Funds for Grassroots groups in the gulf coast-discussion

colist at colist at
Sun Sep 11 13:31:21 CDT 2005

[ed: since the thread is getting very long, I am just including new 
messages now. You can always find old messages in the COMM-ORG archives. 
Go to 
Here are contributions from Harold and Terri.]

From: Harold Simon <hsimon at>

Hi Randy and Comm-Orgers:

In an ironic twist of fate, our cover story in the latest issue of 
Shelterforce ( was on residents of North Gulfport and Turkey 
Creek, Mississippi fighting gentrification and displacement. For some 
time after Katrina hit, we had no idea what happened to the people we 
featured in the story. We still don’t know the status of the person who 
appears on our cover page. We’ve posted some information on our web site 
and will be posting more as we receive it. For those on the listserve 
who are working in the affected areas in community organizing, housing 
or community development, we’d like to hear your story. Send information 
to us at shelter at Also, here are a few local groups that were 
working in the area before the hurricane and continue to do so. If 
you’re with an organization compiling a list of local groups providing 
aid, we’d be glad to cross-link.

Enterprise Corporation of the Delta

Southern Mutual Help Association, Inc.


The Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Sparkplug Foundation 
each provide lists of grassroots organizations working in New Orleans 
and more widely in the affected areas.

Harold Simon

Executive Director/Editor

National Housing Institute/Shelterforce

460 Bloomfield Avenue, Suite 211

Montclair, NJ 07042-3552


973-509-8005 fax


From: tmcnichol at

Sept. 9, 2005 | Vol 4 No 16

In this issue of Spotlight on the Region, RPA joins the nation and world 
in focusing our attention on the disaster and its aftermath on the Gulf 
Coast. We find that there are lessons for New York in New Orleans, and 
vice versa, and that hopes for a revitalized Gulf Coast may rest on a 
new concept known as the mega-region.

Learning from New Orleans, Learning from New York
Among other things, New York City and its environs lack above-ground 
graves, Dutch-like dikes, and a southern proximity that leaves it 
vulnerable to Category 4/5 hurricanes. So we shouldn’t get too carried 
away trying to compare New Orleans and New York.

Nevertheless, watching hurricane Katrina destroy a city and much of the 
region around it, in large part because of a failure to adequately 
prepare for it beforehand and cope with it afterward, makes you wonder: 
could anything similar happen here, and are we adequately prepared? Can 
we learn anything from New Orleans’ troubles? And can they learn 
anything from our recovery from the 9/11 attacks?

When examining the catastrophe in New Orleans, it’s clear that there was 
a massive failure of infrastructure in every sense of the word: 
physical, human, and bureaucratic. The failure of the levees, part of 
the physical infrastructure, was compounded by the failure of the 
bureaucratic infrastructure, principally the Federal Emergency 
Management Agency. The looting and violence that surfaced in New Orleans 
showed problems of poverty and culture that had not been adequately 
addressed. It’s clear that the state and national political 
infrastructure failed to implement a solid plan to protect the city from 
such a storm and handle long-term problems on the Mississippi River.

Looking at New Orleans’ fate, we are reminded that choices have 
consequences. When we look at the choices we have made here and might 
make in the future, what are the consequences that we see?

Could It Happen here?
Researchers at RPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and at Columbia, Stony 
Brook and City universities have modeled what a similar hurricane, or 
even a 100-year coastal storm, would do to our region. All of them have 
concluded that even a Category 1 hurricane, more likely here than the 
larger hurricanes that can hit the Gulf, could be devastating to 
low-lying coastal areas in all three states.

Like the Gulf Coast, we have built up most of our barrier beaches and 
islands, and filled up low-lying coastal areas with housing and critical 
infrastructure, such as airports and waste water treatment facilities. 
According to the US Climate Change Science Program / US Global Change 
Research Program, the Northeast has experienced 20% increases in 
precipitation events. Increases in extreme weather events including ice 
storms, severe flooding, nor'easters, droughts, and hurricanes are also 
more frequent.

Storms such as the ice storm of January 1998 that resulted in an 
extended period of power failure for upstate New York residents, heat 
waves in 1999 that caused massive energy network overloads within New 
York City, and six periods of drought over the last 20 years have 
increased attention on extreme weather events.

How would our emergency services respond? Would our infrastructure be 
devastated the way similar systems were damaged in New Orleans? Would a 
crisis affecting hundreds of square miles affect the region differently 
than an attack on 16 acres in Lower Manhattan?

The answer is that we simply don’t know. We do know that our emergency 
services generally functioned well in the aftermath of 9/11, although 
they were hampered by inadequate coordination and communications across 
political and bureaucratic boundaries. And even though disaster 
preparedness and emergency management services are more sophisticated 
and better funded here than on the Gulf Coast, even a minor hurricane or 
northeast gale could cause enormous damage and disruption to key 
infrastructure systems. But also like New Orleans, in a major disaster 
we will depend on FEMA, which proved not up to the job down South. The 
Tri-State Region should involve itself in the national discussions and 
examinations over whether FEMA is properly organized, what its mission 
should be, and who should staff it. Formed in 1979 principally to 
respond to a nuclear attack and not to national disasters, FEMA’s 
mission has been always been contested and debated, as have the 
qualifications of those who lead it and staff it. The current debate 
over how central terrorism should be to its mission takes place in that 

When looking at recent major storms, we know that the December Storm (or 
“Perfect Storm”) of 1992 inundated the portals of the PATH terminal in 
Jersey City and flooded the Downtown PATH tunnel, putting this vital 
piece of infrastructure out of service. The Nor’easter storm also 
underscored the fact that we have few defenses against this kind of 

In the short term, we need effective contingency plans for evacuations 
and safeguarding key infrastructure sites, including PATH and subway 
portals in low-lying areas. In the longer term, we must debate whether 
New York needs to invest in major flood prevention systems similar to 
those in place in London, Tokyo and Rotterdam. Douglas Hill, a 
researcher at Stony Brook University, has proposed a system of 
retractable flood gates similar to London’s Thames Barrier and to 
Rotterdam’s North Sea Barrier, to protect the core of the region from 
serious flooding in a storm event of this kind. Under Hill’s scheme, 
retracting flood barriers would be installed in the bottom of the 
Narrows, the Arthur Kill and Long Island Sound at Willets Point. Hill’s 
research also concludes that in many places – apparently including New 
York – it takes a major disaster and years of subsequent public debate 
to convince citizens and elected leaders of the importance of investing 
in systems of this kind. So now is the time to seriously consider 
whether flood prevention systems are needed to save the core of our 
region from a disaster like the one facing New Orleans. But we have to 
consider whether the immense expense of a tidal gate system, for 
example, is justified by the possible damage that a major storm could cause.

Lessons from 9/11
Although the rebuilding process in Lower Manhattan hasn’t always 
advanced smoothly or without controversy, the immense civic 
participation does provide important lessons for Gulf Coast residents as 
they begin to rebuild their region. In general, these efforts recognized 
three principles for rebuilding that New Orleans should consider: that 
plans had to address the fundamental problems that the area faced before 
the disaster; that the planning process had to be organized around the 
active participation of the public; and that plans had to look beyond 
the affected area to the broader region.

This process of civic engagement culminated in the July 2002 Listening 
to the City electronic town meeting, in which 5,000 citizens rejected 
the initial development plans for the World Trade Center site. 
Consequently, decisions that could have required years to make were 
accelerated, speeding the whole rebuilding process. As a result of these 
efforts, the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan has been underpinned by 
several major transportation improvements totaling more than $4 billion, 
several of them now under construction.

One of the most difficult tasks facing Gulf Coast planners now is to 
envision how the area can be rebuilt to capitalize on future trends, and 
not simply replicate an economy that hadn’t really thrived for years. 
They should look at the future of New Orleans and nearby storm-damaged 
areas in the context of the larger Gulf Coast region extending from 
Houston to Tallahassee. This is one of several similar emerging US 
“mega-regions” that are becoming the new competitive units in the global 
economy, and that are expected to attract 70% of the nation’s population 
growth and 80% of the employment growth by 2050. The emergence of a Gulf 
Coast mega-region creates an enormous opportunity for the area to 
rebuild itself for the next economy, not the last one. But to seize this 
opportunity will require that the region collaborate in new ways to link 
the economies of growing places like Houston with underperforming places 
like New Orleans to create advantages for the mega-region.

RPA and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are now working on 
a similar economic development and mobility strategy for the 
Boston-Washington mega-region, and colleagues at Georgia Tech and the 
Atlanta Regional Council are outlining a similar strategy for the 
Piedmont Atlantic Mega-region stretching from Raleigh-Durham, NC to 
Birmingham, AL. By placing rebuilding plans for New Orleans in the 
larger context of the emerging Gulf Coast mega-region, these plans can 
address the fundamental economic, environmental, social and mobility 
challenges that impaired the region’s economic prospects and quality of 
life before Katrina, and set the region on the course to a brighter 
future following this catastrophic event.

Jane Jacobs, the esteemed and much cited writer on cities, made the wise 
observation once that there is a difference between repairing a city 
after a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake, and repairing 
the structural problems that cause poverty, decay or crime. A quick 
infusion of material, labor and money can fix the former, but not 
usually the latter, she said.

Although Jacobs’ axiom is true in many ways, events in New Orleans show 
that there is no clear separation between building long-term 
infrastructure systems to protect citizens, and to enhance an economy. 
In general, we in the Tri-State Region can be proud that relative to the 
rest of the country we have some of the most intensive infrastructure of 
all types, from transportation systems to education systems, which 
enable it to be a high-producing, high-value region. But our possible 
to-do list is long. We should consider tackling what needs to be done 
not only because such projects could help protect us from natural and 
man-made disasters, but because they could ultimately help build a more 
prosperous and stable region.

– Bob Yaro, RPA President, and Alex Marshall, Editor, Spotlight on the 

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