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Unified NO Plan

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Bring NO Back



Detailed Description of UNOP

By the spring of 2006, key stakeholders at the state and local level had begun discussing a fourth planning process designed to avoid the pitfalls of ESF-14, the Mayor’s already stymied BNOB, and the Lambert Plan. That effort, soon to be christened the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP), was wholeheartedly embraced by the LRA during the summer of 2006 and is, as of this writing, in its early stages of implementation at the city level. Because of UNOP’s direct ties to sources of federal money (filtered through the LRA), it appears to be the definitive recovery planning process for New Orleans. Despite some missteps outlined below, UNOP should also be applauded so far for a level of professionalism and political savvy not seen in the three earlier efforts. That said, many hurdles remain before the UNOP process is completed, and the final story of planning in New Orleans has yet to be written.

UNOP has three crucial elements. First, it is unified, meaning that plans for all of the city’s neighborhoods will be included in one final document, a requirement meant to bring some coherence to recovery funding priorities and to put Orleans Parish in line with the other hurricane-damaged Parishes throughout the state. Second, other planning efforts, including both BNOB and Lambert, will be respected, with neighborhoods deciding how to incorporate earlier ideas into the final deliverable. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it is being designed and implemented by a non-governmental entity meant to insulate the exercise from the politics that doomed earlier efforts.

The genesis of this new idea came during the final stages of the BNOB committee. When FEMA refused to fund BNOB’s neighborhood-level planning effort, Joe Canizaro approached the LRA for $7.5 million in funding. According to Ben Johnson, president of the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF), Sean Reilly and Walter Isaacson, both board members of the LRA, then approached the Rockefeller Foundation for financial support. Rockefeller agreed to partially fund planning in New Orleans under the condition that the money be given to a local foundation (GNOF), and that the plan cover the entire city. It is unclear what background discussions were held between the LRA, GNOF, and Rockefeller, but these conditions resonated with those of the state-level decision makers. With Rockefeller’s initial contribution of $3.5 million and GNOF contributing an additional $1 million, BNOB was effectively terminated and the new UNOP process became the state-sanctioned planning process that would finally satisfy federal and state requirements for the release of the CDBG money that New Orleans so desperately needs.[1] The UNOP decision-making and funding hierarchy is illustrated in Figure 1.

The New Orleans Community Support Foundation, wholly a subsidiary of GNOF, was established as the fiduciary agent overseeing the dispersal of the planning money (expected to total $7.5 million once fully secured). The CSF hired local architecture firm Concordia to staff the process and to put in place an advisory board (the Community Support Organization, or CSO). Initially, UNOP was to draft individual plans for each neighborhood, but, under the advisement of City Planning Commission Director Yolanda Rodriguez, a simpler model was chosen whereby 14 district plans would be produced and then knitted together into one city-wide document. On June 5, 2006 Concordia issued an RFQ for qualified, nationally recognized planning firms, and each district was assigned one district-wide planning team from that list. Neighborhood-level planners were also hired to assist where finer-grained detail was required. The local firm of Villavaso and Associates was chosen as the city-wide planning team, meant to both issue criteria for drafting the district plans and to produce the single, unified document at the end of the process. The assignment of planning teams was based, at least in part, on the preferences of community residents that were voiced during two city-wide meetings held in early August.[2]

Although as of early October, 2006 the process is just getting under way, UNOP aims to have a final document by January 15, 2007 (the date after which the funding expires). The plan must then be endorsed by the City Planning Commission, the City Council, and the Mayor before it is passed on to the LRA.

[1] Since its inception, UNOP has attracted an additional $2 million for a total of $6.5 million out of a projected $7.5 million cost. The Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund contributed $1 million on September 15, 2006 and GNOF backed an additional $1 million in the form of a recoverable grant.
[2] The other criteria used to assign planning teams were the complexity of each district’s issues, the extent of damage, and the level of completion of earlier plans.

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