MOSAIC NOLA:The Gentilly Project

Monday, April 17, 2006

Gentilly Charrette starts on Thursday

When I was in New Orleans a week ago, I kept hearing a new word about town. Charrette.

People from different parts of the city were talking about them. In essence, charrettes are an intense design process over a period of days to perform detailed community planning with public input. Gentilly is having a charrette starting this Thursday. Public meetings are at the St. Leo the Great Church @ 7-9pm on Thursday 4/20, Saturday 4/22, and Tuesday 4/25. Here's the full schedule.

How do we reconcile the rebuilding process with the approaching hurricane season?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Needed: Gentilly Street Addresses

We're looking for an electronic dataset that contains street addresses of all the Gentilly properties. There are ways to do this piecemeal, but we have (over?) 17,000 addresses to obtain.

The Properties Database of City of New Orleans website gives all the addresses in the city, if you input a particular street name. But that requires us to identify and input every street name in Gentilly...

We do have street addresses of some of the Gentilly block captains. It's a start...

I met with students Cary and Anath here at Dartmouth this afternoon. They had lots of ideas on this and other things on how to make it easier for others to contribute. Also met/spoke with someone from the GCIA Infrastructure committee. Earlier this morning, I submitted a proposal to Dillard University on how its students may participate in the Gentilly mapping process as part of their required service project.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ounce of Prevention, Pound of Cure

The wait is over. FEMA has issued new floodplain maps for New Orleans. The new guidelines require that many heavily damaged houses be raised at least three feet above ground.

As I watch these decisions get reported, I am struck by the "pound of cure" quality to them. New guidelines needed to be set to resolve the uncertainty of rebuilding. The new floodplain maps are very good from a personal and commercial investment perspective. However, I think the public conversations fall short of how we might protect both life and property.

Without a systematic program to rebuild marshes and wetlands in southern Louisiana, the country will invest significantly more in pumbs and levees for New Orleans. According to every specialist I've ever heard on the subject, emphasizing levees as the solution will *not* protect New Orleans. Pumps and levees are the most expensive solutions of last resort, behind the "ounce of prevention" created by expanded marshes and wetlands.

I'm glad that the new floodplain maps are out, but I am astounded that public decisions (and news reporting) perpetuate the most expensive solutions that put the burden on local indivduals and businesses.

Grassroots mobilization in tiny pieces

I got back from New Orleans yesterday. After a guest lecture on this project in the class of my research colleague Professor Xun Shi, we had a project meeting. Currently, the project includes three students (Ben, Rose, and Leon), and in the meeting Ben gave us an overview of how he has augmented the online map of Gentilly. One of the things he has done is prepare a suggestions website for visitors to comment on the map.

The critical activity for this week is to start assembling the complete list of properties for Gentilly. My estimate is that are ~17,000 households in Gentilly, so addressing the whole area is a hugh project. The city of New Orleans has a properties database, but it would take a long time to get data, relying on what the database provides and how it provides it. Consequently, we're just focused on tiny pieces to get started to mark our progress.

In order to keep track of Gentilly developments on a regular basis, we will need to work with numerous block captains, much more than are available at present. Articulating a plan to do that is high on the agenda too....

Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. It's going to take a lot of brains and hands-on effort to work this through. It will take a little bit from everybody rather than the heroic efforts of a few, if this is going to work.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Active weekend and more

I'm still in New Orleans this morning. It was exciting (and promising) to attend the general meeting of the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association on Saturday, as well as to meet with many of the neighborhood's block captains. The GCIA is conducting a survey of residents and preparing for a "charrette" next week. My understanding is that a charrette is a process of gathering, assembling, and refining community inputs for neighborhood development. I never heard this word when I was in New Orleans a couple months ago. Now, I hear it quite a bit, because charrettes seem to be happening now in different parts of the city.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


I'm in New Orleans now, and this morning I'm headed to the Gentilly district, where I plan to meet with members and block captains of the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association.

For the last several months, I've been focused on Gentilly as the central focus on this project, as the place in which to test open-source tools and collaboration methods for disaster recovery.

Today, I'm exploring with residents:

1. The setup of a Gentilly text-message system

2. Creation of a Gentilly photo project that will post neighborhood photos and community impressions on the Internet

3. Procedures for collecting up-to-date local information on Gentilly's recovery

It will be a very busy day : )

Friday, April 07, 2006

Hotspot in New York!!

Apologies in advance to those expecting an inside tip on a hot place to be in NYC.

I'm on layover at JFK airport, on my way to New Orleans again. It turns out that the terminal of jetBlue Airways has free(!) wireless hotspots, so here I am. Thank you, jetBlue : )

It's been a loooong time since I have blogged about the Mosaic Project. Since January. As someone who understands the significance of blogging regularly, I've felt bad on many occasions the past few months during my absence.

Online communication on this blog is the only signal of project activity, for those who don't have personal contact with me. I'm sure many visitors to the blog in recent weeks and mnoth have (understandably) concluded that the Mosaic Project is dead. Far from it. It's still here, lots of progress has been made, and there's more coming.

Now, after a busy winter, I'm finally back to share some of it online. I'm looking forward to tell you about the impacts that the project is making: how others have contributed, specific ways that you can help us in the coming weeks, and what this current trip that I'm making to New Orleans is about.

Talk to you soon, Quintus