This Thursday (June 19), the Office of Recovery and Development Administration (ORDA) will present a report on the city's recovery progress to the New Orleans City Council. While Dr. Ed Blakely's much-maligned prediction of "cranes in the sky" has yet to materialize, there is ample evidence that a citywide recovery is finally under way.
At the same time, everyone needs to remember that this recovery is going to be a decadelong process, not a quick fix. Equally important is the notion that just because we don't see cranes in the sky, that doesn't mean the work of recovery isn't getting done.
Truth is, every recovery project takes a lot of advance planning, designing, paperwork and double-checking before construction begins. That's true even for private-sector projects, but it applies doubly so in the public sector — particularly where federal grants are involved.
That's going to become a familiar refrain — if it hasn't already — say officials at ORDA and MWH, the global engineering firm hired to manage the city's recovery projects. While citizens long to see physical evidence of infrastructure improvements, actual construction on public-sector projects comes almost at the end of the process. According to ORDA and MWH, each recovery project goes through nine phases:
Planning, which includes public hearings and sometimes City Council approval;
Contracting with design consultants;
Defining the scope of a project (by the design consultants);
Preliminary design, including initial cost estimates;
Design development, which advances the "rough drafts" of the previous phase to a stage at which details begin to take shape (ORDA says at this phase, design is still only 60 percent complete);
Production of construction documents, which marks completion of the design process so that a project can be put out to bid;
Bidding and awarding the job, which includes executing a construction contract with the winning bidder;
Construction — at long last, the cranes; and
During the first seven of those nine phases, the public will see little or nothing at a construction site other than a sign proclaiming that something is about to happen. It's easy to get discouraged during the initial phases, but without those steps no project — not even private projects — could proceed.
And then, of course, there's the red tape associated with getting state and federal dollars committed and released for all these public projects.
'Almost every local official cites the endless, complex, repetitive processes needed to gain access to state and federal recovery money and the impact this has had on their ability to push their communities forward," writes the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) in a recent report on the post-storm planning and recovery efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi. But, the report notes, almost three years after Katrina and Rita, "the recovery momentum finally seems to be accelerating."
The June 2 report (available online at www.la-par.org) is the latest in a series of recovery white papers co-sponsored by PAR and the Rockefeller Institute of Government. While the report stops short of agreeing with Mayor Ray Nagin's pronouncement that 2008 will be the "tipping point" for New Orleans, it supports Nagin's assertion that the local recovery has finally gained some traction. It also underscores a more important point, one that everyone involved in the recovery — from individuals to businesses to neighborhood associations to public officials — ought to embrace: that New Orleans finally has reason to hope.
A key element of hope is patience, which brings us back to the notion that this recovery is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Meanwhile, citizens can track the quiet (for now) progress of several hundred public recovery projects online by clicking the orange recovery ribbon in the upper-right-hand corner of the city's Web site (www.cityofno.com). The link will take you to a Google-based map that allows you to search by project type, by individual project, by City Council district, by ward, by area and even by specific address. Type in your home or office address and check out the projects that are in the works within a mile or two.
And don't give up hope.