MOSAIC NOLA:The Gentilly Project

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

City of NOLA Launches Free WiFi

Similar projects elsewhere have been stalled by stiff opposition from telephone and cable television companies aimed at discouraging competition from public agencies - (11/29/05)

Today the free Internet covers the French Quarter and the central business district. The mayor says it'll cover the rest of the city in a year.

NOLA's available services are pretty extreme. Some areas have free wireless Internet. Others don't have electricity back yet. I think it'd help to have these differences displayed and updated on a virtual map of the city.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

First New Orleans Public School Reopens

"Now that the schools are beginning to reopen I think we will see more people coming back to the city. They want to come back. This is their home." - Christine Mitchell, school principal of Ben Franklin Elementary School

Yesterday Ben Franklin Elementary became the first public school to re-open in New Orleans. When I personally began to see the greater significance of re-opening schools ASAP (only a week ago!), I thought opening any Orleans parish school by January would be an achievement, based on early feedback that I received on Mosaic actionable step#3.

Now there is one school open. From now through the month of December, the Mosaic website and this blog will be used to document the progress on the recovery steps.

It's the nature of any news headline to catch your eye and be sensational. What I'm going to do through December is use the Mosaic project to organize information around the recovery steps, with emphasis on maintaining relevant qualifications underneath the headlines. For instance:

1. Ben Franklin Elementary is located in the Uptown district, which was not heavily damaged.

2. It is a magnet school dedicated to math and science, and one of the top-performing public schools in New Orleans.

3. The school is "culturally diverse."

4. The school is now open to students of all abilities. Prior to Katrina, the school only accepted students with "high test scores and strong educational backgrounds."

To the extent that details about recovery progress are maintained in a coherent way, it's much easier to coordinate ourselves with respect to our seperate efforts.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Whats going on!?

People really don’t know what’s going on down in New Orleans. I had someone ask me the other day: “Is all the water gone in New Orleans yet?” I was not upset, nor did I feel like she was entirely responsible for not knowing. In my opinion the media, government and even American population (at large) have stepped back from the Katrina rebuilding process. It seems like because it’s no longer “headline news” it is not important enough to make a priority in information the people about the status of New Orleans. Not only is it the necessary, but on some levels it’s the media’s responsibility to keep the American people informed about something as important as what is going on down in New Orleans. If we can’t even count on our media to inform, us then whom can we count on?

Learning From the Dutch

In 1953 1,835 people died in horrible floods caused by massive North Sea storms in the Netherlands. Since then the Dutch initiated a 33 year 14.7 billion dollar project aimed at protecting their country, which lies on average 8 feet below sea level. This project, which was completed in 1986, created robust systems of barriers, dams, and levees intended to protect the coastal communities. One of the most important additions to the Netherlands defense system was the creation of wetlands that provided a natural protection from surging waters. The Dutch spend an average of $1.5 billion dollars per year on flood defense which would equal the USA spending approximately $30 million dollars per year if a population based comparison was made. This is over seven times more than is actually spent by the US Army Corps of Engineers on such activities ($4 million). Much can be learned from the parallels in this situation and full advantage should be taken. New Orleans’ officials and Dutch leaders have been in contact and we can only hope that a consulting relationship is created.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Reopened Schools and New Orelans Recovery

I used to think - as recently as a week ago - that opening schools was a background issue in New Orleans recovery. That was before seeing the city last week, and feeling the impact of this calamity for families.

Actionable step for NOLA Recovery #3: Opening temporary schools in Orleans Parish in January 2006, so that returning families can bring their children home and the process of creating an improved school system can begin.

There's a lot going on already with this issue. I haven't heard anyone defend New Orleans public schools and their pre-Katrina performance. There's a sense that rebuilding presents an opportunity to create better schools. Louisiana's governor will be taking over the city's low performing schools, which is most them, and the plan involves a creation of charter schools to replace public schools (I presume because there's more federal and other monies to create charter schools than for typical public schools).

What I'd like to do is post a timetable of opening schools in New Orleans, particularly in the flood-damaged areas of Orleans Parish and St. Bernard's Parish. I'm thinking particularly of the working-class families of the city. How can we expect them to return if schools for their children aren't open? Who is out there advocating for the opening of schools for these families by January?

It's hopeful to hear about schools of any kind opening in New Orleans - charter schools, Catholic schools, etc. However, I am also curious to know where the opening schools are located, and what socio-economic groups are being served. How can volunteers lend their support to rebuilding the city's education system if it's not clear where precisely the needs are?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Every New Orleans House In A Database

Now, inspectors with laptops are identifying ruined houses. “Every house in New Orleans is loaded into this database,” explains Centineo [Safety and Permits director for the city of New Orleans]. The reports are sent instantly to a computer at city hall, where the database is linked to aerial images of every address, both before and after. - 60 Minutes (Nov 20, 2005), CBS transcripts.

One obstacle to addressing New Orleans recovery is that the "needs problem" is so messy and uncertain to most of us. If each house in a flood-damaged neighborhood is identified and can have its status updated on a virtual map, it would provide a bounded series of targets to focus the recovery efforts of various government agencies, business contractors, non-profit organizations, and private citizens.

I get bullish about New Orleans to the extent that the recovery needs are concrete and can be broken down to managable pieces that all of us can see. Visual displays that organize the house data by neighborhood and street are a step in that direction (see Actionable Step #6)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Actionable Steps for New Orleans Recovery

Last Saturday November 19 in Baton Rouge, a summit was held in Baton Rouge to develop actionable steps for recovery following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. To guide the summit process, I developed a definition of actionable steps with Monisha Sujan. Ideally, actionable steps will have SPICE (i.e., be social, personal, immediate, concrete, and effective).

Here is a list of actionable steps, informed by the summit participants and Mosaic participants. A key value of the Mosaic Project is that its users are its co-developers. Consequently, the steps will be updated based on user comments and feedback.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Leadership Defined: Start with a Timetable

Even before going to Louisiana last week, I was learning of the growing public outcry for leadership in the recovery efforts. As I was preparing definitions of actionable steps for the Rights Recovery summit in Baton Rouge last Saturday, timing and immediacy became for me an explicit and necessary ingredient for leadership.

Whenever you hear plans about recovery, ask about a timetable. If someone wants to take a leadership role in recovery, work with them to develop a timetable.

Here's a short timetable that I operate under:

1. It is approximately 7 months until the start of the 2006 hurricane season. I think all recovery efforts should be viewed in context of the allocation of resources for short-term hurricane protection.

2. It is approximately 5 weeks until schools need to be opened - if there is intention for families to return to particular districts. If there aren't schools opened in Orleans Parish, for example, it becomes yet another barrier for families with children to return. Without schools in January, many families would not consider coming back until September 2006.

3. Starting for the next 5 weeks, a window will be open for private citizens around the country to help with recovery efforts. Unlike no other time during the calendar year, there are private citizens who will have discretionary time to volunteer their professional and non-professional skills for recovery efforts. Faith-based organizations as well as colleges and universities already have plans underway.

Best wishes for this holiday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What A Family Needs To Return

As I saw New Orleans on Sunday, I was struck by the sheer enormity of it. There were so many neighborhoods full of houses that were flood damaged and empty. There were many thousands of vacated houses, in numerous silent neighborhoods throughout the city of New Orleans. And this kind of damage I'm told stretches out passed the city many miles throughout the Gulf Coast towns of Mississipi.

But there was something bounded about the devastation that I saw, despite how extensive it was. In the numerous silent neighborhoods, you can still count the houses. Although I can't comprehend how many rows of flood-damaged houses there must be in the city, I know that specific damaged neighborhoods can be readily identified. I know that each house in one of these neighborhoods can be counted, and that somewhere out there is a family that owns that house.

If any one family wants to return and reclaim their house, the physical and economic burden is immense -- too slow and too costly if they had to do it all themselves. Any of one of us would be paralyzed if faced with the situation. There's too little information about what to do, and getting information about what to do (and how to do it and getting help to do it) involves time and money that most family-units don't have.

But if there's a silver lining to this, I think that thousands of other families face a similar set of problems. That means that as a larger community of concerned citizens around the country, we might help groups of households in a neighborhood return if we can provide the physical and economic assistance at a focused geographic location, within the devasted New Orleans grid.

There are faith-based organizations that have been doing this for particular households for weeks, as other kinds of service and charitable organizations. Could this be extended more broadly and systematically?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Return from Louisiana

I returned from Baton Rouge last night. On Saturday November 19, the MOSAIC project had co-hosted the Rights, Recovery & Renaissance summit with the Louisiana NAACP at the Southern University Law Center. On Sunday, I went to New Orleans and spent the afternoon with parents of a current Dartmouth student, and I was taken on a tour of the city.

Throughout the Thanksgiving weekend, I'll be posting here about the trip. It made a big difference seeing New Orleans for myself (thank you, Renee!). Those who know me understand that I hardly ever take off my "organization sensibility." As I was seeing the city, I couldn't help but process how recovery of the city - and the recovery of New Orleans families - might be organized.

I'll post some of these ideas here every day through Monday, as well as some of the actions that I'm taking to move them along. I never know exactly what students in my class will discover and do as it relates to this project, so there might be additional content on the MOSAIC website too in the coming days.

The big takeaway from my trip: What would you do for a New Orleans family? I'll explain what I mean during this holiday weekend.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

FEMA at it Again!

Acting FEMA director David Paulison is being criticized for attempting to impose a Dec. 1 eviction date for the estimated 41,700 families relocated to hotels with the exception of Louisiana and Mississippi. Families within the states of Louisianan and Mississippi have until Jan. 7 to be evacuated. With 19,158 evacuated families in the city of Huston alone, people like Huston mayor Bill White are expecting mass homelessness and overcrowded homeless shelters. This eviction deadline is being criticized for its short sightedness and almost apathetic attitude towards those struggling to find housing. This is a depressing situation and should bring shame to this so-called wealthy nation. With oil companies registering record profits and thousands of Americans being left out in the cold there is something wrong with our priorities as a nation.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"The Big Easy" will stay easy on Sundays

Well there is still good news for New Orleans but there is also bad news. The good news is their football Saints will remain in New Orleans through next year. The bad news is it will still be under the same ownership. With fans already disgusted with the way the Saints current owner has treated them, (threatening to move the New Orleans Saints) I’m not sure the Saints will even have a significant fan base for next year. Fans are very hurt and have vilified the owner to the point that they are refusing to attend games so he doesn’t get anymore of their money. It will be lonely for the Saints players, I just hope they understand why.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

why can't we do this?

I was just down in South Carolina from Thursday to Sunday. It was a relief to say the least. I had a lot of fun, but in the back of my mind I had an idea that I would see or talk to someone who had been in NO. Sure enough I did. I asked them what they had done or what they had been doing in the way of relief and he said: Everything, giving out food helping rebuild houses, clearing out rubbish...etc. Just hearing those things made me feel much better about the situation in NO because it was clear that there are things being done in relief for Katrina victims. I asked him what he thought the victims need down there and basically, the most essential need is manpower. Yes they will need money and food and clothes etc, but most important is the ability to be able to put their lives back together by reestablishing tier space. That doesn't seem that hard to do, why cant it be done?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Spotlight on Housing Effort

Grant Wagner and Xianghui Weng, both Mosaic team members, are spearheading the housing portion of this Mosaic project. Their website, "Mosaic-Housing", has several interesting links that help evacuees searching for a place to stay, as well as interested volunteers trying to find a way to help with this problem. The links attempt to serve the following purposes:

Provide evacuees with access to a database that provides various searchable housing options organized by region, keywords, ect.

Provide volunteers with up to date information pertaining to the types of housing needs that exist in the NOLA area.

Connect willing volunteers with evacuees through a database that matches needs with capabilities.

Also in the works are links, which describe what stage each area of NOLA is at in terms of rebuilding (demolition, foundation, electric), and a database that provides a comprehensive list of all Mosaic project housing contacts. Recently the housing group has been in contact with a non-profit profit organization COVER Home Repair, run by Simon Dennis, which is attempting to send a group of volunteers to the gulf coast and aid in the rebirth. Grant and Xianghui are making great progress and should see some tangible results in the near future with the incorporation of the COVER Home Repair organization.

Rights, Recovery & Renaissance

In the near term, the MOSAIC community is focused on a summit on November 19 entitled Rights, Recovery & Renaissance, which is taking place in Baton Rouge. The focus of the summit is bringing together diverse constituencies to develop near-term actionable steps that concerned citizens can do to help those affected by the Hurricanes Katrina/Rita.

The summit is providing a physical forum which is situated in the Gulf Coast and has a policy and action emphasis. I know that a confrontational, ideological and partisan emphasis is exciting to many, but this summit is presenting an important alternative that, I believe, will be more exciting and productive to the widest group of people.

If you know anyone on the ground in the affected regions, you know that people there feel an urgent need to get the recovery moving.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Apparently there's a note on my house from FEMA

A couple of good friends (well actually work colleagues who have bent over backwards and inside out to help me and my family after Katrina - now lifelong friends!) just returned from my house in N.O. I got a report and first photos of the house. Though my father has returned, he has kept from me the realities of the damage. I am so grateful for these friends.
We had the chance to laugh today when they also reported a note on the front porch of our duplex, a form, I guess that said FEMA would not be doing any further repairs on my house because "construction had already begun." The sign cited repairs to the exposed tar-paper on the roof. Scrawled across the note was a long hand response: "I put bricks on the tar paper to keep it from blowing away! FEMA go stick your thumb in a levee."
I don't know who wrote that. My father? Our neighbors? What strikes me is the dialogue. 99 Theses on the door about why the federal government won't help and grafitti in response and defiance. It seems awfully passive, not to engage face-to-face. But could Martin Luther have marched into the Vatican for a chat? I think not. Would a conversation with the local bishop have rendered better results than theses upon the door? No, a public post is more open source, open dialogue and in some ways more provoking.
I have very little to offer these days about the direction our government and society are heading. Too much? Too little? Improvement? Disintegration? Yet, as long as our private thoughts and public sentiments can be closely aligned, there is promise for progress.