New Orleans Dreams Of Big Comeback

A boat sits in the street of New Orleans as a utility worker repairs lines Tuesday Jan., 10, 2006. The boat was left in the intersection when the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina were pumped out of the city. The city is due to release a report which will unveil ideas on how to rebuild the city. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
AP Photo
This city is dreaming big as it puts together a blueprint for its rebirth in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, considering such audacious ideas as re-creating a long-gone jazz district, building a network of bike paths and commuter rail lines, and establishing a top-flight school system.

In the coming days, beginning Wednesday, a commission appointed by Mayor Ray Nagin will unveil a grab bag of ideas that could become part of the master plan for rebuilding this devastated city, a task unparalleled in American history.

Committees and subcommittees of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission were invited to think big, with little regard for the price tag. That will be dealt with later, when New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast divvy up the $29 billion in federal aid designated for hurricane recovery and reconstruction.

"This isn't about us asking for $1 billion to build three more Superdomes and five more airports," said Michael Arata, chairman of a subcommittee that looked at rebuilding the city's film and music industries. "These are projects by real New Orleanians that will have real benefit and affect the lives of the people of New Orleans."

He added: "This process allowed people to kind of speak their dreams, give words to their greatest concepts and greatest hopes for this city."

At the heart of the proposals is one critical, and controversial, recommendation: All parts of the city, even the devastated Lower Ninth Ward and other neighborhoods that were submerged to their rooftops, should be given a chance to rebuild.

The Urban Land Institute caused a stir late last year when it issued a report urging the city to put its resources into rebuilding areas that were not flooded. The institute warned that if New Orleans tried to rebuild everything, the city would be condemned to a slow, patchwork recovery.

Foremost will be proposals to fix and improve the city's defenses against floods and restore environmental features like barrier islands and wetlands that act as buffers against the Gulf of Mexico, said Doug Meffert, a Tulane University coastal researcher who worked on the recommendations.

This week, a group of Louisiana state leaders will visit the Netherlands to take a close look at one of the world's best flood protection systems. The Louisiana delegation hopes to find a reliable solution to stopping catastrophic storm surges caused by hurricanes.

Also, there will be recommendations for how to make New Orleans more green and modern. Meffert said some of those ideas include building commuter rail lines to nearby cities and across the Mississippi River, encouraging the use of energy-efficient building practices, creating more parks and building more bike paths.

Recommendations will also call for tax incentives to lure new businesses and to keep those already here.

Another idea is to use tax credits to re-create Storyville, the city-backed red-light district that operated for 20 years until it was shut down in 1917.

The idea, of course, is not to bring back the sex trade, but rather reclaim its musical legacy. Many jazz pioneers; Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and Manuel Perez among them, played in the district's bordellos. Storyville, which was next to the French Quarter, was razed after it fell into disrepair.