Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: December 7th, 2007 by Walter Gallas

I spoke at a very poorly-run public meeting hosted by the state on its plans for a new medical center in downtown New Orleans. We were allowed to make comments and pose questions after the various presentations, but we were told that no questions would be responded to at the meeting! When someone asked if the answers would be posted on a web site, the answer was again no.

Nevertheless the consultants insisted they were there for “public input.” It was a frustrating meeting to say the least, and it only added to the public’s anger and suspicions that this was a done deal. The plans come out of classic 1960’s urban renewal models—clear-cut 37 acres of the National Register Mid-City neighborhood, displace homeowners and businesses and then build a new facility on the land. Any pretense that there would be serious consideration of alternatives was lost, when the consultant from U.S. Risk Management systematically eliminated all but the urban renewal alternative in her presentation.

While the state officials tried to keep the discussion separate from the plans of the Veterans Administration on another 34 acres in Mid-City adjoining the state site, they were unsuccessful. This week it was reported that the Mayor and the VA have signed an agreement whereby the city agrees to assemble the land for the VA hospital and present it to the VA in a “construction-ready state.” FEMA’s Public Assistance Officer was one of the presenters. He was so careful to talk around FEMA’s role in this (or not), that his comments were incomprehensible. And when an audience member asked a question about Section 106, the consultation process for historic properties, no one answered it (in accordance with the ground rules of the meeting!).

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