New Orleans Residents React to City Revitalization Plan
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SPENCER MICHELS: Charles Brimmer has lived in New Orleans all his 58 years. He and his family intend to remain here even though the houses they own in the lower Ninth Ward were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
CHARLES BRIMMER: It’s salvageable; it’s structurally sound. It didn’t shift anything off the pillars or anything. We intend to invest our money back into the properties.
This is family property since 1951 so my parents struggled to achieve this and accomplish this, and they left this for us, so we intend to take it a little bit further and hopefully, people will come back here and rebuild.
SPENCER MICHELS: But Brimmer may not be able to rebuild his house. What happens to his property and his life — and to New Orleans itself — may well depend on the action announced today by the city’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission, a group of business and community leaders appointed by Mayor Ray Nagin.
With devastation from Katrina still widespread, with large parts of New Orleans still uninhabited and uninhabitable, the release of today’s blueprint for the city was intended to answer questions of what to rebuild and what not.
The report recommends that a moratorium on building construction go into effect as soon as the proposals are adopted, that residents be given four months to prove they can bring back their neighborhoods. If they fail, they will be forced to sell their properties to a city agency that would likely demolish them.
Residents whose homes are demolished would get from 60 to 100 percent of the equity in their property. The rebuilding program, estimated to cost $18 billion, it would be mostly federal money.
Specifics are sketchy as to how residents would prove that their neighborhoods are viable. But Joseph Canizaro, chief author of the plan and a developer, said five teams of planners will cover all the city’s neighborhoods.
JOSEPH CANIZARO: At least 50 percent of those people are going to have to be committed to coming back before we have a neighborhood to design.
We’re going to set up neighborhood planning teams that will go into the each of the neighborhoods of New Orleans, find its prior citizens, bring them together with planners, health experts, finance experts, environmental people to put together a new neighborhood or revive an old neighborhood that was flooded with the people that will come back into this community.
SPENCER MICHELS: Canizaro also said the city’s population will shrink, and some neighborhoods could die.
SPENCER MICHELS: Some people are worried that this will not be the diverse city that it once was. Is there any validity to that?
JOSEPH CANIZARO: We will be the same diverse city. We are going to make doggone sure that our African-American population is as strong as ever.
But I will tell you we will not have as many poor people. There’s no question. I’ve talked to a lot of them. They are better where they are. They want to stay where they are because they have a better life.
Bear in mind that as we went in to this storm we had a lot of crime in our community. We were having lots of difficulties we were trying to deal with.
And now people that went through that process don’t want to go through it again and otherwise can’t afford to come back, to tell you the truth.
SPENCER MICHELS: Eliminating some neighborhoods is an unpopular idea according to the president of Tulane University and commission member Scott Cowen.
SCOTT COWEN, President, Tulane University: If, in fact, we know that there are certain parts of the city that will never be safe from flooding, no matter what the levy system is, then I think we have an obligation to tell people that and probably to say we should not repopulate those areas.
Now that’s a very unpopular statement that I just made, but I can make it because I’m not a politician. And I think this is a time where both our politicians and everybody have to say the truth to the citizens and the truth may be that you shouldn’t repopulate.
SPENCER MICHELS: In neighborhoods that survived the hurricane and flood in decent shape property owners would be allowed to repair and rebuild, and they would be encouraged to enhance their sections.
The plan is billed as an opportunity to correct long-standing problems in New Orleans and make the city more livable for those left behind. It envisions building more homes in higher areas and creating more ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
In addition, it calls for a light rail system around the city, a new jazz district near downtown and improved schools.
The commission envisions making some neighborhoods less prone to flooding by eliminating a 76-mile shipping channel that was a prime cause of flooding after the hurricane.
But concerns that only low income minority neighborhoods would be abandoned has prompted these volunteers from a local group called Common Ground to offer assistance to residents that might enable them to prove that they can make their neighborhoods viable.
SPOKESMAN: Right now we’re offering some very basic food, some water. You can sign up to have your house gutted, to get on the list to have your house gutted, and stuff like that.
SPENCER MICHELS: But for Dedra Sampson, who brought her mother to see their wrecked home for the first time, there isn’t much choice. She said there’s no way they can fix what’s broken.
DEDRA SAMPSON: I think it’s impossible to rebuild because this is a low-income neighborhood. I’m not coming back.
SPENCER MICHELS: You’re not?
DEDRA SAMPSON: No.
SPENCER MICHELS: Why not?
DEDRA SAMPSON: Because. If you look and see, you rebuild, you buy something for 20, you take 20, 30 years to rebuild and one day it’s all gone; that’s just too big of a risk to take. You don’t get any help from the government, no money from the government.
SPENCER MICHELS: So what happens to this neighborhood if everybody decides like you decide?
DEDRA SAMPSON: It’s just gone. It will never be the same. Half the people, some people are dead and some people are across in other states and cities. It will never be the same. We’ll never be back together again.
CHARLES BRIMMER: People are really tripped out about what we’re going to do here.
SPENCER MICHELS: A few blocks away, Charles Brimmer is continuing the cleanup process.
CHARLES BRIMMER: It’s going to take over a year to two years just to clean up the place. That’s how much devastation is here. If they have a plan, they should give us more time. Give us a chance to resettle back in here.
All we’re saying is that the homes that are salvageable, give us an opportunity to reinvest in our community.
CHARLES BRIMMER: One room, nine more to go.
SPENCER MICHELS: Brimmer wants New Orleans to regain its former glory. He’ll be watching closely, as the city tries to get neighborhood residents to take part in determining what happens to their neighborhoods, and what happens to their city.