighborhood business corridors are popular. Sentiment for bringing “Main Street” business rejuvenation programs to Broad Street is strong among residents of adjacent neighborhoods, while residents of the Uptown Milan neighborhood want to turn South Claiborne Avenue into a magnet for large-scale retail stores. A farmer’s market is proposed for the Freret neighborhood’s small business district.

A neighborhood recovery plan for the Venetian Isles section of eastern New Orleans is limited in scope, focusing on restoring wetlands, replacing damaged traffic systems and studying creation of a commuter rail system along the Interstate 10 corridor.

Lots of recreation

But most plans feature a dizzying array of ideas. Among those rich in intriguing detail is the plan for Mid-City. In addition to calling for creation of the railway linear park that stretches to Treme, that plan proposes a health/residential complex for the elderly, a dog park, a multiple-use recreation complex, restored public schools and four small community gardens.

Long term, the Mid-City neighborhood plan calls for creation of a high-density commercial and residential district in a largely rundown area near the junction of South Carrollton Avenue and Interstate 10.

Val Dansereau, zoning chairman for the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, said ideas that are filtering into recovery plans are a mix of pre-Katrina and post-storm thinking, hashed out during Monday night meetings that draw 80 to 90 at a time to Grace Episcopal Church on Canal Street. Optimism is running high about the Mid-City plan, in part because businesses are opening and progress is being made in landing a public library branch in the area, he said.

“They’re enthused, otherwise they’d just give up, and we wouldn’t have anyone at the meetings,” Dansereau said. “It’s shoot for the moon.”

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Coleman Warner can be reached at cwarner@timespicayune.com or at (504) 826-3311.

Sep 23, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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