Journal article Open Access

Longer View: Planning for the Rebuilding of New Orleans

Olshansky, Robert B.; Johnson, Laurie A.; Horne, Jedidiah; Nee, Brendan

Problem: Catastrophic disasters like Hurricane Katrina disrupt urban systems, economies, and lives, and pose huge problems for local governments and planners trying to organize and finance reconstruction as quickly and effectively as possible. Purpose: This article aims to summarize the key planning challenges New Orleans faced following the August 29, 2005 flooding in order to identify lessons planners can apply following future disasters. Methods: In this case study we sought to observe key decisions about the recovery as they unfolded. Collectively, we spent months in New Orleans in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and interviewed leaders of all the planning efforts to date. One of us played a lead role in the design and execution of the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP), and all observed and/or participated in neighborhood-level planning activities. Results and conclusions: We agree with previous findings on post-disaster recovery, confirming the importance of previous plans, citizen involvement, information infrastructure, and external resources. We also observe that the recovery of New Orleans might have proceeded more effectively in spite of the inherent challenges in post-Katrina New Orleans. Many local difficulties are a result of the slow flow of federal reconstruction funding. Despite this, the city administration also could have taken a more active leadership role in planning and information management earlier; the city's Office of Recovery Management has since improved this. On the positive side, the Louisiana Recovery Authority has been a model worth emulating by other states. Takeaway for practice: Planning can inform actions as both proceed simultaneously. Had New Orleans planners not felt so compelled to complete plans quickly, they might have been more effective at providing reasoned analysis over time to support community actions and engaging a broader public in resolving difficult questions of restoration versus betterment. A center for collecting and distributing data and news would have better informed all parties; this remains an important need. Keywords: recovery planning, New Orleans, disaster planning Research support: We received support from the Mid-America Earthquake Center, the Public Entity Risk Institute, and the New Orleans Community Support Foundation.
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