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Hurricane Katrina wasn't the problem

By Stephen Smith - posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012

If you were anything like me you would have assumed that it was hurricane Katrina that brought New Orleans to its knees. Turns out that most of the damage was done long before the Hurricane hit in 2003. The city had been depopulating since the 1960s, hydraulic infrastructure leaked as much water as it delivered, the school system was broken and city records were virtually non existent.

It was against this background that Ed Blakely was appointed recovery 'Czar' for the New Orleans recovery effort as he walked into a perfect storm of community, political, racial and economic turmoil.

Ed was the perfect choice having been involved in major recovery efforts in Oakland and New York. Perhaps the biggest difference with this project and other diaster recovery projects, is that these other cities were vital places before disaster struck. New Orleans was a city at deaths door.


Put some text are His task was never going to be easy. Ed's first day started with fiery exchanges at his first press conference with little or no warning or preparation. Upon arrival at City Hall the same day with no one to show him around he simply acquired an office and got down to business. Leaving for home that night with his security guard in tow, he was struck by the lack of southern hospitality. His first night as the head of the recovery saw him alone having rice and beans for dinner.

In his book My Storm, Professor Blakely gets into the nuts and bolts of the recovery efforts post Katrina and takes a no holds barred look at the city, its people and the politics, at all levels involved in the recovery efforts.

As Ed states in his book "The New Orleans recovery was largely about the politics of money and who controlled it: city or state, black or white, rich or poor, downtown or the neighbourhoods. In the recovery, there was money on the table. It could be used to determine who came back to New Orleans, and who didn't. Much of the recovery played out at the contentious vector of money, land housing and race politics".

This engaging storey relates a day-by-day, decision-by-decision account of the massive task Ed Blakely was undertaking. It examines the roles of key players, institutions and community groups all of whom had their own agendas to push and their own plans for how the recovery should proceed. Reconciling these issues and building consensus among these disparate groups and competing interests was a minor miracle.

If you are familiar with bureaucracies you will recognise the personalities and the players. For those in the built environment professions you will wince at the problems and share Ed's frustrations. For the rest of us, you will enjoy the journey.

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This is a review of My Storm by Ed Blakely.

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About the Author

Stephen Smith is an associate director of Deicke Richards. He is a qualified town planner and urban designer with experience in Australia and the UK.

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