Planning and development frequently put â€œwhite do-goodersâ€? like myself (thanks, Mr. H!) in relatively foreign cultures, whether it be overseas work or urban inner-cities in the U.S.Â What we in the business like to call the â€œtrust fund babiesâ€? might find themselves working with Tanzanian women in microfinance lending circles, adolescent Latinas on the Lower East Side, or displaced, elderly African-American public housing residents.Â Connecting with people on a personal level is something I work really hard at, in any situation, but in culturally different environments (say, for example, New Orleans), I spend a lot of time observing, taking notes when possible, and trying to make sense of peopleâ€™s meanings.Â And sometimes their comments just stick with me.Â
Wednesday night at a neighborhood planning meeting, one of the members of the Louisiana Recovery Authority â€“ the state agency responsible for overseeing development (a la the LMDC in Lower Manhattan) â€“ spoke to a room of New Orleanians about coordinating state activity with local neighborhood-level planning initiatives.Â Iâ€™m starting to get a little paranoid about describing my work after reading two different bloggers talk about getting fired for blogging about their jobs, but this guy is just too good to keep all for ourselves in our idyllic Gulf Coast hamlet.Â An overweight white guy, he first thanks the room for providing the pork chops in the back (most NOLA public meetings have food), for â€œpork chopsâ€? will get him to any meeting any time.Â From there he proceeds to reassure the room that all neighborhoods will come back, even if the neighborhoods donâ€™t look the same in the future.Â But, he emphasizes, itâ€™s important to make sure that all New Orleanians are â€œswimming in the deep part of the riverâ€? and are fully engaged in the process.Â â€œNo matter how tired you are,â€? he adds,â€? get in the boat.Â We gotta go.â€?Â Is it just me as an outsider, but is this incredibly ill-chosen vivid imagery for a room full of flood survivors?
He goes on.Â Itâ€™s like listening to the Boston-Irish head of the AFL-CIOâ€™s mutual fund describe working in Texas (or Mars, he quips), except I speak his language.Â This Southern politico-business man, he loses my comprehension but captures my attention completely when he explains to one New Orleanian worrying about the details of the planning process:
â€œdonâ€™t worry about the view, just keep loading the wagon.â€?Â