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Group Unveils Plans to Rebuild New Orleans

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A comprehensive plan for rebuilding New Orleans was unveiled today. A non-profit group called the Urban Land Institute working for a commission appointed by the mayor made a series of recommendations on how and where the rebuilding of the city should take place. NPR's John Ydstie has the story.

Unidentified Man: Ask everyone to take their seats.

JOHN YDSTIE reporting:

The Urban Land Institute panel of planners, developers, architects and financial and government experts delivered its recommendations at a public meeting in a crowded downtown hotel ballroom. They offered concrete suggestions for, among other things, restoring housing, encouraging more effective government, boosting the city's economic vitality and creating secondary flood protection within the city's current levees.

Carl Weisbrod, a New York City real estate executive and veteran of this city's post-9/11 rebuilding, urged the city to put aside its political and racial differences and speak with one voice as it seeks federal help.

Mr. CARL WEISBROD (NYC Real Estate Executive): God knows in New York we've had our political squabbles and our differences but we did put them aside in order to address the immediate challenges that September 11th posed, and we were able, because we did that, to get immediate federal aid very, very quickly.

YDSTIE: Federal funding will be key to New Orleans' revival. To handle those funds and manage the rebuilding, the ULI panel recommended creation of a new entity, the Crescent City Rebuilding Corporation. It would receive federal funds and manage the rebuilding process, said panel member Tony Salazar, a Los Angeles developer.

Mr. TONY SALAZAR (Panel Member, Crescent City Rebuilding Corporation): This corporation will have the ability to buy homes, buy property from owners who are unwilling or unable to rebuild in those investment areas that will be finalized later. It will have the power to purchase mortgages. It will be the conduit of all capital.

YDSTIE: The rebuilding corporation's board would have seven members: three appointed by President Bush, two by Louisiana's governor and one each by the mayor and city council. The lack of local control implied by that arrangement may prove controversial, as could another ULI recommendation, a new board to oversee the management of the city government's finances. Through a series of color-coded maps showing flood levels, the panel also gently suggested that some of the most flood-devastated areas of the city might not be suitable for rebuilding and should be returned to parks or wetlands.

Mr. JOSEPH BROWN (Redevelopment Consultant): Particularly here in New Orleans east, nature is trying to tell us something about this area of the city, when we see recapturing, some very low spaces that can't really be developed.

YDSTIE: That was Joseph Brown, a San Francisco redevelopment consultant. After the presentation, Joe Canizaro, a New Orleans real estate developer and member of the mayor's Bring Back New Orleans Commission, said the panel took some tough positions.

Mr. JOE CANIZARO (Real Estate Developer): They pulled no punches. They talked about some of the tough things we have to deal with, particularly extremely low-lying areas and areas where we have a low-income black population who we have to be very sensitive about.

YDSTIE: Another commission member, neighborhood activist Barbara Majors, lives in one of those areas, the Lower Ninth Ward.

Ms. BARBARA MAJORS (Activist): There's going to be a struggle. I'm of the belief that people have a right to rebuild where they are, however, there's a reality check here. I can't go back where I lived and build my house on those flat flats. I was under water 11 feet. I am sitting there equal to the lake. That don't make any sense. So I know that when I rebuild where I live, I got to do it differently.

YDSTIE: The Bring Back New Orleans Commission will study the ULI's recommendations and produce its comprehensive plan for rebuilding the city by year's end.

John Ydstie, NPR News, New Orleans.

MICHELE NORRIS (Co-host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.