Here we go again, I thought, as I sat down at the MCNO meeting last night. Once again New Orleanians are being asked to engage the planning process.
But, in fairness, this time is different. This is for the New Orleans Master Plan, which will have the force of law. And another thing that’s different: Many of us have been through the wringer already. We’re tired, but we’re also wiser and savvier to how these things work. We have a clearer idea of what we want.
So it’s not really 2006 all over again. Back then we were all so shell-shocked. We were scared and bewildered. How did find the strength to carry on through all the devastation? For some of us the planning process was like a lifeline, a dream to believe, a dream of a better future. We threw ourselves into that process heart and soul and spent thousands of hours on it.
It kept us going. And now we know what we want out of the planning process. And this time, it’s for keeps.
Last night’s meeting was to focus on the new Master Plan first draft which has been released by Goody Clancy for public review and comment. Even though this was not the official District 4 meeting, a representative from Goody Clancy was there, and also someone from the City Planning Commission.
We had a quick review of Mid-City’s previous planning efforts, and it did my heart good to hear language from that first draft we formulated three years ago, language which made its way into the final draft of the Lambert Plan. “The recovery of Mid-City should be just, humane and democratically controlled by the people of Mid-City.” When that line was cited, a guy in a priest collar sitting next to me snorted, “What does that mean?” I wasn’t sure if he was simply being rhetorical or not, so I asked him: “Would you like me to explain it to you?” He said he would, so I simply said, “It means the process should be controlled by us and not some distant politician.” He said that sounded reasonable.
Things got off to a rocky start, when not one but two folks from Liuzza’s attacked MCNO president Jennifer Weisshaupt about the Victory development. I was frankly disgusted by their blatantly hostile approach. They seemed to be ignorant of the facts, but out for blood nonetheless, and of course they weren’t even speaking to the topic at hand. I have enjoyed frequenting Liuzza’s in the past, but it will probably be a long time before I can muster up any enthusiasm for eating there again.
After that the meeting proceeded in a slightly more sane fashion. The primary focus of attention was the proposed land use map, which shows the bulk of Mid-City as “low-density multi-family,” designated by a brown color. Many people in the audience seemed to feel “one and two family residential,” shown on the map in orange, was a more appropriate designation. There was plenty of confusion. Planners seem to speak their own special language that most of us don’t quite understand. Some people seemed to think the plan called for rebuilding the housing projects in Mid-City. Other folks spoke in defense of increased density. There was plenty of talk about brown and orange. Sparks flew occasionally. But for the most part I got the sense that the planners were listening to the people and will revise accordingly. Of course we’ll just have to see what they come back with in the next draft. It’s clear to me that people in Mid-City, at least, are engaged in the process, paying attention and trying to understand, and that’s key.
Naturally, one of my main concerns is the Lafitte Corridor. The draft maps do not indicate the correct full length of the planned greenway. Happily, the planners were already aware of this deficiency, and said so. Maybe they read my e-mail.
I left after an hour and a half. Apparently the meeting went on for another 90 minutes after that.
The official District 4 review meeting is April 22nd, 6:00PM, at Jesuit.