Five years after Hurricane Katrina struck southeast Louisiana, New Orleans–based real estate developer, William B. Bradshaw II, weighs in on the progress of rebuilding the city. William B. Bradshaw II is the cofounder and president of the New Orleans–based real estate development firm Green Coast Enterprises.
In terms of rebuilding, what has the city done right over the past five years?
The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority is an amazing case study of the complete re-creation of a public agency. It has built up its capacity and changed from being an agency with very little public trust. One of the most broken mechanisms was the process for putting property into redevelopment. Now the authority has a clear and transparent process. And it has proactively pulled together a team of high-performing community development corporations and won one of the largest Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Groups like the Broadmoor Improvement Association and the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization have become some of the shining lights of the recovery—extraordinarily civically minded and engaged organizations that shepherd the type of development they want to see in the rebuilding of the city. And there are not-for-profit organizations like the Make It Right Foundation, which selected an area in the Lower Ninth Ward where hundreds of houses were washed off their foundations. They’ve rebuilt 42 houses so far, plus they’ve helped spur a lot of other reinvestment in that section.
What are the most significant aspects of rebuilding that still remain to be done, and do you foresee progress ahead?
There are places in the city where access to medical care, quality schools, and even streetscape infrastructure are still lacking. The city and the [Louisiana] Recovery School District are repairing that infrastructure, and they’re trying to do it in smart ways—collocating schools and libraries and medical care and then allowing neighborhoods to rebuild and recover around them.
Those pieces are starting to come into place. The Andrew H. Wilson Charter School in the Broadmoor neighborhood is one of the most inspiring places in the city. The existing school took on several feet of water in the flooding and had to be shuttered. It reopened this year, and the architecture incorporates a mural telling the history of the city and neighborhood.
There are still too many places where blight is an issue. The largest obstacle the city has had to overcome is a state constitutional amendment that makes it almost impossible for public agencies to transfer properties taken by eminent domain to private owners, whether they are a nonprofit or for-profit organization. A lot of hard work has been done, and the city is right on the precipice of getting that fixed and ramping up its blight program.
In addition to the physical rebuilding, has the city successfully reinvented and/or expanded its economy?
New Orleans and the south Louisiana region have grown fairly significantly through the recession, adding economic activity and jobs. Organizations like Louisiana Economic Development and a regional development agency called Greater New Orleans Inc. have ramped up the capacities that attract major employers to Louisiana. They’ve been good at selling the benefits of south Louisiana’s lifestyle and culture.
What must the city do to improve its livability for existing residents and to attract new residents?
The new mayor [Mitch Landrieu] has prioritized public safety and education in his administration. There’s still a lot of work to do, but when I talk to people who have grown up in New Orleans and lived in New Orleans for a long time, there’s a real hopefulness that I think is fairly new.
Do you believe the city is better equipped now to handle the next big storm?
I do. There has been a lot of attention paid to disaster preparation, and that has rippled through every level of government and through the neighborhood organizations. There is a nonprofit organization called Evacuteer.org, which trains volunteers to help with evacuation. We also now have a mayor who has tremendous experience dealing with disaster response. That inspires a lot of confidence.
The 2005 ULI advisory services panel report on New Orleans is available on ULI.org.