Planner Defines a New Vision of New Orleans
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And the devastation that has hit New Orleans destroyed many of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Planners are trying to figure out what to do next. Many say these neighborhoods should not be rebuilt as they were. Bruce Katz is director of the metropolitan policy program at the Brookings Institution. He says efforts to rebuild New Orleans must begin with an understanding that the city's poverty didn't happen by chance.
Mr. BRUCE KATZ (Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution): The untold story is that the federal government, for 40 years, created this hyperconcentration of poverty in inner-city New Orleans through the concentration of subsidized housing in many of the neighborhoods that were most affected by the flood. The places that were hardest hit were federal enclaves, essentially. And the federal government going forward really has to rethink the principles of rebuilding so that we don't replicate the mistakes of the past.
MONTAGNE: And mistakes of the past leading to...
Mr. KATZ: One out of five poor families lived in neighborhoods of extreme poverty; poverty rates of 40 percent or more in the neighborhood. One out of three poor blacks lived in those kinds of neighborhoods. And what we know about neighborhoods of extreme poverty is the schools don't function, businesses don't invest and there's an absence of jobs and employment opportunities.
MONTAGNE: But is there then a way to design neighborhoods so that poor people, poor families can emerge from poverty?
Mr. KATZ: Absolutely. In fact, we've been doing this in the United States for really the past 10 or 15 years. Many suburban counties have enacted inclusionary zoning ordinances which say when you build more than 50 or so units, 10 or 15 or 20 percent of them must be reserved for low-income families. We have a housing voucher program in this country. Two million families are served with it who give them the choice to move to areas of low poverty if they want and, for the past 10 years, we've had a very successful effort to tear down the worst public housing and replace it with economically integrated communities.
MONTAGNE: Well, given the cau--the damage and the level of damage in certain neighborhoods, does New Orleans offer an opportunity to do that kind of rebuilding?
Mr. KATZ: I think there's a huge opportunity in New Orleans to create a completely different social mix and income mix within the city and within neighborhoods, and to do it in such a way that many of the low-income households are better off than they were before the hurricane. The lessons that we've learned is you can greatly reduce the concentration of poverty in these neighborhoods by helping people move to other neighborhoods, by building a different kind of mixed-income housing, by using your zoning and regulatory systems to basically compel the private sector to do this.
MONTAGNE: Take us on a step-by-step tour, if you will, of how you bring together housing, schools, shopping areas, jobs.
Mr. KATZ: Right.
MONTAGNE: What comes first? How does it work? What can you do? And what can't you do?
Mr. KATZ: Well, I think part of the issue in New Orleans is whether there's going to be a transportation infrastructure. Because, obviously, if you built light-rail or rapid bus lines, you might be able to create communities that sort of coalesce around that transportation infrastructure. Having a vision about density, so as housing is built, for every hundred units, let's say 15 or 25 units are set aside for low-income families. If you have economic integration, to be frank, the businesses will come because small business, regional grocers, the Wal-Marts or even the Walgreens will track economically integrated communities and communities that can show that they have purchasing power. If you build neighborhoods of extreme poverty, the businesses won't return and whatever schools you build will have a burden that they can't overcome.
MONTAGNE: Bruce Katz, thanks very much for joining us.
Mr. KATZ: Thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.