After Hurricane Katrina, officials considered turning the New Orleans neighborhoods of Broadmoor and the Lower Ninth Ward into parkland, stamping them with green dots on a planning map of the city. Nearly a decade later, the districts are dotted with green development instead.

WRITTEN BY Calvin Hennick

Water rushed into the Lower Ninth Ward. The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal—better known as the Industrial Canal—separates the neighborhood from the rest of the city, and when the levee protecting the Lower Ninth gave way to Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge, the water came as a tidal wave, a 25-foot wall that tore some homes off their foundations.


“If you were under three years old, or over seventy, you died, generally,” says John C. Williams, an architect who serves as the master planner for the neighborhood, and who speaks passionately and at length about it before he’s even been asked a question. “Anywhere in between, if you got up in your attic, and you couldn’t hatchet your way out—if you weren’t strong enough—you died in your attic. That’s how all of them died. And there were hundreds.”


“Everybody had a cousin, a grandmother, a baby sister that died,” Williams continues. “It devastated this neighborhood, and they’re still recovering.”


In Broadmoor, the water came more slowly, but it didn’t stop until it had flooded every home in the neighborhood. The triangular, centrally located neighborhood—10 minutes from practically everywhere—sits in a bowl several feet below sea level, and it was marshland until improved pumping and drainage allowed the area to be settled around a hundred years ago.


Although the homes in Broadmoor weren’t leveled, they were uninhabitable—with ruined electrical systems and infestations of black mold. Adolph “Duffy” Voigt, now a board member of the Broadmoor Development Corporation, bought a house in the neighborhood with his then-fiancée just two weeks before Katrina hit. Four weeks after the storm, when he finally made it back into New Orleans, he saw the high-water mark four feet up on his house—seven feet above street level. Since he’d only recently moved in, his possessions were mostly piled in boxes, and he hoped that the ones on top would be spared from damage. But the water had turned the boxes on the bottom into mush, and when they collapsed, everything on top was sucked down into the water, too.


“It was very surreal,” coming home for the first time, Voigt says, “because everything was brown and dead. There was no sound, no birds. The smell from chemicals and dead vegetation was atrocious.”

Even before Katrina, Broadmoor and the Lower Ninth Ward—two of more than 70 distinct neighborhoods in the city—were different from one another in a number of fundamental ways. For instance, Broadmoor is so completely surrounded by other neighborhoods that many New Orleans residents would struggle to identify its boundaries, while the Lower Ninth Ward is geographically isolated, sandwiched in between the Industrial Canal on one side and the border of St. Bernard Parish on the other.


Demographically, Broadmoor was a near-perfect mirror of New Orleans as a whole: 68 percent black, 26 percent white, 4 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent multiracial, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The Lower Ninth, by contrast, was more than 98 percent black. Broadmoor was the wealthier of the two neighborhoods, with an average household income of $50,000 (in 2012 dollars), compared to $38,000 in the Lower Ninth Ward; but homeownership was actually higher in the Lower Ninth, where many families had passed homes down from generation to generation. In 2000, 59 percent of homes in the Lower Ninth Ward were owner occupied, and more than half of those were owned free and clear—with no mortgage on the property.


These differences were relevant during the storm (when, for example, some residents in the Lower Ninth stayed in their homes because they lacked the resources to evacuate). And they surely played a role in the two neighborhoods’ very different paths forward in the years after Katrina.


But on January 11, 2006, just weeks after the floodwaters had receded, residents of Broadmoor and the Lower Ninth found themselves bound by predicament. The Bring New Orleans Back Commission released its final report, which designated the two neighborhoods, and a handful of others, as “areas for future parkland.” The Times-Picayune published a map illustrating the plan on its front page, and both Broadmoor and the Lower Ninth Ward were covered with large green dots.


The plan was quickly scuttled due to uproar from residents, and today there’s some controversy over whether officials really meant to turn entire areas of the city into parks, or if they were simply suggesting that green space could help fill the void of blight in areas that they assumed would be difficult to repopulate. But at a time when some across the country were questioning whether New Orleans could be rebuilt at all, residents of the “green dot” neighborhoods understandably feared the worst. Many still hadn’t returned to the city, and now those displaced residents questioned whether they would even have a neighborhood to come back to.


Even after the green dot plan was ditched, city officials told residents that they would have to prove that their neighborhoods were “viable” to receive city services—a proclamation that did nothing to boost the confidence of residents in Broadmoor and the Lower Ninth that the city would support their redevelopment efforts. The question still seemed to be not when the areas would be rebuilt, but whether they would be rebuilt at all.


And, in the minds of many, it was every neighborhood for itself.

“You’re going to start seeing a lot more empty lots,” says Laura Paul, executive director of the rebuilding nonprofit organization Her gray Chevy pickup truck has just crossed over St. Claude Avenue, the boundary between the Holy Cross neighborhood and the Lower Ninth Ward, and the pink fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror bob up and down with the streets’ ubiquitous potholes.


The area encompassing both Holy Cross and the Lower Ninth Ward is also called—unhelpfully—the Lower Ninth Ward—but when people say “the Lower Ninth” without clarifying further, “they’re usually talking just about the area north of St. Claude,” says Paul, a Canadian who came to New Orleans to volunteer for a week in 2006 and then never left, and occasionally points out one of the more than 70 homes her organization has helped rebuild.


But more common are the vacant parcels, wild with overgrowth. Paul estimates that these account for 60 percent of the land in the part of the Lower Ninth closest to the Industrial Canal levee breach. Of the homes still standing, she says, maybe two-thirds are uninhabitable. Some are mere skeletons, picked clean first by scrappers. Others are boarded up, their exterior walls still decorated with “Katrina crosses”—the spray-painted X’s that rescue workers used to communicate the results of their searches.


MakeItRight houses_Photo_Kevin Scott - MIR_08

“The neighborhood is absolutely taking a long time to recover,” Paul says, a fact that she attributes to a number of causes, including mixed messages from the city. “It’s almost worse, what they did, than relocating everybody and paying their expenses. What they did is, they said, ‘You’re not going to be able to rebuild there, so don’t bother trying.’ And then they came back and said, ‘Never mind, you go ahead.’”


Paul also points to the Louisiana Road Home program, which a federal judge found discriminated against black homeowners because it awarded rebuilding grants based on the pre-storm value of homes, rather than on the cost of reconstruction.


Whatever the causes, it’s inarguable that the Lower Ninth Ward has failed to draw residents back at the same rate as many of the city’s other neighborhoods, even with the help of several dozen outside groups like Paul’s. The neighborhood’s population hovered under 3,000 residents at the time of the 2010 Census, down from 14,000 ten years earlier. The total number of housing units fell from 5,600 to 2,000 during the same period, and the vacancy rate ballooned from 14 percent to 48 percent.


The neighborhood also still lacks some basics like grocery stores and access to emergency medical services, although a fire station, community center, and new school are under construction, and Williams (the master planner) says he is working to bring in a grocery store.


Child with Bubble

On 16 square blocks adjacent to the spot of the levee breech, though, sits an island of vibrant density. Dozens of little homes are huddled together here, and their colorful exteriors, manicured lawns, and surprising roof angles bring to mind the surreal suburbia of Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (except that almost all of these houses have solar panels). The homes would be striking anywhere, but it’s particularly jarring to find a cluster of them here, in a part of the city where it can be a challenge to find two occupied houses in a row.


This is the work of Make It Right, a nonprofit founded in 2007 by Hollywood A-lister Brad Pitt. The group, working with a team of world-renowned architects, started off with a goal of building 150 affordable Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certified homes, and limited construction to these blocks in order to create a neighborhood feel. Around 100 of the homes are already built and occupied, and the group has since expanded its work to several other areas across the country.


Wearing a white hardhat with a sticker that says “Defend New Orleans,” Cesar Rodriguez—procurement and construction services manager for Make It Right— leads a tour of a four-bedroom house that’s currently under construction. He points out how there are no chemical smells present, because of the environmentally friendly construction materials being used.



Moving a few steps down the street Rodriguez shows off a finished two-bedroom home, explaining some of its green features, including fully recyclable carpet, insulated windows that keep out heat, countertops made of 75 percent recycled material, and efficient appliances. Even the odd roof angles are designed to capture as much solar energy as possible. “A Make It Right home puts money back on the table,” Rodriguez says. “The house is no longer a financial burden. We have homeowners that literally only have an electric bill for the connection fee.”


In addition to making homes that are healthier, affordable, and sustainable, officials for Make It Right hoped that their efforts would act as a catalyst to bring other people back into the neighborhood. But it seems that the organization hasn’t spurred much development beyond its own project area borders.


Still, executive director Tom Darden notes that other developers have built 50 homes on the blocks where Make It Right operates. “We’ve created almost a mini market,” Darden says. “We’re competing with other developers for vacant lots. I think that’s a good sign.” He acknowledges that the speed of the Lower Ninth’s recovery is less than ideal, and calls Make It Right’s work a “drop in the bucket” in terms of repopulating the neighborhood. But even that, he says, represents significant progress. “Even if nothing else happens, or even if the rest of the recovery lags, if we build 150 homes in a relatively dense area, it will start to feel like a neighborhood again. There’s a million subdivisions all over the U.S. that are relatively isolated, and they still function as a neighborhood.”


Darden speculates that the Lower Ninth could simply become a place with a more rural feel. Certainly, some blocks look more like ones you’d find in a humble small town than in a blighted urban area. But Tanya Harris, Make It Right’s community outreach coordinator and a lifelong resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, thinks the neighborhood’s rural stage is likely just a temporary step in the redevelopment cycle. “When my grandparents got here in 1946, it was quiet and sparse,” she notes. “That growth and development happened over time.”


“It’s too slow for anybody,” Harris says of the Lower Ninth’s recovery. “But we’ve seen the neighborhood coming back to life, slowly. That is something that is a tremendous success in a lot of people’s eyes. If you came here in 2005, and you saw what we saw, you would look around and say, ‘oh my God.’ A lot of people thought that it would never make it past even being green space.”


To outsiders, it seems unimaginable that some residents have been working for nine years without success to return to the neighborhood. But just a couple of blocks from the Make It Right houses, Errol Joseph stands in the bones of what used to be his home. In a raspy, high-pitched voice that doesn’t seem to match his large build, he rattles off a story that’s hard to follow in its complexity, full of delayed insurance payments, false starts, and various bureaucratic runarounds.


What’s not complicated is Joseph’s depth of feeling for this house. It used to belong to his grandparents, and Joseph—now 63—helped his father build an addition when he was eight years old. “This is home,” he says, going on to repeat the phrase over and over like a mantra. “I’m happy when I come here. I used to come here and sit on the porch and just be by myself. This is home. I have another house [in another part of New Orleans], but I’m not happy. This is home.”


Joseph surveys his surroundings: the bare wooden beams that volunteers from helped to erect; the unopened sheetrock and bags of insulation piled up in what will one day be a garage; the functioning toilet with only a tarp flap to provide privacy. “This,” he says, “is where I want to be.”

Broadmoor residents didn’t run from the green dot. They rallied around it, taking the symbol of their potential destruction and remaking it as a logo of sorts for their recovery campaign. “We used it against them,” says LaToya Cantrell, who was president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association when Katrina hit, and now sits on the New Orleans City Council. In the days after they learned of the green dot plan, residents organized a 300-person rally protesting the recommendation, and soon green banners and signs proclaiming “Broadmoor Lives” proliferated in the neighborhood. The ensuing years would be marked by an unprecedented level of activism in Broadmoor, and, in 2008, residents celebrated the neighborhood’s progress by cutting a cake in the shape of a green dot.



“It was thumbing our nose at the recommendation,” Cantrell says, “but also showing that neighborhood leaders and the community residents are the world’s greatest experts on their neighborhood, and we were capable of not only planning for ourselves, but also garnering the resources needed to rebuild ourselves. It became not focusing on them, but focusing on us. The green dot became a symbol for community unity. It means something positive to us, instead of something negative.”


The Broadmoor Improvement Association set up a number of subcommittees to tackle specific issues, but the two most important were the redevelopment and repopulation committees. Leaders became obsessed with getting at least 51 percent of the neighborhood’s residents back in town, to be able to show city officials that the area was, indeed, “viable,” and they aggressively lobbied displaced residents to return to their homes, warning that a wait-and-see approach could lead to the death of Broadmoor. They kept a large map of the neighborhood and colored in parcels orange when they learned that a family planned to return.


Instead of asking the city to incorporate Broadmoor into its planning, neighborhood leaders set out to create their own plan, partnering with faculty and students from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Neighborhood leaders viewed it as key, though, that residents—and not outside groups—lead the recovery effort. To break up the work, and to invest residents from across Broadmoor, leaders divided the already small neighborhood into three subsections. Each had different socioeconomic demographics, which ensured that people of all races and income levels would have a say in the process.


Central to the neighborhood’s 320-page redevelopment plan was the creation of an “education corridor,” with a rebuilt community library and elementary school. In addition to the “Broadmoor Lives” slogan, residents adopted the motto of “Better Than Before.” It’s the sort of stuff that’s easy to write down on paper, and that often ends up forgotten in overstuffed binders, collecting dust while the neighborhood in question falls further into disrepair. But in Broadmoor, the plan became a reality.


In 2007, the neighborhood’s elementary school was selected as one of five schools across the city to be fast tracked for renovation. In 2010, Andrew H. Wilson Elementary moved into its newly renovated LEED Gold building, which features solar panels, rain gardens, a reflective white roof, and windows that facilitate natural light. Two years later, the sleek and spacious LEED certified Keller Library and Community Center opened. In addition to loaning out books, the facility hosts free classes on topics ranging from Zumba to how to cook healthy meals on a food stamps budget.


Most impressively, Broadmoor is, by some estimates, nearly 90 percent repopulated (in the 2010 census, the neighborhood’s population was 5,400, still down quite a bit from the 7,200 people who lived there in 2000, although more residents have moved in since).


As part of its repopulation effort, the neighborhood partnered with the local development and consulting firm Green Coast Enterprises to rebuild 55 of the most blighted properties as affordable housing units. All of the new units meet some sort of green building standards, and four of the homes are LEED Platinum houses with whimsical names like “The Little Easy.”


Will Bradshaw

Will Bradshaw, the president and co-founder of Green Coast Enterprises, says that Broadmoor has “one of the best redevelopment stories and redevelopment strategies I’ve ever seen.”


“It was really amazing to watch,” says Bradshaw, a Texas native who was in graduate school at MIT when Katrina hit, and who met Cantrell at an event at Harvard. “It was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen, and it made me want to pick up and move halfway across the country and make my life in New Orleans.”


What sets Broadmoor’s story apart, Bradshaw says, is the way residents banded together to attract outside help, but still maintained control over the neighborhood’s destiny. “In Broadmoor, you had exceedingly strong leadership that was very well organized. They spoke with one voice that was clear, and they utilized that voice to attract extraordinary resources from all over the world.” For example, the Carnegie Corporation gave $2 million for the construction of the library and community center, and the neighborhood also received help from the Clinton Global Initiative. “They were able to reach out and say, ‘We need this help at this time,’” Bradshaw says. “As a result of the ability to be clear and uniform, they got a lot more done than a lot of people that were in a similar place.”


This charity helped provide a boost to Broadmoor, but investment by residents and businesses is what will sustain the neighborhood over time. Bradshaw’s firm developed four commercial buildings near a busy intersection in the northern part of the Broadmoor, one of which is occupied by a social entrepreneurship incubator, and one of which will soon be home to a community health clinic.


One of the buildings houses Bradshaw’s own office, which sits directly above a vegan café that specializes in baked fries. Across the street stands the shell of an abandoned car dealership, the front adorned with a colorful mural. The artwork shows people dancing under a rainbow, and a large green dot is inscribed with the words, “Broadmoor Lives at the Heart of New Orleans.”


It’s tempting to look at Broadmoor and label its recovery complete, or at least nearly so. The “Broadmoor Lives” movement started so long ago that some of the major players from its early days have left New Orleans, and by many accounts the neighborhood truly is “better than before.” There’s still some blight, but few clues point that, only nine years ago, this place was underwater and practically left for dead.


But some people are still in the process of returning to Broadmoor. Mr. Chill, a neighborhood barber, cut hair under a tent at the site of an abandoned gas station for 17 months after Katrina, and eventually reopened his shop a couple of miles away in the Hollygrove neighborhood. A year ago, he opened Mr. Chill’s Broadmoor Dogs and Sweet Pastries, a casual restaurant that has a counter decorated with images of dancing frankfurters. It’s in the same building where he once cut hair, away from the main roads and surrounded by residential buildings. But Mr. Chill is still trying to get back to his own house, about 10 blocks away.


Mr. Chill (he was born Wilbur Wilson, but earned the nickname “Chill” in middle school for his smooth way with girls, and added the “Mr.” after his business success) says the money he received from the state’s Road Home program was enough to fix up the home’s exterior, but not the inside. He’s still staying at a family member’s house.


Still, Mr. Chill was overjoyed to get back into business in Broadmoor. He chose to sell hot dogs, he says, because he wanted to create a place that, like a barbershop, was accessible to everyone. “To get back in this building, I felt like a kid that had been sick in the hospital,” he says, occasionally chomping on a hucklebuck—a New Orleans treat of frozen Kool-Aid in a plastic cup with fruit cocktail at the bottom. “And when he finally got out of the hospital, he got what he’d been asking for— going on the merry-go-round. That’s how happy I was.”


Santiago Burgos, who recently wrapped up a four-year stint as the executive director of the Broadmoor Development Corporation, speculates that most of the people who plan to return to the neighborhood have already done so. “The houses that remain vacant have now been vacant almost 10 years,” he says, sitting in the neighborhood library’s snack shop, which is named—perhaps inevitably—the Green Dot Cafe. “Some of them were vacant before the storm. Those families are probably not coming back. They probably don’t have the resources to fix that house.”


In particular, Burgos says, blight remains high in the poorest segment of Broadmoor, which was dubbed Subgroup B when the neighborhood split into three sections during the recovery process. “In a place like Subgroup B, I think a lot of people now are recognizing that it would probably make sense to have more green space in the form of athletic fields and parks, than to have hundreds of dilapidated, decrepit properties that people are not going to live in,” Burgos says.


And so, ironically, this could be the final step in the recovery of a neighborhood that fought so hard against the green dot plan: bulldozing homes to create green space.

It’s nearly impossible not to compare the recovery stories of Broadmoor and the Lower Ninth Ward, but to do so is to raise the hackles of stakeholders in both neighborhoods. If you ask, for example, whether the reason the Lower Ninth’s recovery has lagged is because the neighborhood sustained more damage than Broadmoor, you’re likely to be told twice that your question is badly misinformed: once by someone in Broadmoor, who might argue that the flood damage there was just as bad as anywhere else in the city; and a second time by someone in the Lower Ninth, who might say that the dozens of LEED Platinum homes there are a sign of leadership, rather than lagging behind.


Some of this wariness may stem from the period right after Katrina hit, when residents were told they needed to prove their neighborhoods were viable. “After the green dot, there really was a lack of city leadership in how the city should rebuild, and it was just sort left to everybody to decide on their own,” says Jeff Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Rebuilding Authority. “I think, over time, it has led to a sort of battle of neighborhoods and districts about who’s getting what money, and who’s not getting what money. There’s still, today, competition around resources.”

What we do with this work will define this place for the next hundred years. If we do this work, our children, their children, and their children will be the beneficiaries.

– Ray Manning, Architect and President Pro-Tem Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans

Tom Wooten, an author who studied the recovery efforts of Broadmoor, the Lower Ninth Ward, and three other neighborhoods for his 2012 book “We Shall Not Be Moved,” says this competition for resources sometimes led to antagonism between neighborhoods.


“Sometimes neighborhood leaders wouldn’t talk to each other,” Wooten says. “They felt like they were competing for the same grants. They felt like they were competing for the same limited pie of residents that were going to come back. When I explained that I was doing research in a number of neighborhoods, I would frequently get an explanation about why they and their particular neighborhood had it worse than people in another neighborhood. And I think that had a lot to do with the cutthroat, sink-or-swim environment that had been created.”


Really, Wooten says, the need to prove viability was “a prophecy that had already been fulfilled.” Whether or not officials were ever really going to bulldoze hundreds of homes was almost beside the point. The neighborhoods were already ruined, and if residents didn’t work to bring them back, then the areas would have stayed wastelands, even if the city did nothing.


But the difference in the pace of recovery between different neighborhoods isn’t due to residents in one place simply working harder (or smarter) than those in another, says Wooten, careful to stress that residents in both neighborhoods “were doing everything they could to bring life back for themselves and for their neighbors.”


“Each neighborhood faced its own unique set of challenges, and both sets of challenges were huge,” Wooten says. “But the Lower Ninth Ward faced a set of challenges that made it impossible for residents, without sufficient government support, to bring back most of the neighborhood’s population. That could have been changed with different decisions at higher levels of government—letting people back into the neighborhood earlier, making sure that utilities got restored quickly, getting a number of schools reopened quickly.”


The delay in letting people back into the Lower Ninth Ward and the level of physical destruction there are just two of the many complicated reasons that observers point to when asked to explain why the neighborhood’s population hasn’t rebounded in the same way that Broadmoor’s has. They also often mention geography, and the way the Lower Ninth is set apart from the rest of the city. Of course, Broadmoor’s high level of organization is often cited, but Broadmoor residents also simply had more resources at their disposal than many of those in the Lower Ninth. In addition to having more economic diversity and a higher average household income, Broadmoor was the home to some boldface names who could help connect the neighborhood to outside resources. Walter Isaacson, the former head of CNN, grew up in Broadmoor, as did current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.


kids playing2

Laura Paul says this economic disparity created a sort of double hurdle for residents of the Lower Ninth to clear—first, they had less money to rebuild their properties; and secondly, they were more likely to get treated unfairly during the recovery process because of their lack of money and power. She points to the disparity in Road Home payments, and also notes that insurance companies tried to deny claims to some Lower Ninth homeowners whose houses were swept away because they didn’t carry “collision” policies on their homes.


“Are they going to get away with that in Broadmoor? They’re not,” Paul says. “Are they going to get away with that in the Lower Ninth? Damn right they are. Or they’re going to try. I get accused of playing the race card, but to me, there’s no question that’s the issue.”


In addition to these big-picture matters, there are obscure, maddeningly technical reasons for the Lower Ninth’s sputtering recovery. Because many homes there were passed down from generation to generation—without anyone ever writing out a legal will—there are succession issues with the property titles that sometimes impede development. And, since many of these homes were owned outright, with no mortgage, owners weren’t required to carry insurance on them, and many didn’t.


“That’s the irony,” says Shannon Stage, executive director of U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Louisiana chapter. “People who might have been wealthier on paper, because they owned their homes, had far fewer resources than those who did not.”

We are a single example of a place that has suffered an extraordinary amount as a result of this meteorological event that our behavior is making more risky.

– Will Bradshaw

To green building advocates, it may go without saying why sustainability was part of the recovery effort for both neighborhoods—why it matters whether the schools and the libraries and the homes there are LEED certified or not. But to others, it can seem extraneous, almost wasteful, to worry about solar panels and recyclable carpet at a time when there was so much to rebuild.


Indeed, Wooten says, some residents he spoke with questioned the wisdom behind Make It Right, saying the homes are too expensive and that the organization has siphoned off charitable dollars that might have gone to neighborhood groups instead. Paul argues that her organization is engaging in the greenest building practice of all by renovating existing structures, often with reclaimed material— all on a shoestring budget.


Tom Darden, the executive director of Make It Right, bristles at the criticism he sometimes hears—that the organization is spending too much money to help too few residents. Last year, a blistering New Republic article called the organization a “drag” on the city.


“I feel bad for our staff, or even the families that we serve, when we get slammed,” Darden says. While he estimates that Make It Right has spent around $35 million building the hundred homes in New Orleans (plus money spent on other projects around the country), he says those figures aren’t helpful in calculating a per-unit cost, since the build out isn’t complete. Also, he notes, not all of that money has gone toward construction. Make It Right employs social services staffers who work with families to make sure they’re financially qualified to buy a home, because no organization that provides those services existed in the Lower Ninth.


Additionally, Darden says, Make It Right has helped to green New Orleans outside of its small pocket of development. The organization has done solar installations for other housing nonprofits in the city, and Darden says the group is also helping to create a local market for sustainable products. “We pay a premium for the first time that we install, say, a tankless water heater, and none of the contractors know how to do that, or when we install pervious concrete,” he says. “That requires increased upfront costs in contractor training, which we just eat. That makes the costs of these houses go up. But that helps not only us, but also everyone else benefits from that too.”


Hebert, the redevelopment authority director, argues that sustainability was an important factor in the city’s recovery because green building practices help to lower the cost of home ownership. “If you have a person who’s moving into a house and has a utility bill that’s $25 a month, instead of $300 a month in an old unsealed house where they’re running the air conditioner 24 hours a day because it’s not insulated, that is a huge benefit,” he says.


For Bradshaw, the Green Coast Enterprises president, the focus on sustainability was relevant to the recovery effort precisely because of what the city was recovering from—the water that leveled the Lower Ninth and filled up Broadmoor like a bathtub, brought by the type of storm that’s projected to become more common due to climate change. “We are a single example of a place that has suffered an extraordinary amount as a result of this meteorological event that our behavior is making more risky,” Bradshaw says. “If we can reverse this trend of putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, that will actually lower the risk that we face as a community.”

A Matter of Principles


In November 2005, only weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) flew New Orleans stakeholders to the Greenbuild conference in Atlanta, where they met with experts from around the country for a charrette on Gulf Coast reconstruction. Out of that process emerged a document called “The New Orleans Principles,” which presented broad guidelines for the city to follow as it rebuilt for a more sustainable future.


City officials and neighborhood leaders decisions were subtly guided by the conversations and shift in thinking that produced the principles, says Z Smith, chairman of the board of directors for USGBC’s Louisiana chapter. “They are a great, succinct compilation of all of the best thinking about the way to build back sustainably and resiliently. It wasn’t an instruction manual. It’s more an embodiment of the kinds of conversations that were happening, thanks to USGBC and others.”


Smith notes that there was only one LEED certified building in all of Louisiana before Katrina hit, compared to nearly a thousand today. That was the result of conversations like the one that produced “The New Orleans Principles,” he says.

New Orleans Ten Principles


  1. Respect the rights of all citizens of New Orleans
  2. Restore natural protections of the greater New Orleans region
  3. Implement an inclusive planning process
  4. Value diversity in New Orleans
  5. Protect the city of New Orleans
  6. Embrace smart redevelopment
  7. Honor the past; build for the future
  8. Provide for passive survivability
  9. Foster locally owned, sustainable businesses
  10. Focus on the long term

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