Private dollars leading recovery of New Orleans
With government money for New Orleans trickling through the pipeline, private foundations, wealthy individuals, and philanthropies are playing a larger role than expected.
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Meanwhile, some have taken action, drawing on private money:Skip to next paragraph
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• Thousands of Vietnamese immigrants have resettled in New Orleans East, building everything from an urban farm to a community senior center with privately raised funds.
• Actor Brad Pitt, who recently moved to the upper-class Vieux Carre neighborhood with his partner, actress Angelina Jolie, and their children, is using his celebrity status to help Global Green, a progressive nonprofit raise money.
• This month the organization opened an energy-efficient school in the 7th Ward, one of five that will eventually be funded with donations from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.
• The Baton Rouge Area Foundation raised $12 million, which was primarily used to hire professional planners to help all New Orleans neighborhoods plan for inclusion into the unified plan. Orleans parish was considered first for federal funding by Louisiana recovery officials partly because of the foundation's work.
"A lot of us were naive in the early days that it was going to be easy somehow, and that we could put this thing together fairly quickly," says John Spain, executive vice president of the foundation. "The plan took longer than people thought it should, but ... now that there's a blueprint, you're seeing a lot of philanthropic dollars."
In a city known for its strong top-down government, the ability of citizens in New Orleans to influence the recovery plan is a sign of success, some say. "[Reconstruction] has to be a collective force, and that's the beauty and challenge at the same time," says Professor Michel-Kerjan.
Still, big-ticket public works, including rebuilding the water and sewer system, will require tough decisions about which neighborhoods will receive services. It means that city officials will retain much of the final say on the look and feel of the "new" New Orleans.
The Gulf Recovery Act of 2007, which was introduced in Congress last week, also aims to bolster such rebuilding efforts, in part to provide affordable housing for the thousands of residents still living in trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. With rents increasing, "us poor people are in danger of losing our city," says resident Kedrick Gibson.
While federal aid is coming in slowly, "we have known all along that [public] funding is inadequate to affect the entire recovery," says Pat Forbes, an infrastructure manager at the state's Division of Administration.
Even so, experts already note a direct correlation between private investment and the racial and economic characteristics of a neighborhood, as the lion's share of money flows to white and middle-class enclaves.
Indeed, a neighborhood's ability to organize and obtain funding affects its rate of resettlement, says Bill Morrish, an architecture professor at the University of Virginia, who has studied New Orleans' sluggish revival.
Broadmoor, meanwhile, stands out as an example of what can be done to rebuild a community using private money. "If there is a threshold of incredibly sincere work, which Broadmoor has done, can others reach it, too?" Mr. Morrish says.
Broadmoor realtor Kelli Wright says the neighborhood has become more tightly knit as residents fought first for survival and then for rebirth. Now even newcomers to the city are sniffing the local housing market, she says.
Most residents here agree that the Carnegie's $2 million rehabbing of the gutted Keller library – to be opened this fall – marks a tipping point for Broadmoor, and perhaps the entire city.
"You might say it's just a lending library," says resident Lee Isaacson. "But it's much more than that. It tells people that their neighborhood is back."