Monday, October 27, 2008

Sea Change for US Waterways

I was blown away this weekend when I attended a community visioning session facilitated by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. (So much so that I completely forgot to take photographs).

James Wadddell, an engineer from the Corps of Engineers, led a group of engaged residents in articulating a vision of future development for a local neighborhood - the Mobile Street district. The significance here is that, historically, "vision" has been a top-down process as the Corps of Engineers dictated projects with little or no community input.

What a breath of fresh air.

Sustainability, along with the encouragement of community priority-setting and decision-making, was a common thread throughout the interactive workshop. Waddell artfully led the group in articulating a vision unique to the neighborhood by having residents draw their ideas on paper.
After some initial natural reluctance, and with some comforting reassurance from Waddell that "stick figures are OK", the markers started touching paper - that's when the magic began.

There's something about drawing that seems to access an intelligence that's hard to bring out verbally. Maybe the well-worn cliche "a picture is worth a thousand words" has some merit.

Before long, the ideas were flowing. One inspired citizen after another, from pre-teen to grandmother, stood up and articulated a dynamic vision that few "experts" could match in terms of appropriateness, workability, and uniqueness.

It was a beautiful thing to witness.

Below, a handout outlining the process. Double Click to enlarge.

UPDATE: By request, my "stick-figure drawing" above.


New Orleans Ladder said...

Hey James,
where's your stick drawing?
Don't be shy now.
Sounds like a lot of fun. Did they provide crayons too?

I am with you on the blowing part, but maybe you might check around with others who have done (and been done by) these meet and greet public input meetings:

Thank you,
Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

James Polk said...

OK NOLadder, you asked for it, here it is. My stick-figure drawing (up on the original post).

I am aware of a great deal of "lip-service" by federal agencies in the name of responsiveness right after Katrina. The administration was woefully unprepared to deal with the disaster as patronage trumped expertise in the appointment of many high-ranking individuals in positions of responsibility. (Remember "Heck of a job, Brownie"?) I'm afraid a good bit of the federal government's actions in the aftermath were more geared to revitalizing the well-deserved bad name of FEMA and Homeland Security (and the Administration) than it was to revitalizing the hurricane ravaged areas.

But I did not get the feeling that this was false PR or greenwashing. True, the jury is out about whether or not the ideas will filter up the bureaucratic ladder and ever be implemented in whole or part, but at the very least - and this is a huge "least" - the local citizens have a much clearer idea about what they want to see in their neighborhood.

That's a big plus.

New Orleans Ladder said...

You Rock, Noble Mon. Thanks.
Usually folks just get all prickly feeling when Editilla wades in around the Corps, but I don't care anymore. They killed people with bad engineering. I saw it.

We'll grant you your day in Corps, but rest assured whenever they smile, especially when they are "listening to the people", the hair on the back of my neck freezes. Never turn your back on a water moccasin. Never.

I'll make a bet with you:
2 six'packs Abita (your choice) says they're blowing smoke up your pants legs...
~~or if you don't drink beer, one side of ribs I'll smoke'em myself.
Think about it.

We of course hung this post onto today's Ladder,(even before the pretty drawing:) and the Village up there with our Stitch'hikas.

Whether people think so or not, we are all on the same side of the levees when dealing with the Corps of Engineers.
We can either all hang together or surely drown separately.

OK all that said... I gotta ax:
Are you related to our 11th President?
Sorry. Well?

Thank you again,

James Polk said...

I'll take you up on that wager, Editilla, and we'll settle up six months from now at the brewpub in Abita Springs. (More variety and fresher stock; go local, I say).

The jury is out on how far up the chain of command this will reach, but I'm willing to give them a shot. Mr. Waddell is a very bright and sincere professional; from what I gather this is his initiative and, from our conversation, he seems to be making some headway with the "higher-ups". Let's see what we come up with. I'll give you a report in April and you can be the judge. Fair enough? And we'll both document the results - good or bad.

As far as the Pres. James K. Polk connection, same family but not a direct descendant. (He had no children). I'd like to think I look at manifest destiny on a more humanistic, and in a much less violently nationalistic way. You can, however, credit James K. Polk for bringing in a good bit of what we now know as the United States of America. He also signed legislation that brought about the Smithsonian institution. Polk was noted for accomplishing everything he promised to do in the campaign for the presidency. That's a trait I admire greatly; let's hope the gene pool is kind in that regard.

Editilla said...

Yer On, Mon!
Earth Day, April 22nd?
If the Corps were to Ever deliver on one hand Anything they had offered with the other then I will be the first to throw a partay. But... it ain't gonna happen.

Sooo, betta start saving your money now. We gonna have a good old time and maybe a few friends to join this soiree... fang down a some oysters, roast the Corps and dance jive on how to take back our country.

I wouldn't worry about Polk. Presidents always say that kind of thing...about offspring don't'cha know. But it was worth checking out anyway.
Ya'neva know.

You definitely got some Womanifest in Yo Destiny wit'da Earth Mother. Wouldn't have it any other way if I wanted to take a village and change the world.
We are in dire need of such Makers.

Polk was a good friend of Mississippi, as well, through William Walker? Considering your take on land, you might enjoy the book "Providence" by Will D. Campbell. It spun my clock a full 24.

So much can happen between now and then.
Thank you,

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