The Bring Back New Orleans commission released its long-awaited reconstruction plan Wednesday. Among its recommendations: eliminating a 122 kilometer shipping channel that has been blamed for much of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina, building a new light rail system, and creating a new "Jazz district". But as VOA's Mil Arcega reports, a plan to close down some neighborhoods within one year if not enough residents come back, has many families worried.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has given city planners in New Orleans a unique opportunity to remake a modern American city. Plans include a complete overhaul of the city's schools system, a $3 billion light rail system and a new jazz district.
But one recommendation is of particular concern to residents trying to rebuild. The panel has recommended closing down neighborhoods within a year if they don't reach a critical mass of residents.
Rhonda Johnson says she can't let that happen. "I'm putting everything I have, every dime, into my home. And I have to live with every day: maybe somebody's going to come and tell me, ‘You can't live here anymore.’ This is America. How can this happen?"
Although some planners say flood-prone areas should not be rebuilt, the report suggests residents should decide if they want to rebuild or accept a federally-funded buyout. Some have already made up their minds.
Myra Robinson decided to sell her home rather than wait for city planners to decide if her neighborhood will be spared. "Just to come back each time, I get broken up. In fact, I may start crying again."
The city plans to start buying property later this year to begin construction of schools and public facilities. Low lying neighborhoods that face the biggest threats from flooding could become parks or turned into permanent marshland. The idea troubles Mark Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans, who says politicians and business leaders need to consult with residents before they write off entire communities.
"Every neighborhood should and must be treated equally because every neighborhood is of equal risk, certainly, within degree," said Mr. Morial.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to have a large say in how the $17 billion reconstruction fund will be spent. But city officials insist residents will also be given a chance to work with committees, so they can have a say in the future of a "new" New Orleans.