Developing Plans for a New Crescent City

Melissa Block talks with Collette Creppell, former executive of the New Orleans City Planning Commission. Creppell talks about President Bush's idea to allow homesteading on federal lands around New Orleans. She says there is a lot of military land that was slated for closure that could be used for redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Another idea President Bush laid out last night was this: distributing federal land for new homes.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We will identify property in the region owned by the federal government and provide building sites to low-income citizens free of charge through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build on the lot with either a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity.

BLOCK: Collette Creppell is former executive director of the New Orleans City Planning Commission, and she says the president may have been talking about building on military bases that have been slated to close.

Ms. COLLETTE CREPPELL (Former Executive Director, New Orleans City Planning Commission): There's a large base in Plaqeumines Parish that would conceivably be redeveloped, maybe thousands of acres. There is also a very dense site, the military site, right where the Mississippi River and the Industrial Canal--or what is sometimes called the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal--come together. Symbolically that would be a great place. If the military's not going to be there and it's not that far away from where one of the levee breaches occurred.

BLOCK: So this would be an area that's underwater or has been underwater right now?

Ms. CREPPELL: Yes.

BLOCK: Do the economics of this make sense to you?

Ms. CREPPELL: Well, I think that it is going to require a huge amount of support. It is very difficult to get the momentum to generate houses of a significant number to totally redevelop neighborhoods. There are already neighborhoods in New Orleans, in Central City and elsewhere where there has been very strong grassroots efforts and concerted efforts by non-profits and housing experts to generate housing in those neighborhoods. Obviously, with the commitment of the federal government it would be a different story, but it is very difficult to imagine doing this at a scale that would make an impression.

BLOCK: And what are the challenges there?

Ms. CREPPELL: In the same way as everybody now knows a little bit more about things like car ownership rate in the city of New Orleans--that being very low--there's also a significantly lower percentage of the population that is even accustomed to the notion of home ownership. And, you know, this is one way in which New Orleans is like a European city. There are more renters. And so the general American ideal of owning your own home is not something that has--one sees happening at a level that it does elsewhere in the country.

BLOCK: And the president made a point of saying home ownership should be a goal. That should be one way to try to revive this area.

Ms. CREPPELL: Yeah, I think that is one of the challenges, and there has been a lot of work over many years by church groups and, as I said, non-profits working in the communities to try to do that and instill that sort of American ethic and ideal. And so it will be interesting to see how that matches up with the local culture.

BLOCK: Collette Creppell, thanks very much.

Ms. CREPPELL: You're welcome.

BLOCK: Collette Creppell is former executive director of the New Orleans City Planning Commission.

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