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NEW ORLEANS—The neighborhood of Broadmoor—a community flooded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—is redefining what it means to take matters into your own hands. In the midst of the complicated politics and bureaucracies that have left New Orleans’ citywide rebuilding process mired in uncertainty and financial disarray, this community is forging ahead with determination and action.
Last week an 18-strong team of students and staff from the Kennedy School of Government and other Harvard graduate schools joined forces with the citizens of Broadmoor to put together a redevelopment plan, becoming part of what could be called the ultimate grass roots movement. The Harvard volunteer efforts began in March with a group of Harvard Business School and Kennedy School students and will continue through May, when each New Orleans neighborhood will be required to submit a viability plan to the city.
A group of neighborhood leaders headed by LaToya Cantrell, the president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, has developed a forward-looking strategy to rebuild the community. They have actively solicited residents’ input and involvement, holding weekly meetings to discuss key elements of the plan. Because of the extensive dialogue and inclusive community work, when the Harvard volunteers arrived a well-developed vision for rebuilding already existed.
On March 26, students joined residents at a community-wide planning meeting to discuss important elements of the draft plan outline. They listened intently as residents expressed their opinions and concerns. During the week, the Harvard team collaborated with committees and subcommittees comprised of community residents who devote hours every week to meet and push forward with the plan. Tackling issues such as urban planning, flood mitigation, education and population data, these groups are creating a plan to bring their community back, and to improve in areas that were in need of help before the storm.
A critical component of the redevelopment process is the repopulation of the neighborhood. A majority of the 7,000 Broadmoor residents has yet to return home, and little is known of their status. Through an ambitious, action-oriented “Block Captains” initiative, Broadmoorians are seeking information about fellow neighbors, and working to bring them home. On April 1, Kennedy School students who had been working closely with the Repopulation Committee throughout the week helped conduct a Block Captains Training session that focused on reaching out to areas of the community that were hardest hit and have the fewest number of returned residents.
Our group of volunteers was given a glimpse of a situation in New Orleans that is both sad and hopeful. Behind the rubble, the fallen trees, the sagging porches, and the boarded up storefronts, there is an inspiring story of rebirth in New Orleans. Broadmoor’s community epitomizes that story.