For several months, this blog has cynically attempted to rebut the notion that the lack of a planning process envisioned by the New York Times and other commentators is not an impediment blocking individual action. Not all planning is at the neighborhood level, but to hear it resonate in the media you would think that residents must participate in the Neighborhood Planning Process (NPP) because the LRA wants it.
The answer, dear readers, is that the NPP is legally nothing but a Kabuki. It was a throw-away paragraph or two intended to placate those inside the Beltway and the Fourth Estate who felt that without professional help, Louisianians would make this happen again.
Behold... the Law and the Plan. Notice that the Feds sent the money to the State with few strings attached. Louisiana and HUD had to negotiate the mechanism, and in its length, it describes a mechanism to compensate uninsured economic home losses in the affected areas, but deep in the bowels has this gem...
"The parish level planning process will result in the development of initial parish recovery plans, which will be used to set funding priorities for the recovery effort. The final plans will include a community baseline, a needs assessment, a recovery strategy including principles, vision, goals, a set of high value recovery projects and a strategic recovery timeline. The final section will describe opportunities for the integration of the local plan with regional and statewide plans. The section will also include an inventory of local resources, government structures and describe the level of technical expertise needed to implement the plan. Emphasis in the planning process is on developing plans that are based on sound land use practices and plans that remain cognizant of the hazards of rebuilding in areas made more risky by new flood guidelines."
Does the LRA have the power to veto any plan? Is there a budget figure to build each priority list around? Is there a morotorium to stop re-development that occurs between now and the end of next year when the plans are put together into the SUPERPLAN? No, No, No.
So, to summarize, Washington wouldn't approve a plan to compensate individual property owners without a language that describes a process for requiring the community to draft a plan for spending the recovery funds. This is an bizarre conceit to say that good local planning this time will prevent another levee breach/flood/economic collapse. It's like having to take defensive driving after an accident that was the other guy's fault just to keep your insurance company happy.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in area code 202, another branch of of the Feds, FEMA, re-certified base flood elevations in New Orleans at basically the prior levels. They did so, because, right there in 202, the ACOE, says it is building sufficient levees [or will have, upon scheduled completion] to prevent the thing that caused this in the first place. Confused, yet?
Don't let a little ambiguity hobble your mind. The agenda in Washington is to ensure that there is some planning along with the billions being spent. But, as befits an administration headed by the World's Most Powerful C Student, the plan, apparently has no quality component. It has no review component. In short, it is a take home final due after graduation. They sent the money to Baton Rouge with some assurances that we'd think about how it would be spent.
It arrived in Baton Rouge and found a flock of Architects/Planners with a slightly different agenda. The LRA is infiltrated with certain proponents of 'new urbanism' who would prefer to design Starbuck friendly shopping centers rather than an economy where the next SBUX could be founded. And, from their point of view, it makes sense. Developments such as Seaside have been extraordinarily profitable based entirely upon the novelty of the urban design. But we are talking about an urban renewal of a place that can't just become a millionaire's playground.
But the NPP is not the only planning that needs to take place. Shame on the architects/consultants for confusing people further. Shame on them for making participation appear to be a mandatory function of the Road Home.
Further, to watch the video... Well, have you ever watched an American tourist overseas try to communicate in a foreign language simply by speaking English ever more loudly and slowly... urban planning is so complicated it can only be shared with the public by specially re-trained kindergarten teachers and former nursing home aerobics instructors.
This is absurd.