NyrenNOLACanizaro_150Five years after Hurricane Katrina struck southeast Louisiana, New Orleans–based real estate developer, Joseph Canizaro, weighs in on the progress of rebuilding the city. Joseph Canizaro is president and CEO of Columbus Properties L.P. in New Orleans. He is a past ULI chairman and was chair of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission’s land use committee.

In terms of rebuilding, what has the city done right over the past five years?

What most impressed me was that under weak political leadership, individual neighborhoods came together and brought in planners and people to help them begin to develop a plan for the rebuilding of their community. I think it’s sad that the city’s political leaders didn’t appropriately understand and explain the ULI advisory panel’s recommendations and the Bring New Orleans Back Commission plan, and that as a result, these were rejected. But the citizens in the neighborhoods rose to the occasion, and we have passed a new master plan for the development of New Orleans. Now the city is finalizing a new zoning ordinance, which will ensure that the type of development the master plan calls for will actually be built. 

What are the most significant aspects of rebuilding that still remain to be done, and do you foresee progress ahead?

Because of the lack of political leadership, citizens were less concerned about how each of the neighborhoods connected to the other neighborhoods and to the rest of the city, and, as a result, they invited everyone to return to their homes, no matter what. One of the shortfalls is that we the people have created a jack-o’-lantern effect, as predicted in the ULI report and the Bring New Orleans Back Commission report.

But we now have a mayor [Mitch Landrieu] who won the vote in both the African American community and the Caucasian community, and that’s historic in New Orleans. I’m beginning to see support for the new mayor in doing things that we would not have been able to have accomplished in the past. He has credibility, and he’s open, transparent, and straightforward. I believe he will help us pull together and replace blight with good-quality development. 

In addition to the physical rebuilding, has the city successfully reinvented and/or expanded its economy?

I wish I could say that we had. There are some good things going on now with the building of a new VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] hospital and the new LSU [Louisiana State University] hospital that are going to revitalize part of the downtown area that fronts on Canal Street. That will create jobs. The economic downturn is holding our ports back. A lot of jobs have been created to replace infrastructure, and a lot of money has gone into building multifamily low- and moderate-income housing. But that hasn’t helped the hospitality industry, which is a big industry in this community. 

What must the city do to improve its livability for existing residents and to attract new residents?

We put a new mayor in place; that’s a giant accomplishment. Getting the new zoning ordinance in place will be a giant step. We had a recent ULI forum where we invited the mayor and people from each of the 13 neighborhoods to talk about what’s working and what’s not. We asked the mayor about his priorities. He threw out [for consideration] a controversial one that I like—to tear down the expressway that goes through the center of downtown and have it go around town, allowing more interconnection between communities. 

Do you believe the city is better equipped now to handle the next big storm?

I think our levees are in better shape than they have been in history. I think that our planning for disaster is in better shape than it has ever been. We have a good plan for evacuating people prior to a storm. The lessons learned and the experiences that we had will help us perform better next time.

The 2005 ULI advisory services panel report on New Orleans is available on ULI.org.