E-alert 5: What We're Hearing  

Louisiana Speaks Administration
What We're Hearing
by Chuck Perrodin, Center for Planning Excellence

(First in a series of background reports on the Louisiana Speaks planning initiative of the Louisiana Recovery Authority)

South Louisiana has been hearing a lot about planning for hurricane recovery and planning for the future, and about people participating in charrettes, workshops and meetings to design a framework for future development.

But what does it all mean? Is it all talk and no action?

Actually, there is a lot of talk and a lot of action--and that is a very good thing.

While the Louisiana Recovery Authority and Governor Kathleen Blanco have secured billions of dollars from Washington and are working right now to help communities recover and to get people back into their homes and businesses, another group has been asked by the LRA to think about what will come next. What will Louisiana look like in 25 or 50 years? What do we want it to look like? And how do we plan on getting there?

That "think" group isn't holding up any of the LRA's immediate recovery and rebuilding actions, and no funds are being diverted from recovery and rebuilding. This LRA "think" group is operating under the project name Louisiana Speaks. Its mission is to find out what Louisiana citizens desire for the future of our state and to determine options available to make that future come true.

Louisiana Speaks has engaged a team of experts on long-term planning and smart growth--some in the media have named it the Dream Team--to gather public input and assist in building planning, neighborhood planning, parish planning, and developing a regional vision for South Louisiana that will guide recovery and sustainable long-term growth.

When announcing the planners in January, Governor Blanco said, "The team we've assembled is comprised of the world's foremost experts in regional design and will provide the long range vision, community planning and rebuilding tools that we need to build a better, safer place to call home."

The team of world-renowned experts includes Calthorpe Associates, Fregonese Calthorpe Associates, Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, and Urban Design Associates. Their work is being coordinated through the Center for Planning Excellence and funded by the LRA Support Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that has raised private funds through the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to assist in developing plans for rebuilding South Louisiana.

Input for the long-term regional vision has been gathered through surveys of more than 2,500 Louisiana citizens, including residents who are back home and those who are displaced, and through hands-on workshops involving nearly 1,000 civic leaders. From that input a number of possible scenarios are emerging for Louisiana's future. Each scenario will incorporate planning for things like coastal restoration and storm protection; community growth and transportation infrastructure; and economic development.

The experts, however, won't decide which scenario is best for Louisiana. You will.

The planners are using public feedback and input to develop different scenarios or visions of Louisiana's future. A comparison of these possible scenarios is being prepared so you can decide which ones will work best. An analysis is being made of the time frame required for each scenario, how much each would cost, and the impact each would have--or not have--in bringing Louisiana to that brighter future we all desire.

But nothing will be decided until you have your say, and you will have your say in January. That is when Louisiana Speaks will present a menu of options for you to choose from. You will be able to vote on the Internet, on telephone hot lines, or at live public caucus meetings and other means. The scenarios you'll vote on are still being developed, but you can stay informed every step of the way and get involved by visiting www.louisianaspeaks.org.

"The choices and trade-offs we make today will impact the long-term recovery and growth of Louisiana for generations to come, so it's imperative that this plan reflects our voice and our vision for the future," said Donna Fraiche, chair of the LRA Long-term Planning Task Force. "In the wake of the destruction caused by the storms, it's imperative that we not only restore what was lost, but also take this opportunity to rebuild South Louisiana safer, stronger and smarter than ever before."

While the results from this broad-based public input initiative will ultimately become the long-range plan for South Louisiana, Louisiana Speaks isn't delaying any work that is already underway to meet long- and short-term needs of the recovery.

Neighborhood and parish planning is underway and nearing completion throughout the most devastated areas.

Working with Urban Design Associates, Louisiana Speaks also recently published a reference guide to help builders and planners preserve our unique cultural look and architectural traditions, and to advocate building in harmony with our natural environment and climate. Called the "Louisiana Speaks: Pattern Book," it is available at public libraries, Lowes and Stine Lumber stores.

A companion "tool kit" for local developers and community leaders is also approaching publication since it can be of immediate use in the recovery process.

"Louisiana has made tremendous progress in the recovery and rebuilding effort since last year's devastating storms," said Fraiche. "This long-term planning initiative will not slow down the pace of the work we are doing now, it will help us figure out where we are going in the future."

Aside from the $7.5 billion Road Home program that is ramping up to provide homeowners with up to $150,000 to repair and restore their homes, Fraiche points out that billions of dollars are being invested to restore critical pieces of Louisiana's infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and sewer and water systems through the Public Assistance and Local Government Infrastructure programs.

Working with local, state federal and private partners, the LRA has also successfully designed a program to spur $660 million in investments to develop affordable rental housing in areas with the greatest need, granted more than $40 million in gap funding to more than 700 qualifying businesses, and created a program to invest $200 million to repair schools.

The LRA is the planning and coordinating body created in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to lead one of the most extensive rebuilding efforts in the world. The LRA is a 33-member body which is coordinating across jurisdictions, supporting community recovery and resurgence, ensuring integrity and effectiveness, and planning for the recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana.

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Louisiana Speaks is a multifaceted planning process, endorsed by the Louisiana Recovery Authority, to develop a sustainable, long-term vision for South Louisiana in the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
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