It's been said before, but it's worth repeating – the reconstruction of New Orleans is both a planner's dream – and a planner's nightmare. Even before the flood waters subsided, planners and architects from around the globe descended on the Crescent City to give their take on the road to recovery. Close to two years later, a host of plans lay in the wake of the constant ebb and flow of professionals in and out of the city. Local residents are exasperated with the proposed plans and the progress of the recovery. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has seemingly lost interest.
This week, another group of planners have arrived in New Orleans – and I along with them. But rather than trying to bring their own expertise to bare on the current plans – attendees of the annual conference of the Planner's Network are largely focused on examining what the role of planners should be in New Orleans – and other cities where huge economic, environmental and social challenges remain.
The conference, which is being help in partnership with the Association for Community Design's annual conference in Baton Rouge, is part of a growing movement of planners and social advocates to redefine what planning actually means, and how it really serves the public interest of residents in a city. Pre-Katrina, New Orleans was already an excellent case study for planners looking to study the problems of urban underinvestment and social and economic inequality. Now with the storm's devastation having brought much of these problems (and more) to the surface, there's no other city dealing with so many issues at once. And it's impact on the field of urban planning is likely to last for decades.
For now, I'm still listening and learning about what has transpired over the last 20 months – but it's certainly interesting to see how planners are helping, hurting and/or irrelevant (depending on your perspective) to the city's recovery.
More to come.