Tuesday, July 18, 2006

People are doin' it for themselves

Where was The Times-Picayune? The Associated Press was there. So was ABC 26 and Adam Nossiter of the New York Times. I hope I'm mistaken, but I didn't see any other reporters there.

Among 73 official New Orleans neighborhoods, Broadmoor is now the only second one with their own plan to rebuild (after Gentilly released theirs in May). Lakeview paid for a rebuilding plan to be drafted, but Broadmoor hit the pavement and assembled what will be -- no joke -- the model for urban planners for decades to come. The incredible irony, and the cause for celebration, is that Broadmoor was one of the neighborhoods that Mayor Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission put a big green dot on top of.

The 400 or so Broadmoor residents who viewed the first major grass-roots neighborhood plan to be released in the city of New Orleans might be forgiven for thinking they'd be better off to just become an independent township with their own mayor, council, and newspaper. If they're forced to undertake DIY neighborhood planning, and to get DIY media coverage, why bother with a do-it-for-yourselves (unless-I-can-help-myself) mayor? Why bother with a newspaper that spreads itself so thin trying to cover every beat from Plaquemines to St. Tammany that it misses the biggest story since Hurricane Katrina to happen in the very city which contains its core readership?

In fairness to local politicians, Stacy Head was there. C. "Oreo" also accepted an invitation to show up as an observer -- and I think he was "shown up" if you know what I mean. He sat directly in front of me, so I didn't get to see his jaw drop. After the presentation, Nagin was notably humbled (or was that pandering to a mildly hostile constituency that voted for the other guy), and answered questions. I wasn't surprised that Nagin didn't provide many confident answers -- just more "Mr. Cool" acknowledgements of the set of problems the city faces, like pumps that don't work to capacity, and water pipes beneath the streets that lose 70 percent of their cargo before it gets to the tap. Oh sure, it's just possible -- maybe -- that the Sewerage and Water Board is getting around to fixing the problem, but we wouldn't know, because "Our Mayor" doesn't have anything to say to us about what his administration is doing to rebuild the most devastated city in American history.

One thing Nagin did confess is that the Broadmoor plan to rebuild from the people up was his plan all along. That would be commendable if he played an active role in supporting those endeavors.

Hasn't it occurred to you Ray Ray that we need a daily situation report? How about a daily press conference Ray Ray? Okay? Just a whisper in our ears every once in a while in between your little ingratiating speaking tours to far-flung destinations? Toss us a bone now and again? Pretty please?

By the way, is it possible that Greg Meffert bailed out because he didn't want to be the last guy to go down with the ship?

As another aside, it was difficult not to fall under the spell of that wicked shine on Ray Ray's skull -- but I found the will to resist by thinking about oreo cookies instead.

A little bird told me that the Broadmoor meeting will probably be featured on this coming Saturday's Community Gumbo.

And yes ... since some of us have started annoying humoring each other with the song meme, I was thinking of Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin when I wrote the title of this post.


Blogging New Orleans -- Glimpses of survivors after a neighborhood meeting…

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At 7/18/2006 06:49:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

I thins great news is a big show of the fatal mistakes many of us have been making both before and after the storm. Namely we have been relying on and expecting the government to do something for us. I think that it is far, far more important that we accept that we simply cannot, must not, rely on the government for anything. We simply must do it for ourselves.

We have all some to realize even more how we rely on each other in our own communities and how we can help each other. Screw Nagin, Screw Blanco, Screw Bush. We just need to do it and if our government then tries to turn around and penalize us for it, then we must fight back by getting politically active, voting out incumbents, writing letters to paper, writing to our representatives and doing whatever we can to return power to the people.

I was just reading Dr. David Brin's blog today and he said something I though was particularly relevant.

"If only someone would remind us all what the term “liberal” originally meant... which was unleashing the creatively competitive spirit of humanity in ways that would benefit us all, while minimizing the almost universal capacity of cheaters to cheat. Levelling the playing field enough so that no youth would enter it disadvantaged, but giving the markets enough room to breathe and grow.

Government has a role to play in this fostering of open, joyful and fair competition. (And even in ensuring that nobody loses too badly.) Today’s “liberals” are right about that... while they are wrong to forget that competitive markets were the greatest invention of their movement! Decent conservatives have a point when they remind us that government has no rightful place in predetermining all outcomes of the game."

I think in this respect Katrina has been, and still is, a hard, hard lesson for all of us but I think it has only proved, at least to me, that "government" just doesn't care, and cannot care, about its people. Only we the people care about each other and thorugh our acts of charity, our efforts to organize and our initiative will we really be able to push things forward. I'm just sad that we have waited so very long for out government to do something for us when we could have gotten so much more done if we would have just started right off the bat thinking we had to do it for ourselves.

(Hmmm... that wasn't being particularly contrarian. Maybe I'll have to work on that. ;))

At 7/18/2006 08:04:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Sure, ideally, as the Broadmoor case has demonstrated.

The problem with the perspective you're advocating Lenny is that situations arise which overwhelm the ability of the individual to overcome. Think poverty, major medical needs, lack of access to a decent education ... natural disasters?

A truly "liberal" government recognizes these problems, and tries to spread the cost of solutions around so that the entire society absorbs the costs *and* the benefits of a progressive society.

Elections are *supposed to* produce governments which respond to society's needs. It's a messy process which sometimes doesn't produce the best solutions in the short term.

Complaining about Nagin's failure to lead is one example of the way that democratic process is supposed to work.

At 7/18/2006 08:23:00 AM, Anonymous Karen said...

Hey I have been working on a Reality Show..DIY New Orleans..I really think it has legs..Wondering how we are going to rebuild levees and drainage. In my DIY show we will have someone who oversees and coordinates..I think they call that a Mayor..and then we will have someone to enforce rules and regulations..I think they call that Safety and Permits..and then we will have someone draw up a huge plan for redevelopment..I am going to call that City Planning

At 7/18/2006 10:35:00 AM, Blogger TravelingMermaid said...

Great update. I'm so behind on Nola rebuild lately...I feel like I'm on a runaway roller coaster. Thanks for a valuable service,Schroeder.
BTW - I've been on an Annie Lennox binge lately myself!

At 7/18/2006 11:03:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

I'm not talking straight individual, but individualS (plural) coming together. "Think poverty, major medical needs, lack of access to a decent education ... natural disasters?" None of those are things that cannot be handled outside of government, and done so more effectively. Education in particular is one case where we were a better educated society before the advent of "public education". Poverty is also someplace where by reducing government involvement we can increase overall prosperity.

I'm not talking anarchist heavan, here. Government, IMHO, is a necessary evil and levees may well be one place where our city provides enough of a benefit beyond the local level that I am not so sure we could get by without a government involved solution.

In response to Karen, we don't NEED a "huge" plan for redevelopment. We need to worry about out own neighborhoods. We need to only get together with our neighbors and do what needs to be done to bring our own neighborhoods back. (Disclaimer: I live in Metairie, but have lived in the city and being in the 'burbs does not make me feel any less a "citizen" of New Orleans.)

In effect we're talking about the completly messy method of stepping up to the plate and recognizing when there is a problem doing something about it instead of expecting the government to do something about it. Some people may never step up to the plate, but considering the incredible generosity of the American people why believe that we would not be willing to step in if Tax dollars didn't pay for it all? Not to mention the ability of private sectort charities and organizations to get the job done quicker and cheaper then our governments ever seem to be able to do.

When you give all responsibility to government and rely on government for everything, then you get stuck with the many problems we have after Katrina. Where government got in the way of individual and private organizational efforts to rescue people and to help. It seems to me we need to start somewhere to start turning back that tide.

At 7/18/2006 12:58:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Lenny, IMHO, as a point of departure for an interesting discussion, your libertarian perspective is valid, but just like the model of the rational man in neoclassical economics, a one size fits all ideal just doesn't work in the real world.

Yes, we want the government to stay out of the way as much as possible, but who is the government, and who does the government represent and server, but us. There are reasons why government programs begin. True, once programs are created, altering them becomes a bit of a problem. Still, individuals, and groups of individuals, still need the government to do certain things. Infrastructure and defense, for example, are the two primary functions of government which should never be turned over to private entities.

You said that "government got in the way of individual and private organizational efforts to rescue people and to help." Why do you think FEMA was created in the first place? Because when natural disasters used to happen, private charities couldn't adequately handle the need. Why is it that FEMA didn't work under Bush, Sr., was fixed under Clinton, and then didn't work again under Bush, Jr. The answer -- government *can* serve people well when citizens demand it.

"Education in particular is one case where we were a better educated society before the advent of 'public education'" ...

Really Lenny -- you can't be serious. Before public education, there was *no* education unless you were rich.

"Poverty is also someplace where by reducing government involvement we can increase overall prosperity."

Wrong again. Poverty is in fact a allowed by the very structure of laws created by government that allow some people to prosper while others become impoverished. Is there individual responsibility tied up in that? Sure, but there's also an awful lot of privilege built into the law. Government can work for the benefit of a few, or for the benefit of the many, all depending on who the people in office feel they have to answer to.

Do I want the government off of my back? Yeah! But do I want the government to make sure that every kid in America has the opportunity to go to a good, affordable school -- well, you could argue that its the most important priority!

Of course we're better off doing things for ourselves. But we're stronger when we can do things for each other, and sometimes that requires institutions that we leave in the government's charge.

A good shot of truth is best followed by a moderate chaser.

At 7/18/2006 04:00:00 PM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

I'm not suggesting one size fits all, I'm suggesting far less then what we have now.

To cover soem specifics, though:

"Really Lenny -- you can't be serious. Before public education, there was *no* education unless you were rich."

Bad example, only because it would take far more than a blog post to cover historical education and forced schooling in America. I would certainly reccomend "The Underground History
of American Education" by John Taylor Gatto (http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/index.htm).

Which also makes it a bad example because without a lot more background my statement likely sounds like quackery making it all the easier to toss out anything else I'd mentioned. Oh well.

On the next point though..,

"Wrong again. Poverty is in fact a allowed by the very structure of laws created by government that allow some people to prosper while others become impoverished."

You hit the nail on the head flat explaining my point. Sure enough it IS government laws that are allowing this country to slowly and surely fall into the hands of an oligarcy, Whether that oligarchy is the government itself or wealthy corporate CEOs makes no difference (and even that line blurs as they become more the same every day.) Dr. Brin covers the folly of both the socialist (or progressive, if you will) and corporatist attitudes in this nation. http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2006/06/allocation-vs-markets-ancient-struggle.html

Yeah it's long, but a worthwile read about a fairly complex concept overall and it pretty well expresses what I'm talking about.

I would add that in no place have I advocated anarchy. Defense, the judiciary, police forces are all very legitimate functions of government. Infrastructure... sometimes. Levees, probably another good example, overall. I'm not talking NO government. (Some "libertarians" do, but truthfully that's not a fully libertarian position since general libertarian philosophy accepts human nature for what it is and acknowledges the need for a government.)

So PLEASE don't try to pull my suggestions down the path of anarchy as I definitely do not advocate going down that path.

The thing about somthing like FEMA, or any agency in government control, is that we are always at the whim of whomever is in power. Repugnicans may like adding executive power for King George to use, but will they feel the same way if a Clinton has those powers? It is very debatable about the true efficacy of FEMA even under Clinton (where most would likely agree it was at its most capable). The agency was never created because charitbale organizations were incapable, it was only a consolidation of existing agencies and moving of power from local agencies to a Federal level. I wouldn't suggest that it somehow made things all better, though.

Outside of these we have to be ever -vigilant of the constant increase in governmental power. For example, take a look at "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America" (http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6476) Yeah, I know it's at the CATO website, but don;t let that stop you from checking out. It talks about the rise of greater militarization of the out police forces (particularly in terms of SWAT teams). Bit by bit this kind of thing occurs in most things the government touches and somehow many no longer even question why having a military mindset ("Kill the enemy!") being used on our own citizens ("Protect and Serve?"). Innocent until proven guilty is the PRICE of freedom. It means that we are supposed to be in a country where it is better to let a few bad apples go free in order to ensure there are less innocent people being locked up. It's a burden and a price we supposedly were willing to accept, but it seems to me that less and less are we willing to do that. Yet it is our own government that has proven to be one of the worst offenders on so many fronts (wanna know the worst polluter around? Hint: it ain't Exxon) yet we seem to constantly turn to government as the answer.

I think we really need to trun back from that path because without doing so we will only continue on to either becoming a communist state (we all know how well that works out) or a corporatist state (for which the appropriate term woudl be fascism, but some folks can't seem to properly wrap their heads around seeing America and that word in the same sentence.) I think we are digging a mighty big hole here and seeing local communities band together and take on the work themselves says, to me, that maybe, just maybe, some folks are starting to see where our government itslef might jsut be the problem.

Sorry for all the links (and the always wordy responses) but there is a lot more to look into then what we tend to think of when it comes to government intervention and I sincerely hope you will check out the links above and give them some real consideration.

At 7/19/2006 03:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It comes down to accountability - our democracy is perverted when incumbents who are incompetent get re-elected through fraud, dirty tactics, lies or simply an uninformed electorate.

At 7/19/2006 06:59:00 AM, Anonymous Sophmom said...

That's one. This is how it has to happen. The people can fill the leadership vacuum. Great post. Thanks for keeping us informed.

At 7/19/2006 12:10:00 PM, Anonymous Puddinhead said...

Interesting....in that I was at a Gentilly Civic Improvement Assn. meeting a couple of weekends ago at which Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said she'd been informed by the Mayor that the Gentilly planning effort (mostly produced at the Duany charrette, and produced as a framework back in May..http://www.gcia.us/Reports/Duany_Framework_for_Neighborhood_Recovery_Plan-Updated24May06.pdf) was so far ahead of other neighborhoods' progress in the process that Gentilly was going to be used as the "model". Other neighborhoods would be "guided" towards the same methods as Gentilly used, and LRA infrastructure funding would be funneled into Gentilly first as it was the "first" neighborhood to come up with a coherent plan for land use, etc.

Seems we've been transported from the shores of Lake Pontchartrain to those of Lake Woebegone...where all children are "above average", all neighborhoods are "first", and all plans will be "used as the model"...LOL

At 7/19/2006 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Hmmm ... I -- or BIA -- may stand corrected, puddinhead. In any event, thanks for providing the link to the Gentilly charrette report, presented April 26 and April 27.

I honestly don't remember hearing anything about the Gentilly report, but I have no doubt about it's importance. Gentilly, Lakeview, and Broadmoor -- I hope I'm not leaving any others out -- are the three neighborhoods that have accomplished the most to get themselves organized. They are *all* to be commended.

I think a distinct difference may be in the way the two charrette processes were undertaken (Gentilly vs. Broadmoor) -- not to criticize in any way either process. The Broadmoor process was conducted with a far more comprehensive and time-consuming door-to-door survey, while the GCIA benefitted from a more intensive week-long charrette.

I scanned through the GCIA report, and will spend more time reading it later. It's a substantial plan, and no doubt will be celebrated for years to come, as will the Broadmoor plan (if they are actually implemented).

I'm still going to say that what Broadmoor did has never been done before in any neighborhood in the country -- block by block, door to door, inventorying every one of over 2600 houses, every dollar amount of damage, every resident and their intentions to leave, or rebuild and how.

Furthermore, down the road, the Broadmoor neighborhood has created a democratic structure using block captains which looks to me to be a rock-solid foundation for maintaining the database they have, for disseminating information, and for standing strong in the face of any adversity -- natural or political.

It's really quite an admirable accomplishment!

At 7/20/2006 07:20:00 AM, Anonymous puddinhead said...

I certainly wasn't trying to get into a neighborhood one-upsmanship thing with anyone, Schroeder...LOL. As you said, both neighborhoods are ahead of the curve as far as planning organization goes (if the "curve" can be considered to be the city's efforts), even if the methods are somewhat dissimilar. I'll certainly warrent that the Broadmoor group seems to have expended a lot more effort in cataloging the individual homes and homeowner situations and servicing individual homeowners, while the Gentilly group seems to have so far focused more on the "tout ensemble", so to speak...for example, the "town square" concept for the shopping center at Gentilly and Elysian Fields. GCIA has been organizing a system of block captains as well, but it sounds like the Broadmoor group has more in place there. Gentilly seems to possibly have a more complete set of land use zoning regulations to present for review, compliments of the Duany group, who modified the "smart zoning" plans they'd developed over the years in Florida to fit the needs of New Orleans. The group was referenced in a Times-Picayune article this morning about planning; New Orleans Planning Director Yolanda Rodriguez mentioned that the new city-wide planning effort "...will pull together neighborhoods into groups, as has been seen already with roughly two dozen neighborhoods in Gentilly."

I think the great thing about this is that both groups (and others around the city) can look at the plans that the other group has so far and take something from it.


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