"If You Did Not Grow Up Here, You Cannot Appreciate Living Here": Neoliberalism, Space-Time, and Affect in Post-Katrina Recovery Planning

By Barrios, Roberto E. | Human Organization, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

"If You Did Not Grow Up Here, You Cannot Appreciate Living Here": Neoliberalism, Space-Time, and Affect in Post-Katrina Recovery Planning


Barrios, Roberto E., Human Organization


In post-Katrina New Orleans, local government officials have represented neighborhood recovery planning as a mechanism of shared governance, where all residents can participate as collective authors of the city's reconstruction directive. In these representations, expert planners were described as professional facilitators who served the primary role of documenting and giving a common format to resident ideas about urban recovery. Contrary to these official representations, this article shows how neighborhood recovery planning for the city's centrally located 4th planning district was characterized by significant tensions between professional planners' visions of urban development and resident notions of neighborhood and community. The article makes the case that the anthropological literature on the social production of space, time, and affect provides us with a resourceful vantage point for understanding what is at stake in the different ways New Orleanians and professional planners envisioned urban recovery and offers analytical resources for negotiating these differences.

Key words: disaster reconstruction, urban planning, neoliberalism, New Orleans

Introduction

On December 16, 2006, residents of New Orleans' central area gathered at a high school on Esplanade Avenue, one of the city's historic thoroughfares, to view the presentation of the nearly final plan for the recovery of their neighborhoods after Hurricane Katrina. The presentation was part of a participatory planning process whose anticipated outcome was the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP). This planning process was organized through a collaboration of state agencies, local development nonprofits, and national philanthropic organizations in response to the shortcomings of two preceding recovery plans: Bring New Orleans Back, commissioned by Mayor C. Ray Nagin's office and executed by the Urban Land Institute, and the New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilding Plan (informally known as the Lambert plan), commissioned by the City Council and executed by architects Paul Lambert and Sheila Danzey (Figure 1) (Krupa 2007; Times Picayune 2006). Both preceding plans had faced criticism from city residents for lacking broad public participation and ignoring New Orleanians' meaningful attachments to storm-devastated areas (Davis 2006; Krupa 2006; Times Picayune 2006). Local government officials and UNOP organizers, in contrast, heralded this most recent plan as state of the art in participatory planning.

The UNOP process was comprised of several town hall meetings and community charrettes meant to elicit residents' visions of the city's reconstruction directive. At the December 16 meeting mentioned above, architects from the St. Louisbased architecture fimi HOK presented the plan to an audience of nearly 60 residents (Krupa 2007). The presentation focused on one image, which showed New Orleans from an aerial perspective superimposed by intersecting translucent arrows (Figure 2). The arrows linked landmarks, like Armstrong and City Parks, to the city's tourism center, the French Quarter. One of HOK's architects presented the image by saying:

What is the potential for Louis Armstrong Park? Historically, it is very significant. Louis Armstrong is one of the most important elements of New Orleans. Armstrong must be connected to the River and to City Park. We need to consider its relationship to Jackson Square and to Iberville.... Treme needs to be integrated into two corridors, one with the French Quarter and Lafitte, and one with Iberville, (fieldnotes 2006)

The plan proposed that the recovery of the city's central neighborhoods was best achieved through the creation of spatial relationships between architectural structures that facilitate the circulation of people and capital across New Orleans. The plan, however, evoked heartfelt critiques on the part of residents who claimed that, as presented, it ignored what they considered to be the most important issue.

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