From SFGate.com :
Oakland urban planner who sought leadership will head New Orleans recovery team -
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
After working out of the limelight for nearly a decade as a consultant to then-Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, urban planner Ed Blakely tossed his hat into the ring in the 1998 Oakland mayor's race -- and finished a distant second to Jerry Brown.
During the campaign, Blakely said his first run at political office was an expression of his desire to set policy, set the agenda and lead instead of follow.
On Monday, the 69-year-old professor and career scholar finally got his wish.
Blakely was named executive director of recovery for the city of the New Orleans. He will coordinate the rebuilding of the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck with a fury in August 2005, making it the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.
He is perhaps uniquely suited for the job.
As a special assistant to Harris in Oakland, Blakely led the city's recovery after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, which destroyed the Cypress Freeway, killing 42 people, and severely damaged many downtown buildings.
In 1991, while a professor at the University of Southern California, he helped plan the rebuilding of Los Angeles after the Northridge earthquake.
And after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, Blakely, who was living in New York at the time, was tapped by a regional planning association to coordinate a response plan. He responded with an entire downtown plan.
With all that behind him, the rebuilding of the historic city of New Orleans will be the biggest challenges Blakely -- and few others -- have ever attempted.
His appointment comes more than 15 months after Hurricane Katrina smashed through levees and submerged much of the legendary southern city at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River. Much of the city world-renowned for its jazz and blues is still unrecognizable, and its tourism-based economy is ailing, Blakely said in an interview on Monday.
The slow start to recovery should be expected in a city whose social and mechanical infrastructure had been swept away.
"When you have a situation like this, where the whole city has basically been destroyed, it's sometimes hard to figure out how to get started," said Blakely, who has worked most recently as a professor in Sydney, Australia. "I hope to use my experiences in what we did right and didn't do right in Oakland, Los Angeles and New York.
"I think it's going to take a lot of work," he said. There are (racial) black and white issues here,
class issues, and those things can't be ignored.
"The city needs a modern infrastructure, and you have to build something better," Blakely added. "New Orleans needs a modern economy, a new economic base, because you can't live on tourism alone."
Blakely hopes to assemble a 12- to 15-person team and start work next month. The city has appropriated nearly $500,000 in the coming year for the project.
"First we have to bring back the infrastructure -- across the entire city," he said. "We need sewer lines, streets, street lights, traffic lights. ... Power is still out in some quarters. All of that has to be put back before you can begin to put up houses."
His job will be to coordinate the city's recovery jobs into one smoothly running operation in a city and state without the resources and money of a place like California.
Blakely said his office will develop a master plan for the city, which currently is home to about 200,000 residents but that he envisions may one day include up to a half-million people. His work will focus on rebuilding the city's core, and he said a bill before Congress would provide funding to modernize the levee system in the Gulf Coast region to avert another such disaster.
"We are very far behind the Japanese and the Dutch in putting in the types of flood-control systems that we need down here," he added.
If you recall, one of the marvels of the 1998 Oakland mayor's race was Blakely's plan for a monorail to more efficiently transport cargo and freight from the Port of Oakland to rail and truck connections.
As far as original ideas and innovation, Blakely is a master.
If Blakely can master a bureaucracy said to be as thick as the swamps down there, and he can actually see some of his dreams of urban life come to fruition, New Orleans will be back.
His colleagues in urban planning rave about him.
Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Planning Association, the New York group that enlisted Blakely's help for the Sept. 11 planning response, called him a "pillar of integrity" in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday.
But this time, noted John Renne, a urban studies professor at the University of New Orleans, the odds are much higher.
"If the person fails to deliver, it's greater than the individual," he said. "It's really about ... whether the city going to recover."
For a man who has sought the mantle of leadership, there can be no bigger challenge.
Your serve, Mr. Blakely.
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