Over 70 urban and regional planning students from Cornell left for New Orleans today to conduct field work on a redevelopment proposal for the upper and lower 9th ward — two months after New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin officially declared a team that included Cornell’s city and regional planning department (CRP) as one of five chosen to write the city’s Unified Recovery Plan.
The students will be surveying over 5,000 existing physical structures, and interviewing hundreds of resident, business owners and institutional leaders. The research will be used in writing development proposals which will be submitted to the neighborhood and district planners as well as potential public and private sector investors working to revitalize the upper and lower 9th ward.
The group, called the New Orleans Planning Initiative (NOPI), led by Prof. Ken Reardon, city and regional planning, includes planning departments from other universities and a partnership with the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN), a non-profit organization working with local residents to expand affordable options for areas damaged by both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“Since the hurricane, more than 40 reports and studies have been done by various public and private agencies laying out recovery strategies,” Reardon explained. “Most of these plans suffer from two critical flaws: one, they are not based upon careful examination of current physical conditions, and two, many plans were developed with little or no citizen input so people most deeply effected … are not involved.”
NOPI is committed to creating a re-development plan based upon knowledge on the existing physical infrastructure, including sewer, roads, electrical grids and housing as well as engaging the local community to ensure a collaborative effort between residents and the group.
“[The plan] is not to use data to advance our vision but provide information to local residents and institutional leaders and elected officials who will interpret these conclusions and set goals,” Reardon said.
The preliminary planning report must be researched, written, and submitted by Jan. 15. After the new year, Reardon is hopeful students will remain working on a variety of projects that will keep Cornell’s CRP department engaged with the City’s re-development efforts well into next semester and possibly for years.
David Lessinger ’08 grad spent last summer in New Orleans, along with four other graduate students in the CRP department, interning with ACORN. This semester, he decided to take a leave of absence to live in New Orleans working for ACORN Housing, acting as a liaison between NOPI and local organizations and residents.
“It’s fantastic to have all the resources that the students and the faculty and department at our disposal,” he said. “Very few or none of the other planning teams have these types of resources in terms of people and time to dedicate to this project, so as a result, we are going to cover way more ground in planning districts.”
Reardon is very excited about the exposure Cornell students are getting through NOPI, and about the professional opportunity to work on a project of this scale.
“I think all the students and faculty realize they are involved in one of the most important planning and development projects in U.S. history,” he said. “We are very conscious of the fact that we’ve been assigned to assist residents of two of the city’s poorest areas who are left vulnerable by well-intentioned but ineffective public plans and investment.”
Over $100,000 has been allocated to the project by Cornell, including funding through the CRP department and the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.