To the extent that I can, I really want to be involved in the planning process for the recover of New Orleans. I went to two of the New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilding Plan neighborhood meetings and left feeling very hopeful, like we had a good process in place to get our voices heard. I liked the urban planners we were assigned and was very impressed with their work so far to aggregate what they were hearing from neighborhoods. They also had a lot of good ideas of their own. I was heartened that this was the official process sanctioned by the City Council (and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation).
To, at the urging of Maitri (who has a great blog), Juli and I went to the first meeting of the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) today in City Park at the Pavilion of the Two Sisters.
First, they started at 12:00 instead of 1:00, which means we were an hour late. When did the time change? It must have been in the last few days. Not that there was a lot of advertising about this important meeting.
As this was supposedly the first of city-wide planning meeting, I was expecting something, oh, I don't know...unified? But no. After we registered (and got no packets, since they had run out), we entered the pavilion only to find a loud room broken into stalls, one for each of the city's planning district. We found our stall, but there were more than twice the people than seating, so we stood back a ways. As in each of the other cramped stalls (which were basically areas of the large, echoey room, divided only by freestanding partitions), a person was conducting some kind of meeting with the people crammed into the stall. But due to the cacophony of all these thirteen meetings happening in close proximity at the same time in one large room, it was impossible for any but those closest to the meeting leader to hear. Without printed packets to peruse or the ability to hear what was happening, Juli and I quickly got frustrated.
We saw a guy we'd met at the NRP meeting we'd gone to for our neighborhood. I asked him how this meeting was going to work with the NRP process and he said the NRP process was basically dead. This was the new process, he told us. He said that if the NRP planner came back with a plan the neighbors liked, then they could adopt it. Otherwise, we were getting a new chance to get a new planner. What??? I heard Shelley Midura, our City Council member, say at a meeting that there may be lots of other processes, but the only official one was the NRP one. So now the GNO Foundation is funding this UNOP process and it supersedes the official process? Help me, someone, please, my brain is melting.
The meeting today was a big joke. If they don't really want citizen involvement, then mission accomplished. If this so-called "city-wide" meeting was really just a jumbled up all-in-one-room meeting of meetings, then why do it like this? At the NRP meetings, it was one meeting in one room, so people didn't have to shout just to hear themselves think. Why couldn't each planning district have met in its own room--in its own district, for that matter. Was it really so important to give the false impression of a city-wide meeting, just to frustrate the participants?
It didn't take long for our frustration to convert into locomotive energy. First Juli, then I, decided to bail. On our way out, we ran into Maitri and Alan (who set up the highly useful New Orleans Wiki). Maitri encouraged us to stay, arguing that so much of our neighborhood's future was going to rely on the decision of so few (each of the participants today will be allowed to vote on their planning district's planner). On the one hand, I felt bad leaving, since I really, really want to participate. But I felt like the way the room was set up and the lack of materials for us to peruse was making it just too difficult to get anything out of it (much less put anything into it).
As of this writing, the next UNOP meeting is scheduled for 4:00pm on Tuesday, August 1. From 4:00 to 6:00, the planners will have their tables set up and be answering questions. From 6:00pm to 9:00pm, each planning team will give a presentation to try to win the hearts and minds of a very small pool of voters. After this meeting (and before some time on August 7), those of us who have been to either today's meeting or this Tuesday's meeting will get a chance to vote on-line for our planning district's planner (what about folks who don't have internet access?). But please check back with the UNOP web site</a>, since things dates and times for UNOP events seem highly susceptible to the temporal fluidity caused by black-hole planning.
Like Maitri, I'm still confused about how all these different organizations and processes fit together. I too will offer to make a yummy (vegan) treat for whomever can explain this perfectly Erisian plan to me.
If I hadn't had such a productive weekend otherwise, I'd be even more irritated by all this than I already am.