New Orleans Residents Hold Forum on Rebuilding An Internet-linked gathering allows displaced New Orleans residents to discuss how they'd like their city to recover. Participants focused on neighborhood stability, education, affordable homes and rent, roads, transit, utilities, health service and other vital public services.
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New Orleans Residents Hold Forum on Rebuilding

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New Orleans Residents Hold Forum on Rebuilding

New Orleans Residents Hold Forum on Rebuilding

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

And these are the words of Ed Blakely, the head of the New Orleans recovery effort.

ED BLAKELY: I've asked the planners to go away. There's enough talk, now you got to act.

NORRIS: There are hopes that the planning process is near its end. Today, the state of Louisiana opened a Web site and telephone hotline to give people a chance to share their view on how the state should rebuild. And over the weekend, New Orleaneans voted on what they hoped will be the city's sole blueprint for recovery.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from New Orleans.

CHERYL CORLEY: The Morial Convention Center was a desperate scene 16 months ago, filled with stranded people. But this weekend, it was a totally different atmosphere, as giant video screens linked residents of New Orleans with those still living outside the city.

Unidentified Woman: Good morning, Atlanta. Everybody say good morning to your family in Atlanta.

Unidentified Group: Good morning.

CORLEY: This was a giant community congress, more than a thousand people in New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, who had come to vote on the Unified New Orleans Plan. The vision created from recommendations residents made during several earlier and smaller community meetings.

CARRIE SCHAYES: This is going to be a big plan. It's not like anybody has to choose one recommendation.

CORLEY: Wearing one of the blue T-shirts designated for discussion leaders, Carrie Schayes started the conversation at table 62.

SCHAYES: What do you like about the recommendations? And then what concerns you about the -

CORLEY: The draft version of the united plan calls for every part of New Orleans to be redeveloped, while encouraging people to rebuild in safer ways. Gwenn Adams, a former teacher in the Lower Ninth Ward, called the highest level of flood protection absolutely essential.

GWENN ADAMS: First of all, it's not something that we should like or dislike. It's something that we should have. It's something that should be provided to all residents.

CORLEY: Although frustrated by the pace of rebuilding, many at the meetings said they felt they have an emotional stake in determining what New Orleans should look like and how it should rebuild. They used electronic keypads to vote on affordable housing measures, on ways to create safe and stable neighborhoods and on suggestions calling for people to cluster their homes and businesses in more viable areas.

In Houston, Glenda Harris, said she was encouraged by the process but worried about how New Orleans, financially strapped before the hurricanes, could pay for the plan even though billions of dollars might come New Orleans' way.

GLENDA HARRIS: When you're talking about 218,000 housing units and homes that were destroyed, that's not even going to cover a fraction of that. And if we send a message to America that we understand a lot has been sent to the devastated area, but America has never faced the city that's 80 percent underwater.

CORLEY: Over the next few days, planners will incorporate what they learned from these sessions. The final report is expected to be about 1,200 to 1,300 pages long. Back in New Orleans, Gloria Hammond says she wasn't sure how many people actually knew they could participate in developing a New Orleans plan, but it was time for the process to end.

GLORIA HAMMOND: Tired of talking. It's time for action. I mean we're going into the 16th month. Tired. I'm 61. I'll be 61 years old in April. I've lost five houses. I'm living in a little crappy apartment. Got robbed in Houston. It's not fun.

CORLEY: The city's recovery czar, Ed Blakely, says he understands and agrees.

BLAKELY: The only disaster is we waited too long.

CORLEY: For months, Mayor Nagin has promised a bigger and better New Orleans. He told the crowd he too was sick and tired of going from one bureaucracy to another seeking funds for a recovery process that's expected to take years, but he says a united recovery plan that has the endorsement of its residents will help make that job much easier.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, New Orleans.

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