May 8, 2008

CRP initiative: Helping New Orleans

City and regional planning (CRP) students presenting their work from New Orleans' 9th Ward May 9 in Sibley Hall are continuing their department's New Orleans Planning Initiative, launched days after Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of the city in August 2005.

The disaster-recovery and advocacy planning effort on behalf of the city's residents received $100,000 in initial funding from the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP). The initiative has involved CRP faculty and hundreds of Cornell undergraduates and graduate students in fieldwork -- including research, design and neighborhood surveys -- and in preparing comprehensive plans for rebuilding the city, particularly the poor and working-class neighborhoods of the 9th Ward.

Working with ACORN, a national grassroots organization, since the early days of the initiative, CRP has organized nine field-based courses focused on the 9th Ward since 2005 and has helped fund nearly 20 full-time summer interns. Students, CRP and AAP have also helped fund numerous volunteer work weekends to gut and rehabilitate houses.

A fall 2006 CRP class, led by former department chair Ken Reardon, Ph.D. '90, gathered additional data for and prepared (with the assistance of CRP faculty) the 237-page "People's Plan for Overcoming the Hurricane Katrina Blues" -- a collaborative project with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Columbia University that was presented to residents in January 2007.

Reardon said the plan's physical conditions data and "outstanding organizing by ACORN" encouraged city officials to invest $145 million of federal Community Development Block Grant funds in the Lower 9th Ward.

"The physical conditions survey made possible the economics of what you could rebuild," said professor John Forester, whose upcoming book on equity planning highlights Reardon's work. "Under the conditions that this city was facing, what Ken was able to do and what Cornell was able to do was a project of historic proportions."

In October, 40 CRP students helped prepare comprehensive recovery plans at a conference in Cleveland featuring a keynote address by professor Norm Krumholtz. Later that month, more than 65 students did field research in New Orleans' 7th and 8th districts.

Reardon gave a talk May 5 at the Cornell Club in Manhattan: "The Thrills, Spills and Chills of Recovery Planning in the Big Easy: Lessons From Cornell's New Orleans Planning Initiative."