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Plan Allows Rebuilding in All Areas of New Orleans

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In New Orleans today, city leaders released a master plan that outlines how and where the Crescent City can begin to rebuild. The plan was developed by Mayor Ray Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission and it starts the clock on one of the most controversial issues facing the city: deciding which of the devastated neighborhoods will be rebuilt. There's wide agreement that the city's footprint or inhabited areas will have to change. Officials are planning for a city with half its former population, and there are steep flood protection challenges ahead for some low-lying areas. NPR's Greg Allen is in New Orleans. He joins us now.

Greg, this issue of whether some neighborhoods might be simply abandoned has been very emotional. What's the plan say about devastated areas like the Lower Ninth Ward?

GREG ALLEN reporting:

Well, there's a couple of different plans for the most devastated areas, Michele, as you--for areas of the Lower Ninth Ward, as you mentioned, the ones that are just really torn up, the areas up north of Claiborne Avenue, along the Industrial Canal where you have just piles of rubble, it's clear those neighborhoods, those houses cannot be saved and they're going to be cleared and that area's going to be redeveloped as parkland or maybe as--for mixed-use housing, various--the city's planning for there, and also for other devastated areas.

But for a large part of the city--and something like 80 percent of the city actually had two feet or more of water in it--you're talking about trying to take--set aside four months to determine whether enough residents will come back and whether you'll get enough people in those neighborhoods to make them safe and to support basic city services. So there's a planning process that's set up that starts this month and will go through June, in which time residents will work with planners and other experts to see what they can make of their city--of their neighborhoods and whether they actually can survive.

NORRIS: And, Greg, in the end, who makes decisions about what areas are viable and what areas are not?

ALLEN: Well, the plan is just getting under way, but a key part of it is setting up this Crescent City Redevelopment Authority. Now that's a citywide authority that will have a lot of money to buy and sell properties. They're hoping that combined with federal money, they can actually offer residents up to 100 percent of their pre-Katrina equity, what they had invested in their house before the storm. If that works out, then they will buy out residents in the neighborhoods that aren't inhabited and they'll, you know, allow them to rebuy in other neighborhoods. But ultimately, it will be up to that authority and that tough decision will come sometime in June or later, maybe into August, depending how long the process stretches out.

NORRIS: So homeowners will be reimbursed. What about people who don't own homes?

ALLEN: Well, one part of the plan calls for setting aside these big swaths of land in the city for redevelopment, and the city leaders say they're already talking to developers who are interested in coming in and helping rebuild New Orleans, and as I say, they're talking about not just middle-income housing, but also more affordable housing, so they'll have these kind of mixed-income communities they're thinking about. And, of course, in addition they're gonna have--they're talking about a large public transit system that would be throughout the city of light rail. Very hefty price tag there, something like close to $5 billion. So it's a very expensive plan, and it's all kind of at this point just very theoretical, but it's all on the drawing board right now.

NORRIS: Greg, very, very quickly, what about areas that had minimal damage? Do they have a green light now?

ALLEN: Perhaps the most controvers--well, yes, if there's minimal damage, you can rebuild right now, but a lot of people are mad that in some of these areas that you can't rebuild, there's a four-month moratorium, and in places like Lakeview and some others, people are already rebuilding. They say, `We don't want to stop just because the mayor says that we should. We've got building permits.' So that's something they'll have to work out over the next few weeks.

NORRIS: Greg, thanks so much.

ALLEN: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Greg Allen, speaking to us from New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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