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My Storm: Managing the recovery of New Orleans in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina by Edward J. Blakely



The revelations of this book have revealed the emissive mitigation, planning and recovery techniques used to recover from a major disaster. The author Edward J. Blakely talks about his time in Australia covering the natural disaster and the work he did gaining the trust of the New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Professor Blakely was teaching at the University of Sydney when he first heard of the New Orleans disaster called hurricane Katrina. Dr. Blakely is very experienced through his work managing earlier national disasters. Hurricane Katrina was a massive storm that took the lives of many New Orleans residents with over 10-foot-high waves. Dr. Blakely decided to leave Australia and visit the New Orleans area to meet Mayor Ray Nagin about the position as czar of the New Orleans hurricane Katrina disaster. It was an uphill battle with gaining trust from the New Orleans people even though Dr. Blakely had earlier experience working in Oakland California and San Francisco Presidio project with Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD).

Dr. Blakely believed that to gain the trust of the New Orleans people he had to find decisive methods of producing tangible results that would rebuild the city from their core. The New Orleans area is filled with culturally diverse people who arrived in the bayou and settled in a town filled with live music. New Orleans is known for famous jazz players, Cajun foods and historical artifacts dating back to the witch trials. Dr. Blakely found that the culture of New Orleans was washed away with the storm and left a lot of areas bare. The ninth ward was filled with valuable prospects that were destroyed when the city flooding protection levees broke. The high waves that washed into the city from the great Mississippi river were massive.

The conceptual framework that was presented in Dr. Blakely’s model was created by Mayor Nagin and a team of experts that he assembled in New Orleans. The team was highly skilled and experienced in disaster recovery with backgrounds working with Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). When news of Hurricane Katrina hit there was a huge misconception about what the next steps in local and state government funding would be to build the city back together. Dr. Blakely had to work closely with Mayor Nagin about funding options for local citizens who were displaced from their homes due to damage. Several types of damage occur when filing for recovery relief like partial damages of housing, individual assistance, public assistance, and hazard migration grants programs.

According to Dr. Blakely, all three types of disaster assistance were used to help make tangible changes to recovery. Dr. Blakely worked on a New Orleans “green dot plan” that discusses the disparity of Black American homeowners in the New Orleans area who were displaced due to Hurricane Katrina. There were concerns about Black American renter populations that would be displaced to new locations when selected parts of New Orleans turned into a “white Vegas-Style gambling island”. Dr. Blakely decided to speak to community leaders about the pressing issues since many Black Americans were looking for unfamiliar places to live in a time of desperation. Since Dr. Blakely was a new administrator in New Orleans, he was often confronted with brute adversity that he had to overcome while becoming recovery czar. Families with low incomes in an economically slow production area would need Dr. Blakely and Mayor Nagin’s help to fully rebuild their lives. Both men had to work closely with FEMA to assess the total cost of each damaged area either physically, social or economic to make positive changes in the New Orleans city.

FEMA was a learning experience for Dr. Blakely and eventually MT would ask him to work full time. When Dr. Blakely worked with Mayor Nagin on the priority list for New Orleans recovery efforts, they focused on giving high priority to police, fire and public safety projects first. The list of top five priorities included healing, public safety and security to all neighborhoods, infrastructure, diversify the economy, and develop sustainable settlement pattern. The significance of this top five priority list would be the framework for the New Orleans government agenda in the next years after Hurricane Katrina. Continuing healing was the top priority because the disparities of health care between race and economic class was tremendous. The inability for many race minorities to get proper health care from a physician or medical practice was vastly harder than majority races. The same instance was occurring for people of lower economic status because it was harder for them to access reasonable health care for their healing.

Supplying public safety and security for all neighborhoods was a challenging task in New Orleans which is subject to gang violence and frequent inner-city crimes. The lowest-income communities were directly affected by the Hurricane which eventually raised the crime rates in their neighborhoods. However, Dr. Blakely saw that frequent crimes were being committed in all neighborhoods which made him focus on the citywide crime camera, community and neighborhood policing strategies. He developed a program that works hand in hand with a young adult positive social and recreational group. His efforts to use schools as a method to facilitate community knowledge of crimes was a part of the bigger framework for crime prevention. He researched that schools, libraries and community centers had increased foot-traffic which made it a high priority to mitigate rising crime rates. Good hospitals and clinics were made required to help private citizens with their physical and mental health care needs.

Infrastructure for the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries was a futuristic plan that invested in primary public works. The idea behind infrastructure in New Orleans was to improve citywide public works and project future necessities that would arise by seeking new, cheaper and greener technologies. The future of infrastructure is green energy and keeping climate changes in perspective while creating new public policies that private companies and government entities must follow. The New Orleans government was working closely with private sector investment companies to build better local economic businesses that would bring their city more money without harming local citizens in poverty. Primary infrastructure also included sewers, water systems, electric lines and foundations of buildings and houses.

Dr. Blakely decided that diversifying the economy would create large productions in tourism, energy and retail services that would be easy for low-income workers to gain experience in service sectors. Modern day New Orleans is a tourism hub where many millions of people travel from around the world every year. Dr. Blakely was able to recognize the huge investment capabilities of this historic city and motivate business leaders to give vital funding to our local communities. The city’s future is dependent on the economic income they can create and the plans they implement to enhance more tourism and jobs. Focused on building new infrastructure in New Orleans would invite biomedicine, advanced transportation and media coverage to New Orleans which was informally recognized in earlier New Orleans administrations. Biomedicine has been a recent topic of discussion since there has been a global pandemic for COVID-19. It is inspiring that Dr. Blakely was able to understand that biomedical technologies would be a preventative measure for future biological disasters.

Developing a sustainable settlement pattern was the last priority that Dr. Blakely and Mayor Nagin produced in the initial stages of recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Gentrification and neighborhood revitalization was a major priority of Dr. Blakely’s plan to help low-income families that were affected by Hurricane Katrina. He wanted to make New Orleans attractive to people and jobs that would give the city good credibility. He quotes a good friend named Richard Florida, stating that retaining or educating young professionals is a smarter economic approach than chasing factories. Throughout the historical development of United States public administration, we can conclude that Richard Florida was correct because the future of modern, green, rich cities is highly educated professionals willing to make attractive government and business change to sustain new development opportunities. Enhancing young professionals to a higher education or skill set is the method of building a practical future for new government leaders and business leaders. Dr. Blakely focused on new school districts to build new environmentally and socially sustainable communities which were less segregated by income. He believed that equitable opportunities of all citizens should be granted regardless of income or neighborhood school districting.

Bring Back New Orleans (BNOB) commission was one of the promoted recovery plans that helped underdeveloped neighborhoods build back better. Combined with the consulting firm of Lambert and Associates and the initiative by the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF) Mayor Nagin and Dr. Blakely created a huge plan of action to gain all resources needed to rebuild New Orleans communities. Certain sections of the plan allowed better natural development patterns to urban regional planning. Transportation and land usage were to combine the intersections of transport, housing and commercial usage. Key strategies of the New Orleans area are to produce new plan ways for transportation travelers and homeowners. Magnet infrastructure was a metaphor created by Dr. Blakely that produced green climate, demographic diversity and cultural richness through scientific research. Developing a physical identity of the New Orleans city was a part of the plan to bring back the jazz heroes that made the city culturally diverse. Entertainment businesses were to make New Orleans popular in music and creativity that was to prove new methods of artistic expression.

New Orleans was planned to become an economic engine that is globally competitive but locally based. The production of consumer products and big corporations that would produce jobs was possible through the New Orleans plan. Creating intersections of arts, culture and education was planned to attract tourists and people looking to resettle in the inner-city areas. Policy body as a collaborative reference group to champion for regional plan and agenda. The government bodies of New Orleans primary objective were to create new policy procedures that would help promote jobs, economic stability, and advance careers through new private sectors. Target area plan was a method used by Dr. Blakely to describe certain areas of a project for instance, Melbourne was called the “technology precinct” for the university concentration on technology. Private citizens wanted to see buildings and physical production that would concretely show the New Orleans city was getting better post-Katrina.

Dr. Blakely created a team of individuals that would help him create these projects in the city. Many of their earlier experiences were based in regional planning development like communications, government finance, capital projects manager, and chief operating officer. In the days working with his team Dr. Blakely found that he was looking for the soul of the city. In most major cities of America, they are defined by the culture, architecture, and private businesses that create the city identity. New Orleans has started to become a casino driven high stakes Vegas of the South land city. The soul of the city has been altered by the types of business leaders and government leadership that allowed new attractions to the inner city. Historically, New Orleans was a city that focused on jazz, arts, and voodoo cultures. Modern day New Orleans has been changed entirely to encompass the new political institutions that drive sociopolitical organizations with new government initiatives. A common example of this is New Orleans becoming a “green city” that is promoted through new media and political figures.

According to Dr. Blakely, most American cities including New Orleans gives 80 to 90 percent of their budget to fund police, fire, and related essential services. Although the Mayor of the city decides the plans for new policy implementations, Mayor Nagin had only about 10 to 15 percent of the city budget to his discretion. This makes citizen engagement more necessary to have private citizens voice their opinions about what budget allocations should be sent to certain city services. Eventually, Dr. Blakely worked with Paul Vallas who created a partnership for school reform which was used to match educational curricula with the city's economic development plans. The school curriculum was designed around the economic sectors what need hard working people to fill positions including biotech, maritime, business/management, international management, creative arts and community services. These economic sectors are important to build the city from recovery and make new structural engineering for the future.

Dr. Blakely worked with contractors who restore housing zones around the target areas from disaster recovery. He realized that after the storm the city was knocking down more houses than were being built due to the structural integrity of the buildings in the target disaster zone area. He got the mayor’s support to stop tearing down houses in the target area. They designed a plan that would surgically remove houses from an area without having cleared blocks where houses used to be. Many of the classic, traditional housing was preserved if they were not falling over from structural damages, The program included a section of the city's budget that would support low-income and moderate housing areas which preserves the initiatives of the disaster recovery.

African Americans make up more than a third of the families in the state of Louisiana and nearly half of the people in the poor category live in New Orleans city. More than one fifth of the city's residents affected by the hurricane lived in poverty after Hurricane Katrina. Many of the people affected by the natural disaster were already working hard to make ends meet. People who live in poverty must work to make meals, pay rent or subsidized housing, transportation costs and live paycheck to paycheck. Unfortunately, situations like natural disasters open the door to low-income communities' crimes and violence. New Orleans was voted one of the most violent cities on the planet with the majority of crimes committed in the African American neighborhood. Dr. Blakely writes that the chances of an African American male going to prison in New Orleans is 20 times higher than going to college or university.

Race, income and ownership play a role in who gains the most in the city of New Orleans. Most of the African Americans do not own houses but instead rent. Many of the city housing authority wanted to displace African Americans which is called gentrification. The act of moving Black renters to another section of the city because they were too close to the popular tourist and rich sector area French quarters was happening before the Hurricane arrived. Many of the African American people who managed to escape from the poor income housing areas moved to a middle class called Pontchartrain Park and the New Orleans East. While the middle-class African Americans moved to another sector of the city holding onto their jurisdictional power in the larger caste system of New Orleans politics.

Many of the news articles written about New Orleans from the Washington Post structured the idea of White Americans would get assistance for about 12 months yet a Black American would get assistance for a shorter time period, meaning White Americans gained about one thousand dollars more. The Post later stated that “Color was the key in New Orleans”, which was seen as the historical discrimination that could not be easily righted by rebuilding the city. Most of New Orleans is rebuilding from the plantation attitude that is usually regarded by the Southern states of America. School districts were hit by an income disparity between African American and White Americans where individuals with more money were able to live near schools with the best funding and education scores.

Mardi Gras is a widely known event that happens every year in New Orleans that has historical reference to the current race disparity in New Orleans political spectrum. The civil right movement against segregation in schools, housing districts, transportation, work positions, restaurants and religious churches. Mardi Gras was a huge part of the recovery development because it is an event that brings in a lot of revenue every year to the city by tourists. Usually, students at colleges and universities in the city participate in the Mardi Gras festivities.

In the news about the post-crisis situation and recovery, the major topics included safety and permits, affordable housing, library system, riverfront development, regional planning and medical center complex, New Orleans recreation department (NORD), economic development, code enforcement, and Mahalia Jackson performance center. These major topics into disaster recovery were to help citizens of New Orleans at every aspect of their livelihoods gain all the time, money and resources needed to gain a higher socioeconomic status post disaster. For instance, individuals that needed to get a residential permit post storm for their trailer were able to find city government assistance for the application process. There were requests for city government trash services to pick up harmful materials in their neighborhood that were thrown due to a disaster. Affordable housing for individuals who need government assistance was being built and loan programs were available for returning and new home buyers in the city. Library systems were able to buy more books and resources for the community. The library system also supplied food and stationary materials for individuals who needed to fill out job applications and a free meal. The Riverfront development program was able to build new commercial, residential and park space along the Mississippi riverfront. Ther Riverfront area is a major tourist attraction that also provides the city with shipping consumer products.

Regional planning and medical center complex were being updated for the new hospital complexes and economic benefits to the city. For instance, New Orleans has a huge hospital system that takes in patients from the state and beyond. It is important for cities recovering from natural disasters to have a highly functioning hospital system to help critical patients hurt from the disaster. NORD was a new program and centers built in the wake of the storm which would provide the public with city resources including jobs, permits and access to public works (water, electricity, gas, new road system, transportation operations, and school programs). Economic development for pending commercial projects the city will stimulate were important for certain sectors like Canal Street, French Quarter and Ninth Ward district. City enforcement deals with blight and vacant properties which were abandoned or unoccupied commercial spaces after the disaster hit an area. Mahalia Jackson performance center was the rebirth of a performance space icon that gave a sense of culture to the New Orleans area.

“My Storm” by Dr. Blakely was one of the best books that I have read in a long time about disaster recovery. It was interesting, cultural, and filled with government experience. I was happy to read it over the fall 2021 semester which gave me a sense of pride to finish the book entirely. Dr. Blakely has a true sense of leadership which makes for a quality government disaster czar. He believes in the well being of citizens in every aspect of their lives and maintains a strong city infrastructure. He manages disaster recovery in many cities of the United States which brings knowledge of city governance from one U.S. region to another. I am inspired by the work of Dr. Blakely and convinced that his work will contribute to the long-term success of the United States infrastructure deal in the Biden-Harris administration.

Since reading this book by Dr. Blakely, I have found myself questioning the stability of current disaster management policies and procedures at the local municipal government level. The young social scientist in me hypothesizes the ideals of local communities that want to build stronger infrastructure systems in the long term. I project future outcomes of several types of disasters including wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons and man-made disasters. Young future leaders of the world must come together to create practical solutions for disaster management. Dr. Blakely has awakened the curiosity of innovative technologies in local government. State and federal government expertise in public awareness can give locals time needed to mitigate disaster problems. I have grown throughout reading this book and look forward to my future studies in disaster management.

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