Went on a running tour early this morning through the Garden District. Got chatting to a woman called Laura who works for AECOM Design + Planning in Washington. The run was being led by another woman who had worked in the same AECOM office as a landscape architect and had been seconded to New Orleans to assist with the rebuilding effort. Since then she hasn’t looked back. She described 80 hour weeks (not too different to London then!) and tough politics, but the speed in which projects get on the ground is apparently phenomenal.
After queuing for about half an hour in Starbucks for a coffee and a cheese danish (wasn’t worth the effort) I finally got into some of the sessions which focussed upon flood risks in the developing world and getting sustainability into US local plans.
The grande finale of the conference was the closing keynote speech by Adolfo Carrion Jr, appointed by Obama as the director of Urban Affairs in the White House. Carrion has a background in planning and his appointment reflects the Obama administrations commitment to the profession.
Carrion described the American Planning Association (that has been around for 102 years) as being ahead of the game for so long, but a “voice in the wilderness”. He stated that America needs “smart planning” that does not have a party label and cuts across government departments. Embedded into smart planning, he said, are the principles of economic growth, environmental responsibility, and providing every neighbourhood in the US opportunities. For too long pockets of marginalisation have been allowed to develop in US cities, and smart planning can assist in bucking this trend.
Carrion announced a program of spending increases planned over the next few years with a $100 million sustainable communities grant for the next fiscal year, to be increased to $710 million next year. Shame he can’t send some of that to the UK.
New Orleans Mayor Elect, Mitch Landrieu followed, describing how the aftermath of Katrina had not been a natural disaster, but a national disaster that exposed problems that traverse America. the primary cause has been a failure to invest in cities and a lack of foresight and planning. He spoke of local failures since Katrina in realising recovery but believes that New Orleans is now on the cusp of re-creation, rather than just rebuilding, allowing citizens to develop the city that they want to live in. However, this is dependent upon government, business and communities working together something that has not worked well so far.
Concluding, he stated that he believes that Government is an active agent for change and should lead in instilling hope, vision and inspiration amongst citizens. New Orleans, he believes, will come to be seen as an icon for such democracy and hope.
Spent the rest of the day wandering around the French Quarter buying tat and an enormous po-boy. Then went for my final Creole meal in the Commanders Palace Restaurant with Ann and Clive which was some of the best food of the trip.