People Get Ready

[ make levees, not war ]

The veneer of public input

Posted by schroeder915 on August 1, 2006

Blogger Michael Homan replied to John Pope’s “picayune” story about the Sunday UNOP meeting by posting his letter to the editor on the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization Web site:

Our experience varied dramatically from the one reported by John Pope …. Most of the people left early when they saw the lack of space …. We strained to hear our facilitator who knew less about the process than most in the audience …. one of the most important choices to be made in the long and storied history of New Orleans, is meant to have the veneer of having public input, though our voice is not being heard in the process thus far.

picayune adj (1836) : of little value : PALTRY; also : PETTY, SMALL-MINDED — pic-a-yun-ish.

By contrast, as Adrastos observed, Lee Zurick performed his duty admirably, holding no punches in reporting what I heard multiple people call a fiasco. I personally said into a camera that it was “the stupidest f***ing thing I’ve ever seen.”

The Lee Zurick story is now posted on WWL (full URL to the file).

Besides being a lovely person and great cook, Maitri carries a Swiss army knife, and she’s a good photographer. She posted a set of photos of the fiasco.

The following are my own photos:

Watch out for these troublemakers. If any more of them show up at tonight’s UNOP meeting, they might instigate a New Orleans coffee party against urban planning without representation.

Michael Homan has some photos of the Sunday meeting as well — one of them sums up the entire fiasco in a really funny way!

Here are a few more loose observations about the UNOP meeting. I sensed the tension as soon as I walked into the Pavilion. An old acquaintence of mine was working the put-a-red-sticker-on-the-map area, and said it was nice to see someone who wasn’t there to yell at him.

The first thing I heard when I walked in the door at about 1:00 was a call for people who were talking in the middle of the room to stop talking or leave the room (i.e., leave the food table in the center of the room and the comfort of A/C to stand in the heat and sun outside) so that facilitators and residents could hear each other.

A lot of people were standing around talking in one-on-one pairs because they admitted it was pointless to sit in on the sessions if no one could hear.

Before I walked in, I was really hopeful that the meeting would be a success. New Orleans needs this unified process to work in a meaningful and inclusive way that respects the grassroots neighborhood planning efforts already under way, or which are already completed.

Instead, from the get-go it was clear that the whole process was an ill-conceived fiasco, instilling in people nothing but contempt for a process which was “apparently” organized by planners, but which by the very fact of the event’s poor planning led people to question the legitimacy of the entire planning process.

I was shocked that there were no elected officials at the meeting other than Stacy Head. Where was Shelley Midura? I thought for sure she’d be there. More importantly, where was our f***ing mayor!

Okay … I know. The guy can’t win with me at this point. He’s “damned if I do, damned if I don’t.” I’ve been criticizing him for not supporting neighborhood planning efforts, and for later trying to attach his name to the planning process. The point of all this criticism, however, is to send the message that he needs to stand up and endorse something — and support anything — any kind of planning process. Even if he just endorses the fiasco.

A basic problem with the UNOP process is that there’s no accountability. There’s no single elected official people can’t point the finger at if things aren’t working. I say that ought to be the mayor. Citizens should be able to point a finger at (or give the finger to) C. Ray Nagin and say, “Now look here, man, this ain’t working. What are you going to do to fix it?” But no, Ray Nagin ducks for cover whenever he gets criticized. His biggest flaw is his vanity. He wants to be loved, man. He wants to be a rock star, man. He can’t be Mr. Cool, man, if he doesn’t have his peeps who run over to hug him and ask him for his autograph.

The reality that everyone in that room on Sunday understands is that we have no choice but to support the UNOP process. It’s the only game in town now. As Jenel H. said at the post-meeting insurrection, (res ipse loquitur) it’s obvious to everyone that for all of Steven Bingler’s talk about how messy the “democratic process” is, the “democratic process” is nothing more than a farce to please the clowns in D.C. who write the checks. We can’t get the money to rebuild the city until the city has a plan. We can’t get a plan until the boxes get checked off. The NOCSF exists for no other reason, apparently, than to check off the boxes.

What every resident is worried about, however, is that the process be democratic. Residents want to make sure that their planning efforts are respected — the planning efforts they undertook to prove their viability when Ray Nagin’s new urbanist planners in the BNOB mapped out big green spaces over their neighborhoods.

The fundamental problem is that the two goals may be mutually exclusive: We can’t have a unified plan completed in a timely manner and at the same time completed with a long drawn out inclusive process when half of the city is still in the diaspora.

Alan is really driving home the point that it’s a total farce to call a process democratic when the only way residents can vote on that process is if they’re technologically savvy enough to have an email address, and as Karen pointed out, if in the first place they even know they have to vote!

The problem for many citizens, as Becky Houtman pointed out, is that from the get-go, the NOCSF process was worked out behind the scenes, and if there’s anything New Orleanians know to be suspicious of, it’s agreements made behind closed doors:

The GNOF may be saints (although I fear they’re not), and the City Council may not be either (what city’s are). But we elect our Council members to represent us – i.e. to make exactly these sorts of decisions. The Council is obligated at the very least to operate in the public view

Melissa made a really interesting comment in Becky’s post about the undemocratic, behind-the-doors politicking which produced the NOCSF, and the democratic process it is supposed to yield to:

The part of the UNOP process that will determine its relative democratic value, is not the process it arose out of but the process it results in.

I have to say I’m at least more optimistic about the intentions of the process having the Rockefeller Foundation involved. That’s in no small measure because I really like Carey Shea who’s here representing Rockefeller. I talked to her after the meeting. Here’s a little anecdote that might endear her to people who are unsure about her intentions. I can’t reveal the entire conversation, but trust me when I say you’d be sold if I could tell you the whole story. It rained really hard that afternoon for about a half hour. As I walked outside with Carey, I thought she was heading for her car. Instead, she walked to her bike. As she tried to dry off the bike seat, I offered her a ride home. She said she she didn’t need it — she’d get a little wet, and then she’d dry off. In our conversation, and in a previous conversation, she talked about the story of New York City in the 1970’s — a bankrupt, shabby, crime-ridden city, which the feds were ignoring. It found a way to again become one of America’s favorite cities. I don’t want to draw too many comparisons (neither would Carey). The point is, there is reason to be optimistic. And we need some optimism now. I hope Carey’s story comes out. As she rode off on her bike, she hummed the Wicked Witch of the West theme and laughed at herself. She’s a genuine person, with nothing but the best interests of residents in her heart.

And look, where would we be now if the Rockefeller Foundation hadn’t stepped up to the plate. Ray Nagin’s BNOB plan, which was full of top-down new urbanist schemes, and which he himself failed to do anything with?

I know … maybe neighborhoods would have continued the grassroots organizing they’re doing to get to a unified plan someday. But I think that would be even messier in the end. It could happen, sure, but when? Leave the neighborhoods to come up with their priorities, and make sure those ideas show up in the final version. That’s what this process needs to do.

I think a lot of people would like to find a villain in the UNOP process. It’s a total fiasco so far, sure, but I’m not sure there is any one villain. Incompetence, sure! Cronyism, probably, but I’m still trying to figure out how that’s working in this process. But villains — that’s hard to say.

Even Steven Bingler from Concordia, who was “selected” to lead this process — I’m still wondering how he was “selected” without any competition — he’s no villain. As far as I can tell, he’s just a really nice schmoe who’s trying to get the boxes checked off. Maybe incompetent, sure. Fails to open up his calendar and plans one of the most important meetings in the history of the city on the same night as one of the other most important meetings in this crime-plagued city (the National Night Out Against Crime), sure. That’s legendary incompetence. He’s apologized effusively. I accept his apology, and I still think the entire process is a fiasco, but what are we going to do? This is what we have. We have to work with it. Everyone recognizes that.

I talked to a woman from New Orleans East who said she still cries when she drives around her neighborhood, but she too admitted that we have to move forward. We don’t have a choice. We have to fight the process to make sure our voices are heard, but we can’t abandon the process altogether.

So … I’ll see you all at the insurrection tonight?

Karen posted this agenda:

12 minutes each

Presentation Schedule
6:00 pm ACORN Housing Corporation
6:12 pm Burk-Kleinpeter, Inc.
6:24 pm Davis Brody Bond
6:36 pm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company
6:48 pm EDAW
7:00 pm EDSA
7:12 pm E. Eean McNaughton Architects
7:24 pm Frederic Schwartz Architects
7:36 pm Goody Clancy
7:48 pm H3 Studio
8:00 pm HDR + HOK
8:12 pm KL&M / CHPlanning
8:24 pm now.
8:36 pm Torre Design Consortium, Ltd.
8:48 pm Williams Architects

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9 Responses to “The veneer of public input”

  1. adrastos said

    We’ll rely on your reporting tonight. Schroeder. I’m doing Night Out. I suspect we’ll be plotting our own insurrection…

  2. Editor B said

    I’m so glad people from the dry neighborhood are finally being engaged in the planning process. We desperately need your critical perspective.

  3. Maitri said


    May need your help with reporting, too, given my NOAC plans.

    Oh, and I love my lockblade.

  4. This entire process is B/S. Never before have we on the Coast needed this crap.

    I’ve been through Betsy, Camille, and Loma Prieta…. there was none of this shit.

    All of this is about companies sucking on the public teat, plain and simple.

    The American taxpayer is getting screwed so that some Repubs can make another dollar.

    Fuck them! This is not the America I was raised on. If the world has chaqnged, then I am a citizen of the Isle d’Orleans, and fuck the rest of the Nation.

  5. Anonymous said

    Has anyone seen the videos on the UNOP website?

    It is the scoured version, looks like we got a lot done..too bad it is not the truth about the way it was

    why do we have no voice, why can we not be angry?

  6. Schroeder said

    As one who uses this forum to project the outrage of the community, I believe that constructively expressing anger and directing it at real problems can be a productive tool. I have to say, however, that in this case I don’t think any purpose is served by nuking the process. Modifying it yes. I think UNOP did, in fact, fairly represent people’s sentiments in that meeting. In fact, they used a cut of me expressing my frustration with how ridiculous the meeting was. That they have honestly acknowledged people’s frustration is a positive sign.

    Look again at the videos. In particular “Unop Meeting #1, Clip 3: Confusion and Direction”

  7. Sophmom said

    Amazing post. Keep the faith, Schroeder. You (all of you) are doing great service. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

  8. Schroeder said

    Thanks sophmom. It means a lot to all of us that you include express your thoughts on what’s happening here.

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