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The following article is excerpted from Shell corporation's EPW Magazine
This fall, residents of the Broadmoor neighborhood in New Orleans, one of the areas hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, will reopen the neighborhood’s elementary school as a charter school.
By the end of the year they hope to unveil the neighborhood’s renovated 21st century
library complete with community meeting rooms and a coffee shop.
And, they’re working toward returning 90 percent of the 7,000 residents back to homes by the end of 2008.
All of these goals are the result of a team effort made possible by Shell, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a very determined force of residents. For a neighborhood described as the “bottom of the bowl” in a bowl-shaped city, the thought of revitalizing Broadmoor after Hurricane Katrina seemed futile. The neighborhood of 2,900 homes, developed in the late 1800s on marshland near the center of New Orleans, spent five weeks under 10 feet of water. The City government had slated it to be bulldozed and turned into park land.
But then something beautiful happened. Neighbors started talking to neighbors, some
meeting each other for the first time even though they had lived near each other for years.
They didn’t just want to save their neighborhood; they wanted to make it better than ever.
Meanwhile, 1,300 miles away in Boston, Massachusetts, Doug Ahlers, a New Orleans
native and research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, was thinking of ways that he and his students could make a meaningful contribution to the rebuilding of New Orleans. But where to start? There were so many things that needed to be done.
Back in Houston, Liz Fleming, project manager for Shell’s Coming Home Campaign, was
also looking to grow Shell’s partnership with the Kennedy School, where Executive Vice
President Marvin Odum sits on the Dean’s Council. She met with Ahlers and professors.
It all started to click.
A group of Harvard students wanted to spend their spring break in New Orleans — not to just clear debris, but to create a revitalization plan. “We looked at best practices in reconstruction in post-disaster situations around the world. We found out that it’s not the governments that rebuild; it’s the individuals — home-by-home, business-by-business, block–by-block,” Ahlers says.
“Instead of picking one issue like housing or education, we wanted to work with a group of people over a long period of time, go through all the steps in rebuilding and support that group of people through the process,” he says.
“We wanted to help a neighborhood with all the priority items they wake up to every morning and lay awake at night thinking about.”
Twenty students from the Kennedy School and other Harvard graduate schools signed up to head to Broadmoor and help residents create a revitalization plan. The project fit in well with the Kennedy School’s new study area of how public and private partnerships can impact social issues in developing nations. Fleming thought the project also sounded like the corporate/public partnership that Shell had been looking for and pledged the company’s support to pay for the students’ transportation and housing.
“We wanted to do something to support housing issues and overall neighborhood revitalization in New Orleans. Working with the Kennedy School gave us a chance to impact the city’s urban planning and facilitate community leadership,” says Fleming.
One day Angie Blalock, a displaced EPW employee from New Orleans, was working in a cubicle at Houston’s Woodcreek office and overheard Fleming discussing the project. “I couldn’t believe it. She was talking about Broadmoor. I live in Broadmoor! Or rather I lived in Broadmoor,” recalls Blalock, diversity coordinator, EPW.
She pledged her support on the spot and helped Fleming find apartments for some of the students. Blalock had been living in an apartment herself when the storm hit because her Broadmoor home was being repaired from a 2004 fire. Her home was in the process of being raised to meet the new building requirements of the low-lying area. During Katrina, the home suffered wind damage and when the levees broke, floodwaters reached the ground floor where most of her remodeling supplies were stored. It could have been worse, she says, and she hopes to return to her home by springtime.
Blalock has lived in Broadmoor for almost 40 years. She’s representative of the proud
residents who wouldn’t accept the city’s plan to bulldoze the neighborhood. “The first thing I heard after the storm was that they wanted to make Broadmoor a green space. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it. This is a neighborhood of working people. The Church of the Annunciation allowed us to use their trailers as our headquarters and we set to work,” she says.
When the Harvard spring breakers arrived, they didn’t bring hammers and nails, but
instead came armed with research and a readiness to listen to residents’ concerns. “Our role was to support the residents in the planning process and implementation.
We would not be there to do the work for them,” Ahlers says. “We wanted to help them
develop the Broadmoor plan, not the Harvard plan.” To prepare, the students looked at 64 plans around the country and pulled together best practices to guide their mission.
The students say they immediately felt accepted by the residents as partners. “They did
not treat us like we were outsiders who have opinions about disaster situations. We didn’t come in and say we have all the answers. None of us are urban planners or redevelopment experts. All we had in the toolbox were energized, bright people,” says Rebecca Hummel, one of the spring breakers.
Blalock says the students made quite an impression on her and her neighbors and said
she feels like a surrogate mother to a few who stayed in her apartment complex during spring break. “They helped the neighborhood so much. And they’re so smart!” she says, laughing.
Impressed with the Spring Break crew’s accomplishments, Fleming gave the green light for Shell to sponsor three of five interns to continue the revitalization plan over the summer. Keatra Fuller, originally from Washington, D.C., would focus on repopulation
and housing issues. Isaac Wohl, from West Virginia, would work on education. Hummel, from Los Angeles, would document the process and create the master-plan document. All are masters of Public Policy candidates at the Kennedy School and are scheduled to graduate in June 2007.
Fuller worked to locate residents and find out what was keeping them from returning to
Broadmoor. During her first month, she created a database with close to 2,000 records. Reasons for not returning ranged from not being able to find work to a lack of confidence in the government and school system. Among those who had returned or planned to, the main priorities were housing, revitalization of the elementary school and library, security, youth activities – and of course, how to pay for it all.
Wohl worked with residents on how to revitalize the elementary school and library.
Residents wanted a charter school and a library with a community center to serve as a gathering place for meetings and socials.
Wohl helped residents conduct interviews with five charter management organizations
before deciding on Edison. “It’s amazing what the residents accomplished in such a short amount of time,” says Wohl, who will serve on the school’s first board of governors.
To address security concerns, the residents developed a neighborhood grid of “hot spots” where it would be beneficial to have a police presence. They came up with a plan to offer homeowner incentives to people with skills in police work and first responder capabilities.
“We’re still working out the details, but we’re considering offering buyers the option of no closing costs or some other incentive to encourage them to buy a home and live in
Broadmoor,” says LaToya Cantrell, president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, who, at press time, had just received word that a policewoman was interested in the deal.
To keep the neighborhood youth busy with constructive activities, Fuller worked with
residents to establish a new Boy Scout troop. Residents also started a Police Explorers program and invited the Girl Scouts to start a troop as well. “It was important to get something started among the youth to build their confidence,” says Fuller, whose Broadmoor experience has encouraged her to reconsider her career path. “I hope to land a job in corporate social responsibility, rather than in government. I realize now the ability companies have to implement change in a community.”
Two other interns, Pi-na Wu and Tim Coates, worked on residents’ housing damage concerns and helped find private donors to fund Broadmoor’s restoration.
Hummel kept track of it all — every word of committee and subcommittee meetings, agendas, letters, reports — “all the little pieces of what it takes to create a redevelopment plan,” she says.
The 300-plus-page Redevelopment Plan for Broadmoor, unveiled on July 17, was the culmination of many intense months of community planning meetings. Broadmoor became the first New Orleans-area neighborhood to develop a revitalization plan. The Mayor and City applauded the residents’ efforts and held up the plan as an example for other neighborhoods to follow. To facilitate this process, Hummel created a 65-page publication called The Community Planning Process: A Guide to Planning and Organizing. As the students left Broadmoor in August, the residents were beginning the implementation of all their plans and a Harvard grant writer held workshops on how to apply for grants to fund rebuilding efforts.
In addition to the $100,000 Shell spent for spring-breaker and summer intern expenses, the company has pledged an additional $700,000 to the Kennedy School in support through 2008 to pay for interns and staff at the school, community leadership development and broader sharing of best practices and learnings. The contribution is part of the Clinton Global Initiative that will provide $5 million in corporate services to Broadmoor over the next few years. Other contributors include San Francisco real estate magnate Walter Shorenstein, Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute, who grew up in Broadmoor, the Coca-Cola Co. and Digitas, a digital marketing company that
funded the neighborhood’s “Broadmoor Lives!” marketing materials.
“The effort in Broadmoor exemplifies the kind of collaboration that is possible among
motivated citizens, the private sector, and experts like our faculty and students who are dedicated to public service,” says Kennedy School of Government Dean, David T. Ellwood. “With the support of Shell, the student interns from the Kennedy School were able to combine their expertise with the Broadmoor residents’ determination to produce a viable, well thought-out revitalization plan. Instead of a temporary fix, this creative partnership has created real impact and momentum moving forward for the Broadmoor neighborhood.”
Cantrell adds, “We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. A lot of people in the world have
used their great ideas to recover from disaster. The Harvard students were able to use that and help us make a plan. Now we’re in the implementation phase. I just can’t say enough about how much Shell and the students helped us.”
In a three-part series, Kennedy School students Nick Grudin, Rebecca Hummel and Tim Coates share their first-hand accounts of the impact KSG students are making in the Broadmoor neighborhood in New Orleans.
Part 1: "Bouncing Back from the Bottom Up: KSG Students Volunteer to Help Save New Orleans Neighborhood"
Part 2: "KSG Students Help the Grass Roots Grow"
Part 3: "Dreaming Big in the Big Easy"
In September 2005, the Kennedy School hosted a panel discussion dissecting the Katrina disaster: Katrina: The Aftermath
Photo: Kurt Coste, Top Guns Inc.