1 Broadmoor Lives
>>> Sometimes you need to get down to the micro level. That’s what Doug Ahlers realized as he flew back and forth to New Orleans last fall to help with Mayor Ray Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission. “I recognized that there were certain things you could do at the city level, but when it came to rebuilding, all of that was going to take place at the neighborhood level — block by block, business by business, house by house,” says Ahlers, a New Orleans resident and senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. “New Orleans is a neighborhood-oriented city. It’s also multigenerational. It ranks number two in the United States for people living there who were born there. As a result, there’s a strong neighborhood sense of community, but more important, a neighborhood sense of identity.”
Knowing this, Ahlers pulled together a group of 22 Kennedy School students (and a few from the Business School, plus a few staff members) and for a week during spring break, when most students were traditionally vacationing, they helped one Louisiana neighborhood hammer out a plan to rebuild. At the time, each neighborhood was expected to come up with a plan to “prove” they were worthy of being resurrected — something the displaced residents, who are still scattered and are not trained city planners, weren’t happy with.
“Before we went down, the residents were completely on their own,” Ahlers says. “Their total budget to organize was from selling T-shirts and ‘Broadmoor Lives’ signs for $3.”
Prior to the trip, students were matched with committees from the neighborhood’s self-created Broadmoor Improvement Association, based on expertise and experience: housing, economic development, and repopulation, for example. They picked the Broadmoor neighborhood
of about 7,000 residents because it’s a true mix of New Orleans: poor, middle class, black, white, old, and young. “It had the range of problems in proportion to the city’s overall demographics,” Ahlers says. It was also one of the worst hit, and city planners were recommending that it be bulldozed and turned into green space.
“In the original Bring Back New Orleans plan, sections of the city were identified as ‘green dots’ — areas to become park land,” Ahlers says. “All of Broadmoor was under a very big green dot. Broadmoor is at the center of the city’s bowl. It was badly flooded.”
But Ahlers and the students felt strongly that topography shouldn’t be the only factor in determining neighborhood survival. “Broadmoor, for example, has the best flood mitigation system in the city,” Ahlers says. “A new pumping station was built in 1999, so, except when the levees break, it’s one area of the city that stays the driest.”
During spring break, in what Rebecca Hummel MPP 2007 calls the “ultimate grassroots movement,” students lived in the neighborhood with families, either in homes or FEMA trailers. They spent the days doing research and setting up a “block captain” system. At night they sat in on community meetings. A lot of what they did, Ahlers says, was help residents figure out what should go into the rebuilding plan.
Today, back in Cambridge, many students continue to communicate with their committees. Eun Lee MPA 2006 and Frank Aguilo MPP 2007, for example, are helping the Emergency Preparedness Planning Subcommittee finalize its plan, which was just a rough draft when they left in March.
“I felt privileged to help in any way I could,” says Lee. “I am committed to help for the long term. As long as there is a need, my plan is to help [committee chairs] Duffy and Kayla Voigt further refine the community’s emergency preparedness plan.”
Since the trip, the group has also gotten several companies to pitch in. Shell is sponsoring five paid internships this summer for students who want to go back to Broadmoor. Digitas is sponsoring a free informational mailing to displaced residents, and PlanReady is plugging the neighborhood’s information into its disaster prep software to help the community with future emergencies.
To read first-person student accounts of the trip, go to
2 Give or Not?
>>> Here’s a common belief that followed in the wake of the storm: the nation’s response to Katrina fell short because many of the victims were poor minorities. Assistant Professor Erzo Luttmer wanted to find out if the allegation was true. He surveyed people across the country to find out how race affected their willingness to give. Using an Internet-based survey, people were shown a series of photos (with audio) of real victims from two real towns. With $100 to work with, they were asked how much they wanted to give to Habitat for Humanity in that town. They were also asked questions about their perception of the Habitat recipients (race, income, and whether they receive government income assistance, for instance). Although the results so far are based only on a small sample (a larger group was to be studied after the Bulletin went to press), Luttmer says, “I’m pleasantly surprised that we seem to be finding little evidence of racial bias. This was not what I was expecting. The results so far seem to suggest that people give about the same amount — roughly $60 out of the $100 — whether or not the victims shown in the pictures are African American or white.”
3 Alum Networks
>>> The day that Katrina hit, Eric Schnurer MPP 1983 sent an
e-mail to Andy Kopplin MPP 1992, chief of staff to Louisiana’s governor Kathleen Blanco, to offer the help of his consulting firm, PublicWorks. “I figured I wouldn’t hear from him for months. I knew how much events like this completely change the landscape for you when you’re in government,” Schnurer says. Exactly a week later, however, he got an e-mail from Kopplin saying he needed policy help — immediately. “Of course, I called right away,” Schnurer says. “Andy wanted fresh thinking on what, from the state’s perspective, should be in the federal relief legislation that was apparently going to move through Congress any day. Andy wanted someone whom he thought could think about the interests of displaced Louisianans and what should be in the federal relief legislation to help them,” Schnurer says. “He more or less gave me 24 hours.” The timeframe wasn’t the toughest part of the pro bono assignment, however. “The biggest challenge was the awesome sense of responsibility you have in such settings,” Schnurer says. “We felt we had a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in a huge number of people’s lives, but that also meant we had a huge duty.” PublicWorks, which includes Rick Minor MPA 2001, Mark Griffin MPP 1991, and David Osborne, a former Kennedy School researcher, is now in the process of starting a nonprofit wing that will continue to work on issues in New Orleans.
4 Journal Approach
>>> When the staff of the Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy first met to decide on the topic for this spring’s annual issue, it was clear that it had to be Katrina. “It hits on so many levels of things that affect African Americans: poverty, economic development, environmental issues, and healthcare, for example,” says the journal’s editor, Bria Gillum MPP 2006. Rebuilding, although challenging for everyone affected by the storm, is particularly daunting for African American families, she says. “Because of where the hurricane hit, it predominantly affected African Americans and the poor.” One feature in the issue, a speech given by former New Orlean’s Mayor Marc Morial, outlines a 10-point plan for what government can do to rebuild. Other pieces look at the projected decrease in New Orlean’s African American population as well as voting issues raised when residents are displaced. The issue also includes a review of The Geography of Opportunity: Race and Housing Choice in Metropolitan America
by Xavier Briggs MPA2 1993 and an excerpt on race from Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson. For more information on this volume, go to www.ksg.harvard.edu/HJAAP/.
5 Casing History
>>> They both deal with the same catastrophe, but the two new case studies that Case Program editor Esther Scott recently wrote about Katrina are very different. One looks at how government prepared for the storm beforehand. The other deals with government’s response after the storm hit, when “all of their plans went out the door,” Scott says. “These cases illustrate the two kinds of disasters that Professor Dutch Leonard and Taubman Center Executive Director Arn Howitt talk about: the routine and the ultra.” Howitt, who will use the cases in an executive education course he coteaches with Leonard called “Crisis Management,” says the cases raise critical issues. “Looking carefully at the period before Hurricane Katrina, we have an opportunity to probe the shortcomings of planning and preparedness for major catastrophes — asking why the local, state, and federal governments were unready in terms of systems, resources, training, and mutual support — and to consider how those limitations might be overcome in the future,” he says. “Looking at the period after the storm hit and the levees ruptured lets us look at operational issues of response, particularly the problems of interagency, interjurisdictional, and intergovernmental coordination that proved so difficult.” The cases can be found online at www.ksgcase.harvard.edu/.