Thursday, January 12, 2006

Missing The Riverboat

When outsiders think of New Orleans, their vision goes no further than the Mardi Gras and the French Quarter. What they don't realize is that, at heart, New Orleans is very family oriented. Unlike other southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta, New Orleans is not a city of immigrants but a city of generations who have not only strong ties to a neighborhood but in many cases, strong ties to a block.

It is common for grown children to live around the corner or across the street from the house they grew up in. They might have a brother or sister living on the next block and cousins two to three blocks away.

So when outsiders come to town telling people they may not be able to live around the corner from their mama, you might as well ask a mother to give up one of their children. And that explains much of yesterdays animus directed toward ULI and their proposal for building New Orleans.

People here have strong ties to their community. Even if it is poor and devastated, it is all that they have and they are not going to give it up without a fight. And fight they will.

ULI made a major PR mistake when it had a planner from Philadelphia present their proposal. As well intentioned as he might have been, he is not a local and therefore not attuned to the sensitivities of New Orleanians. This made the presentation come off as something to be imposed on the populace and not as suggestions of ways to improve the city.

Being a professional in this field and having not only heard these presentations many times, but also given them, I understood the purpose of the master plan. Most people in the audience are not familiar with this process and all they heard was eminent domain and light rail. Understandably this incited much rage in the audience.

Now is the time for ULI to make their proposal available more widely for the public to allow time for citizens to digest the plan and for local leaders to get involved in not only explaining the plan but for them to listen.

The plan has many good ideas but it must be implimented by the populace. And they need to know that.

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