Mayor Mitch Landrieu unveiled the city’s new “resiliency” strategy on Tuesday, gathering together efforts as disparate as rebuilding the coast and improving transportation under a heading that has become one of the mayor’s favorite watchwords.
“Resilient New Orleans: Strategic Actions to Shape Our Future City” amounts to a comprehensive policy vision full of Landrieu’s priorities for the city, from guarding against floods to reducing violent crime.
Much of what it describes — such as the Police Department’s anti-murder strategy — is already well underway. Other ambitious suggestions would require raising billions of dollars to accomplish.
Jeffrey Hebert, who became the city’s first chief resiliency officer last year, said the strategy will serve as a framework for the remainder of Landrieu’s second term, which ends in May 2018. The hope is that future mayors also will adopt it going forward.
“All the things we do will now have a resiliency lens on them,” Landrieu said.
It stems from the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities challenge, a program that provides grant money to help cities draw up these types of plans.
New Orleans was one of the first cities chosen to participate in a group that now includes New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Paris and Mexico City. Given its recovery after Hurricane Katrina, officials said, New Orleans was a natural fit for the program.
Hebert, who also heads the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, now draws half of his salary from the Rockefeller Foundation as part of the initiative.
“Resiliency” is a term without a clear definition, even for those promoting the plan. As FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said as he praised the proposal Tuesday, “It can pretty much mean whatever you want it to mean.”
Fugate, Landrieu and others were clear on what it does not mean, however: The plan does not guarantee the city will not face disaster again.
Instead, it’s about building infrastructure that will allow the city to better weather another storm, creating institutions that are able to respond quickly and ensuring that residents — both individually and as communities — have the economic wherewithal, plans and resources to recover in its aftermath.
“It’s about having the systems and strategies and leadership in place,” said Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation.
That broad mandate seemingly encompasses all aspects of city government and could serve as a blueprint for years to come.
The top item on the list is largely outside the city’s control: the completion of the state’s Coastal Master Plan, a 50-year, $50 billion proposal for reversing the coastal erosion that has wiped out 1,900 square miles of the state’s wetlands in the past 80 years. The city will advocate for that plan and potentially could contribute some resources to the effort — something administration officials have hinted could be a use for the $45 million in settlement money New Orleans will receive from BP for lost sales tax revenue during the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The plan also prominently commits the city to the New Orleans Urban Water Plan, an ambitious, multibillion-dollar proposal aimed at improving drainage through “green” building techniques.
On a smaller scale, the plan also calls for establishing financing for loans that would allow property owners to raise their homes and pay back the cost as part of their annual property tax bill. And it would establish a program to encourage low-income residents to build up savings accounts for emergencies.
The city also will look into developing so-called “micro-grids” to power specific areas of the city or certain buildings during a power outage or a disaster.
The biggest question left unanswered by the plan is where the money to pay for all this would come from. City officials can expect about $1 million in resources from the Rockefeller Foundation and others to implement parts of the plan. But part of the hope is that simply having such a plan in place will encourage charitable organizations to step up with cash.
“We’re hoping major philanthropic partners will double down,” Hebert said.
Outreach will play a key role, whether through educational efforts about the city’s unique challenges with water or through Tuesday’s opening of a formal Resilience Center in Central City, in partnership with Tulane University, that will serve as a hub for discussions about the city’s efforts.
Some strategies, such as calling for more energy efficiency in the Central Business District, would involve commitments from private groups. That plan would be bolstered by city efforts that could include putting solar panels on City Hall.
The plan also repackages many initiatives the city already is undertaking, recasting them as part of the larger strategy.
Thus, the resiliency plan includes NOLA for Life, the administration’s program aimed at reducing murders; Welcome Table New Orleans, Landrieu’s racial reconciliation effort; and the Network for Economic Opportunity, which encompasses the city’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise policies, workforce training and other programs aimed at helping job-seekers.
It also includes policies the city has already been looking into, such as the development of a regional transit system to allow New Orleans workers to reach jobs in the River Parishes, and a series of other changes already implemented by the city, including a one-stop permitting and licensing center and a more tightly integrated relationship between the Sewerage & Water Board and the Department of Public Works, now both overseen by Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant. That consolidation is designed to ensure that projects are being done with the needs of all city agencies in mind, resulting in more-comprehensive solutions.
Longer term, both the Rockefeller Foundation and city officials stress the benefits the program can have as cities share best practices and, potentially, conduct trade in areas in which they’ve specialized. In New Orleans, that could mean focusing on water management, something officials see as a potential industry that can be shared with other areas, particularly as climate change worsens.
“The world will learn from watching how you get it done,” said Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.