New Orleanians -- those still living in the city as well as those displaced by last year's hurricanes -- will gather Saturday, Dec. 2 at locations across the country to help set priorities for their city's rebuilding.
Community Congress II will use interactive TV to link participants in New Orleans with those in four other cities with high concentrations of evacuees: Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Dallas and Houston. New Orleans residents living outside those cities will also be able to call into the meeting at participating libraries in more than 15 other cities nationwide.
An estimated 267,000 New Orleans evacuees have not yet returned home, according to a recent RAND Corp. study commissioned by the Louisiana Recovery Authority. That represents 60 percent of the city's pre-Katrina population.
Saturday's gathering is being organized by the Unified New Orleans Plan, which was created by the city in the wake of the disaster to include all neighborhoods in the planning for large-scale infrastructure needs. It is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.
"There is a tremendous need for additional funding to help New Orleans rebuild its parks, streets, schools, sewage and water systems," Vera Triplett, chair of the Community Support Organization board that oversees the UNOP process, said in a press release announcing the event. "This Community Congress is an important opportunity for our citizens dispersed all over the country to come together to discuss and decide the most important investments for a smarter, stronger and safer New Orleans."
The first Community Congress, held on Oct. 28, was criticized for low citizen participation and for under-representation of some segments of the community, according to Brian Denzer of the Community Gumbo show on New Orleans radio station WTUL. Denzer mentioned those problems in a post about the upcoming Congress at NOLA Indymedia:
The latest process underway to plan the rebuilding of New Orleans neighborhoods will be tested again on December 2nd. Residents and observers will be watching to see if the demographic composition of participants at the second citywide Community Congress more closely reflects the actual pre-Katrina population of New Orleans. Some groups of residents were grossly under-represented at the first Community Congress on October 28th, a fact which could be used to label the process illegitimate in the future if New Orleanians decide they don't agree with the final plans. A majority of the participants voted to finance rebuilding projects in dry neighborhoods before projects in more flooded neighborhoods. Not only was attendance at the first Congress extremely low -- approximately 200 participants -- but the demographic makeup of the group was more than three-quarters white, compared to a pre-Katrina population which was 67% black. In order to raise the level of participation at the second Community Congress, planning organizers will offer a live simulcast of the New Orleans planning presentations to displaced residents in Baton Rouge, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas. Organizers are also promising to provide child care, meals and transportation.
Community Congress II is being facilitated by AmericaSpeaks, a nonprofit that has organized dozens of large town meetings, including a 5,000-person gathering in New York City to collect citizen input on redeveloping the World Trade Center site after 9/11. The congress will include facilitated small-group discussions, and participants will be able to cast votes using a polling keypad. Each small group will submit their ideas through laptop computers linked on a wireless network so organizers can report back on themes emerging from the entire group. Participants will see votes from all sites simultaneously.
The unified plan is scheduled to be completed by January and will be submitted to the mayor, city council and the city planning commission. Once approved by city officials, the plan will be provided to the Louisiana Recovery Authority.
For more information on UNOP and to register for the Dec. 2 event, click here or call toll-free 866-940-1095. Participants are asked to read the Road to Recovery report before the meeting.