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Leaders in New Orleans have unveiled an $18 billion plan for rebuilding. It calls for new development, a light rail network, better schools and investment in parks. The plan also creates a process to answer an explosive question: Which neighborhoods will be rebuilt and which will not? Here's NPR's Greg Allen.
GREG ALLEN reporting:
The fact is, after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is a much smaller city. Right now the population is estimated at 144,000 people, down from nearly a half million pre-Katrina. Even after the city rebounds from the storm, it's expected to have just half of its former population. Yesterday, the 17-member Bring New Orleans Back Commission unveiled its plan for rebuilding the city to a restless, standing room-only crowd in a downtown New Orleans hotel. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin asked residents to take time to consider the proposal.
Mayor RAY NAGIN (Democrat, New Orleans): The realities are we will have limited resources to redevelop our city. The other reality is this report that's controversial.
ALLEN: The most controversial part of the plan and any discussion of the city's future involves New Orleans' footprint. That is, which neighborhoods should be rebuilt and which should be turned into parkland or developed for other uses? The Bring New Orleans Back Commission largely sidestepped that issue for now. Instead, it sets up 13 districts where residents will work with planners to explore opportunities for rebuilding and work to determine how many people ultimately will come back. It's a daunting task, even more so in a city where residents are scattered across the country. Even so, planner John Beckman, who helped develop the blueprint, said it all needs to be done in just four months.
Mr. JOHN BECKMAN (Planner): We need to begin the neighborhood planning process, to involve the residents in making these decisions and determining how they will come back. And it needs to be coordinated in a citywide effort that needs to be completed by June or this year. This is fast, but it's doable.
ALLEN: During that four-month time period, the plan proposes a moratorium on rebuilding in any neighborhood that had at least two feet of floodwater. That's some 80 percent of the city. And it's an idea that yesterday was clearly unpopular.
Unidentified Man #1: There's going to be an opportunity for public comment in just a moment, please...
Unidentified Man #2: (Shouting) I want you to tell me that. Don't tell me about what's in public comment...
ALLEN: Harvey Bender(ph), a resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, was one of many who said he'd fight any plan to try stop him from rebuilding.
Mr. HARVEY BENDER (Resident, Lower Ninth Ward): If we have to suit up like army and protect my land, that's what I'm going to do. I don't need no police to protect me. If you try to come and take my land or whatever, that's what I'm going to have to do. Just like that lady say, I'm going to die on mine.
ALLEN: Commission members acknowledged that hundreds of building permits have already been issued and suggested the moratorium should be flexible, allowing exceptions wherever appropriate. Another part of the plan unveiled yesterday would create something called the Crescent City Redevelopment Commission, a body that would buy and sell homes and oversee the city's rebuilding. But still a big question remains: Which neighborhoods will be rebuilt and which will residents have to leave? That's a question that ultimately will be up to the new redevelopment commission, a commission that will have the power of eminent domain and which could ultimately evict landowners if necessary. New Orleans developer Joe Canizaro, one of the plan's architects, says the four-month neighborhood planning process will hopefully make that unnecessary.
Mr. JOE CANIZARO (Developer): Can you get sufficient public service? Will you be able to get garbage collection as you customarily do or does it get down to once every two weeks? So what we're trying to do is to bring the neighbors together and show them what's going on, let them look at who's coming back, how many more are they together, and they'll understand.
ALLEN: Once Mayor Nagin signs off, the rebuilding plan will go first to Baton Rouge and then Washington, DC, although New Orleans has come up with an ambitious plan for its future, it will ultimately be up to the state and the federal government to decide where the money will come from. Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.
MONTAGNE: You can read the city's entire plan for rebuilding and see a narrated slide show on how residents of New Orleans are rebuilding their lives at npr.org.
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