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Are New Orleans Residents Leapfrogging Planners?

Bricklayers work on a house in Mid-City in New Orleans, Aug. 9, 2006.
Cheryl Gerber for NPR
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Bricklayers work on a house in Mid-City in New Orleans, Aug. 9, 2006.

The process of rebuilding New Orleans will depend on decisions by individual residents as well as state and local planners. Some people have decided to move back into neighborhoods wiped out by Hurricane Katrina regardless of whether the city is ready or willing to provide them with services.

Sean Reilly, a member of the board of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, notes the chicken-and-egg nature of these decisions.

"If you look at New Orleans proper, we'll quite frankly only be able to bring out critical infrastructure -- sewage, water, utilities -- to places with viable density," he tells Steve Inskeep. "It's important that as we go through the rebuilding process, that information be given to homeowners so that they can make the wisest choice possible."

Some residents, including Ronald Lewis of the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, have returned to their homes, optimistic that enough of their neighbors will come back as well.

"There are many people who believe that the pioneers can inform the planning process and help planners better understand exactly what the density's going to look like," Reilly says.

But he says he hopes Orleans Parish, which includes the city, will go through a "rigorous planning process to inform homeowners" about what they should expect.

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