The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failures spawned a new movement in New Orleans, a drive not just to recreate what was lost but to improve on it. More functional government and better accountability to the public were among the movement’s central tenets.
Fifteen years later, a group of civic, business and issue-oriented groups operating a coalition known as Forward New Orleans is still at it. Established in 2010 and led by the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, Forward New Orleans has been identifying priorities and setting measures by which to judge the city’s leadership ever since.
Its new progress report, issued nearly halfway through Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the current City Council’s term, touts encouraging development in some, but not all, areas it examined.
Public safety is a bright spot, particularly the adoption of technology, better use of crime analysis and compliance with the decade-old U.S. Department of Justice civil rights consent decree, which laid out a wide-ranging plan for reform and which coalition members say has transformed the New Orleans Police Department’s culture for the better. Of concern to the group, though, is high turnover at the department.
The report notes progress in attacking the city’s chronic infrastructure woes as well, including the deployment of $2.4 billion in FEMA funds for roads and pipes, better tracking of and communication about repairs, and a focus on stormwater management. It found the city still falls short, though, on paying contractors in a timely manner, which can undermine laudable efforts to build capacity among smaller firms.
Creating affordable housing is another weak spot. One coalition member, Andreanecia Morris with Housing NOLA, told The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate that the city has made “no significant progress” on creating 7,500 new affordable units.
Reforming civil service also remains a challenge, the report says.
Overall, the city has made substantial progress on 43% of the goals set by the coalition’s 25 member organizations. More details are available at www.forwardneworleans.com/progress-reports.
As with any large-scale effort bringing together groups with diverse memberships and agendas, Forward New Orleans focuses on areas of broad agreement. That it’s been able to identify so many common priorities, and work with city leaders through a process that’s cooperative rather than combative, reflects well on its approach. Cantrell and six of seven council members signed on to the plan before the 2017 election, and the group says the seventh, Jason Williams, has voiced support too.
With so much time having passed since Katrina, it would be easy for both officials and the community to put all this aside, and drift back into complacency. The philosophy behind the effort, though, is to build a better city each and every day. We hope that work will never get old.