We recently marked the Five-year anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. In the aftermath of this disaster, entrepreneurs and capital have moved quickly into New Orleans – like flowers or dragon flies after a rain. During the past five years, New Orleans has become a hot-house for both business and social innovation. Nonprofits, universities, and governments are working with businesses to address serious social problems – particularly lack of housing, lousy schools, and income inequality.
Click to learn about New Orleans Entrepreneurial Culture
Keep reading to learn about how and why the City of New Orleans has attracted entrepreneurs and celebrities – all wanting to help rebuild one of the world’s great cities. I am prejudiced – because I visited there about a dozen times prior to the storm to give speeches. I have also included key excerpts from President Obama’s recent speech. You will also find an extensive set of links to some of the most innovative organizations and companies in the world – who just happen to be in New Orleans.
Spike Lee has done a fantastic job of educating, entertaining and engaging audiences with his two wonderful HBO documentaries. His T-shirt shows the title of his first one “When the Levees Broke.” That film showed conclusively that the main damage and loss of life that occurred after Katrina hit was due to man-made causes (incompetence, greed, and other factors.) His latest film – “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise” – also covers many of the entrepreneurial themes and people that this BLOG post includes.
New Orleans ranked eighth on Forbes’ March 2009 list of “10 Cities Where Americans Are Relocating.” And in spite of the struggling national economy the metro area continues to experience an influx of workers — many of them younger — seeking opportunities at some of the entrepreneurial ventures and up-and-coming industries that have taken root since Hurricane Katrina.
Some experts say the growth of new local industries like digital media, of which KODA is a part, goes back to Hurricane Katrina. “Katrina did a lot of horrible things, but what it did to prepare us for the recession was that the number of people who returned clearly matched the kind of jobs we had in our recovery economy,” said Janet Speyrer, professor and director of the division of business and economic research at the University of New Orleans. That put the local economy on the solid footing it needed to weather the national downturn. …
In addition to digital media, Williamson said other hot sectors include green business, those ventures that pursue environmental sustainability, and urban redevelopment. “Katrina reversed the brain drain, so you’ve seen an influx of new talent and capital coming in,” he said. “If you’re an individual looking to take on the most pressing economic and social challenges, there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here with entrepreneurship.” …
New Orleans native Kenneth Purcell, 34, who founded the customizable traveling and entertainment online platform iSeatz, has been working with Idea Village since 2003. His company is a testimony to the ability of local entrepreneurial ventures to attract workers from outside the metro area. “If you look at my senior management team or any of the people we’ve brought in recently, we’re bringing in people from out of town,” he said. “Of our entire staff, probably 80 percent are non-New Orleans natives.”
If New Orleans needs a symbol of its entrepreneurial uprising, this is it: A grand building in the heart of the Warehouse District, once home to one of the city’s old-line law firms, has been completely taken over by young business renegades. After the near-death experience of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is bouncing back with a thriving economic ecosystem.
The Idea Village, a nonprofit group that fosters entrepreneurship and helped create the Intellectual Property building, moved in and started planning community events in the lobby. PlayNOLA, an organizer of sports leagues for young professionals, got its space by winning a local business plan competition. There are even a few new lawyers at Couhig Partners, which specializes in helping corporations with commercial litigation and business management.
The idea behind the Intellectual Property (IP), as the building is called, is to provide a hub for an entrepreneurial culture that is bubbling up all over the city, in almost every kind of enterprise. Four years after Hurricane Katrina and the many stumbles toward its recovery, these young businesses represent technology, invention and youthful, entrepreneurial energy–altogether, the potential for rebirth in a region devastated by disaster. …
“As someone who cut his teeth in the Bay Area during the dotcom boom, it’s my opinion that we have an opportunity in New Orleans to recreate what we saw there in the late 1990s, or what Austin or Seattle has done,” says Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., a nonprofit economic development initiative, and one of the minds behind the I.P. “We’re creating a mecca for entrepreneurs.” …
All of this is happening in a city that’s still trying to clean up the tangible and psychological damage of Katrina, even as it clears away the long-existing lore of embedded industry and somewhat dubious business practices. In the midst of one of the worst national economies in decades, New Orleans is recreating itself as a hive of entrepreneurial initiative and demonstrating to other cities how to recover from even the worst disaster. …
New Orleans has always welcomed the unique and the creative; just think of the Mardi Gras revelry, the city’s jazzy soul, the vibrant Creole and Cajun cultures. But it was almost never the place entrepreneurs thought of when they were ready to set up shop. … “The city had kind of a parochial, non-diversified business community,” says Robbie Vitrano, co-founder and CEO of Trumpet Ventures. Vitrano started Trumpet 10 years ago as a branding firm; in post-Katrina New Orleans the outfit cultivates startups focused on digital media and other disciplines new to the region. “Katrina disrupted people’s comfort zones and forced them to confront some of the issues of the past,” he says.
Tim Williamson, co-founder and CEO of The Idea Village, is a Louisiana native and one of many professionals who left early in their careers and eventually found their way back. He and his group have been pushing to attract entrepreneurs to the region for more than 10 years. Until 2005, however, New Orleans remained dominated by the manufacturing, oil and gas industries–and a reputation for being a closed-off business community. “We were so dependent on the major industries, people didn’t think they needed entrepreneurship,” Williamson says. “What Katrina did was fracture the old networks and help create new ones. What was missing in New Orleans was more people like us.” …
Greater New Orleans Inc. is the support behind a number of efforts to help spur business development and draw investments–including the I.P., which Michael Hecht hopes will be a beacon for entrepreneurs. Hecht, the head of Greater New Orleans, is a former San Francisco restaurateur who moved to New Orleans in early 2006 from New York City, where he was the assistant commissioner of small-business services. “We’re putting the same types of companies together to create critical mass and support,” Hecht says. “We’re creating a symbolic and physical heart of the city.”
And they’re creating a looser, Silicon Valley-type of vibe. The I.P. building has a gym, a café, a business concierge desk run by The Idea Village and loads of collaborative space, like a “Brainstorm Room” filled with whiteboards. A bar is slated to move in soon and, of course, the building is dog friendly. Chris Schultz has leased 3,000 square feet to house Launch Pad, which sublets office space, and offers facilities and support for graphic designers, freelancers and startups. Schultz, whose business, Voodoo Ventures, helps develop internet companies in New Orleans, hopes that the physical proximity Launch Pad provides will spark further innovation.
“These companies need community building, mentorship and collaboration,” Schultz says. “Having all those people working together in an open space offers an extremely stimulating environment.” Schultz, a Los Angeles native, came to New Orleans out of love–literally. “I met a girl at Jazz Fest,” he says. But he’s one of a growing number of entrepreneurs–locals, former locals and new transplants–who stay because of New Orleans’ mix of economic, human and cultural appeal. …
Free Flow Power of Gloucester, Massachusetts, was also attracted by what the city had to offer. The company develops turbine generators that produce energy from moving water without dams or diversions–a process called hydrokinetic generation. It’s planning a major Mississippi River project and put its management offices in New Orleans in 2009 because of access to the marine construction talent in the region and support of the community. “The red carpet that was rolled out in New Orleans played a major role in us locating our project management operations here,” says Jon Guidroz, director of project development for Free Flow Power. “It’s more than a gesture; it’s a genuine expression of support.” …
The issue the New Orleans business community faces now is how to sustain the momentum. Even the most optimistic understand that the post-Katrina levels of attention and investment can’t be permanent. … Says Guidroz of Free Flow Power, “The help isn’t going to be around for too long–we need to build our own foundation.” That foundation may already be taking shape, particularly in the collaborative nature of the new business community. “People in fashion and entertainment and hospitality are all working together,” Guidroz says. “When you meet people, it’s not ‘What do you do?’ It’s ‘How can I help?’
The old adage about strength in numbers is ringing true for some start-up companies in New Orleans. Entrepreneurial ventures in New Orleans are increasingly clustering together under the same roof in a bid to share ideas, support each other and spur economic development. … The hubs operate under edgy names — Entrepreneur’s Row, The Icehouse, the I.P. and the Entergy Innovation Center — and place an emphasis on providing more than office space to their tenants. They are not business incubators designed to nurture fledgling businesses; most house well-established firms. Instead, the hubs encourage networking and collaboration among innovation companies while seeking to recreate a freewheeling culture reminiscent of Silicon Valley. …
But it is not just about business. Tim Williamson, president and co-founder of Idea Village, said his group has intentionally established entrepreneurial hubs where they can have the greatest impact on neighborhood revitalization. “Post-Katrina, we sought to accelerate progress by creating clusters to revitalize these neighborhoods,” Williamson said. Miji Park, an urban planning expert with the Idea Village, agreed. “Our goal is to listen to the neighborhood to find out what needs are there,” Park said. …
“We moved in at the beginning of this year,” said Jon Guidroz, director of project development for Free Flow Power, a renewable energy technology firm. Guidroz said his company has already benefited from the clustering of start-up ventures at Entrepreneur’s Row. “As an entrepreneur, you tend to become insular in your thinking and get consumed by what you’re trying to accomplish, and whether it’s heading to the water cooler or getting a drink after work, the interaction helps you with the bigger picture mindset and seeing things from different perspectives,” he said. …
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she is optimistic that the center will be a catalyst for economic and social change. “This entrepreneurial clustering, it’s all about how you rebuild a neighborhood,” Landrieu said at a roundtable discussion with local entrepreneurs last month. “We’re putting the UD (urban development) back in HUD (Housing and Urban Development).”
IT has been a long time since the word “optimism” was spoken in the same sentence as “New Orleans.” But a small group of entrepreneurs has been using that word lately to describe their efforts to attract small businesses to New Orleans. For now, their enthusiasm may be greater than their results. But they say the city’s low rents and business tax incentives along with its music and culture have proved to be powerful lures, despite the still-halting efforts to get past the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We’re seeing the exact same thing here that we saw in the Bay Area in the mid ’90s,” said Michael Hecht, 38, president of Greater New Orleans Inc., a nonprofit economic development agency. He moved to New Orleans in early 2006 after time in both San Francisco and New York. “There’s a sense of opportunity and possibility, combined with people who have the horsepower to actualize those possibilities.”
Since Hurricane Katrina, at least four formal entrepreneurial hubs have been established in New Orleans: Entrepreneur’s Row, the Icehouse, the I.P., (an acronym for Intellectual Property) and the Entergy Innovation Center. While they all hope to help nurture individual businesses, they are not technically incubators. Instead, they house start-ups and established companies while focusing on “clustering like-minded entrepreneurs to build their businesses together,” said Tim Williamson, 44, the co-founder and chief executive of the Idea Village, a nonprofit group founded in 2000 that helped created the I.P.
So far, they seem to be doing something right. According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the New Orleans metropolitan area reported an increase of nearly 100,000 nonfarm jobs from October 2005 — soon after Katrina — to June 2009. By 2016, the commission expects New Orleans area employment to grow 24 percent from 2006 levels, or to 98.8 percent of pre-Katrina levels. …
Earlier this year, the Idea Village and Greater New Orleans Inc. refurbished an 85,000-square-foot building at 643 Magazine Street in the warehouse district and called it the I.P. (Intellectual Property). It has nine tenants, including TurboSquid, a 3-D modeling company; TJ Ebbert and Associates, a disaster management consulting firm; and Carrollton Technology Partners, a technology development company. The building has a cafe, a gym with his and her saunas, business concierge desk and multiple “brainstorm rooms.”
Part of the appeal is that New Orleans is, perhaps, the ultimate college campus for adults. After work, many of the young businesspeople gather for drinks at International House, the boutique hotel in the central business district that Mr. Cummings opened 10 years ago across the street from his loft building. Mr. Cummings and Mr. Perkin also hold monthly meetings at the hotel in which business owners can share war stories and vent.
“The thing about this city, like no other — everybody wants everyone to succeed,” said Seema Sudan, the owner and director of design at the knitwear company LiaMolly, who moved to New Orleans in October 2007. “I have never been in a place that is so community-oriented,” she said. “Competitive gets you nowhere. It’s about being collaborative. And this city is so like that, from the people helping each other rebuild their homes to building businesses.”
She said she also appreciated the quality of life, and the fact that she paid $800 for a 900-square-foot studio in the Garden District, and $1,800 for a three-bedroom apartment with a yard and tree house. Two years into his project, Mr. Cummings remains enthusiastic. “I am blown away by the caliber of talent,” he said. “It’s a thriving creative culture of invention. And it is growing every day.”
The Katrina-imposed exile of New Orleans natives and the influx of newcomers have many wondering if the city’s culture has been permanently diluted or only refreshed with new blood. …
Four years after Hurricane Katrina, encouraging new statistics suggest New Orleans has regained three-quarters of its pre-storm population, defying predictions that the city would never again approach its former size. That statistic, however, masks a subtler shift. The city is now home to a tide of newcomers unprecedented in recent history, including Hispanic day laborers, idealistic young teachers, and urban planners all drawn by the unique opportunity to help a devastated city rebuild, almost from scratch.
Those newcomers haven’t been counted in any reliable way. And, while the number is certainly in the tens of thousands, it’s still not precisely known how many of the city’s pre-Katrina residents have not come home — whether by choice or because they lack the means. …
A more transient population will likely inhabit the new New Orleans. But what that means for the city’s cultural and economic future depends largely on whom you ask. To some, it signals the end of a near-xenophobia that stifled growth by devaluing newcomers and their ideas. To others, it heralds a painful gentrification that will water down the city’s cultural heritage by devaluing the working poor on whose labors and creativity the city’s richest traditions depend. Most, however, see a middle ground.
Cities with high percentages of natives have many positive characteristics, including “a strong sense of local culture, deeply rooted historical legacies, and extensive family networks, ” said Richard Campanella, a Tulane University geographer and author. … But there are downsides, too. Such cities tend to be economically depressed and stagnant, Campanella noted, and as a result may have “an inability to attract outsiders.” …
The recovery has drawn both Hispanic day laborers and young professionals in significant, if uncounted, numbers. The migrant workers undertook much of the literal rebuilding of the city. Some of the new professionals also spent their first days in New Orleans hammering nails and installing siding — typically as part of a volunteer project. Those who have stayed have tended to find government, education and nonprofit jobs linked to the city’s long-term recovery.
“I think New Orleans is gaining a reputation as being a great city for young people, ” said Austin Lavin, 25, who moved to the city just months ago from Philadelphia. Lavin manages workNOLA.com, a Web site listing job opportunities. In some respects, he is typical of the city’s post-Katrina transplants. His story is not of someone who came for Mardi Gras, fell in love with the city and never left. He uses phrases such as “high quality of life” and “low barriers to entry” to describe what drew him here. …
Tim Williamson, president of The Idea Village, a nonprofit that started before Katrina with the goal of nurturing and retaining entrepreneurs, said he thinks many professional newcomers will stick around. “Now you have some people who are here not just for the recovery, but who have drunk the Kool-Aid and want to be part of the long-term economic and social change of New Orleans, ” he said. …
Tensions between New Orleans natives and transplants have defined the city throughout its history, Campanella said. In the early 19th century, English-speaking, largely Protestant populations moving to New Orleans from other parts of the country encountered a Creole culture with its roots in French, Spanish, Hispanic, African and Caribbean traditions. …
Andre Perry, an associate dean at the University of New Orleans, believes an intangible sense of place will continue to define both New Orleans, and those who live here, as it has for centuries. “Sometimes there are real things at stake, ” said Andre Perry, associate dean of the University of New Orleans’ College of Education and Human Development. “Real jobs, real livelihoods.”
Organizers of New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week estimate the event will provide some $900,000 worth of consulting to local businesses.
New Orleans already is the fastest-growing city in the U.S. – and a local nonprofit wants its businesses (and hopefully, a reputation for fostering innovation) to keep pace. Enter New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, a seven-day festival of speeches, classes, and advising run by business incubator Idea Village. The event kicks off March 20. Among the happenings: IDEACorps, a kind of Peace Corps for business (hence the name) that pairs MBA candidates with local entrepreneurs. The four-year-old project pairs teams of visiting consultants (graduate business students from top schools like Stanford plus folks from companies such as Google and Salesforce.com) with local start-ups to help grow the businesses. The “consultants” help refine business plans, solve distribution problems, and otherwise provide the sort of service that could go for some $25,000 to $40,000 in any other setting. …
An Entrepreneur Week darling: Feelgoodz, an eco-friendly flip-flop company. At 2009’s event the company – inspired by a pair of flip flops founder Kyle Berner bought in Thailand in 2007 – picked up advice from Stanford University business students about how to ramp up its distribution to handle a deal it had just signed with Whole Foods. This year Berner picked up a $100,000 short-term loan from the newly-launched Village Capital, a novel financing concept that lets participating entrepreneurs decide how to distribute funds. (The pitches were supposed to take place during 2010 Entrepreneur Week, but last month Berner had growing demand – including orders from 75 new Whole Foods stores – to cope with, and couldn’t wait. Luckily his fellow entrepreneurs agreed.)
Other events in the so-called “festival of entrepreneurship” include closed sessions for established New Orleans entrepreneurs with Aspen Institute members, plus help for one local business from a team of 20 Tulane University students. And free “Google 101” classes will give entrepreneurs a primer on free or almost-free services the company offers small businesses. (Google’s history with Idea Village began the day the evacuation order for 2008’s Hurricane Gustav was lifted – the company sent a 32-person team to the city.) Entrepreneur Week organizers estimate the bizfest will provide $900,000 in consulting services, thanks to 9,000 hours of service from 90 MBA and corporate volunteers. Seventy-five entrepreneurs will receive direct support.
Hurricane Katrina disrupted the sense of detachment and malaise that can often envelope communities, and in doing so it laid the groundwork for a burgeoning innovative entrepreneurial community in New Orleans, the president and chief executive officer of the Aspen Institute said Monday.
Walter Isaacson, who was in New Orleans to kick off New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, said he was initially doubtful that New Orleans was capable of building a strong entrepreneurial community after Katrina. Like many New Orleanians, Isaacson said, he had watched for years as his hometown lost talent to other cities.
“It just seemed a little bit too wistful,” Isaacson said. But now, he said, he sees New Orleans as a “brain magnet” instead of a place that will suffer a never ending “brain drain.” “The first entrepreneurs, the first intrepid people who came back were the people who owned restaurants,” said Isaacson, a New Orleans native who now lives in Washington, D.C., but visits the city often.
But Isaacson said he has seen the entrepreneurial spirit of New Orleans stretch from the charter school system to the rebuilding of the Broadmoor neighborhood. What he finds most intriguing, however, is the blurring of the line between private enterprises and the social enterprises — those that address some social problem — that have sprung up in here, recently. “You see how that distinction between ‘I’m doing well’ and ‘I’m doing good’ is starting to blend,” Isaacson said.
With the recent flurry of bad economic news — the BP oil spill, the announced closing of Avondale shipyard and the wind down of space shuttle-related work at the Michoud Assembly Facility — local economic leaders are looking carefully at the state of small business in the region. And while the outlook may not necessarily be rosy, many leaders say these events are an opportunity for entrepreneurial growth. …
A Brookings Institute report illustrates some emerging positive trends indicating that “the city and metro area have been recovering from (Hurricane) Katrina and, in fact, may even be on the path to transformation.” That report said that entrepreneurship in the New Orleans area has spiked recently, surpassing the national average for the first time in a decade. The study points to entrepreneurship as a leading factor in “economic resiliency.” It puts new talent on the market, creates jobs for more employees and creates fringe economic benefits for suppliers and other related businesses. New Orleans is becoming a laboratory for entrepreneurs to solve problems.
Carmen Sunda, director of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center, says disasters often bring increased entrepreneurial activity. “It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen after Katrina/Rita,” she said. Sunda says her organization has been swamped trying to help both existing customers, whose business is being affected by the spill, and people looking to start a new business. “We’ve seen an uptick in clients getting loans, starting a business,” she said. Sunda says that, while negative shocks like the oil spill and the plant closings are painful for small businesses, they can actually provide an opportunity for new businesses to open. …
Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., a regional economic development group, says New Orleans has strong fundamentals for entrepreneurial growth. He pointed to a strong city culture, business conditions that are largely healthier than the national average and government incentives like technology development tax credits. Like Sunda, he says that disasters can sometimes spur new businesses. “When you have crises, it’s just like they say — necessity is the mother of invention.”
Five years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, the city may be smaller, but it retains a vibrant spirit as business opportunities sprung from the disaster. Kevin Langley took a key life lesson from Hurricane Katrina. “Katrina didn’t cause the problems, it revealed the problems,” Langley said, referring to the societal and infrastructure challenges his hometown of New Orleans has long had. “It also revealed the opportunities; the opportunities to get things right.”
After the devastation of the monster storm that struck the Gulf Coast five years ago, Langley, 45, and other entrepreneurs in New Orleans stuck through the very hard times and came out stronger. As with many catastrophes, disaster can lead to more business for some. Others saw opportunities emerge as they launched new endeavors in the atmosphere the storm created. …
Entrepreneurship has grown in the New Orleans area, with individuals starting businesses at a higher rate than nationally, with 450 per 100,000 people starting businesses, compared with 320 across the United States. And wages overall have grown 14 percent in the past five years, catching up to national averages for the first time since the 1980s, according to a Brookings Institution and Greater New Orleans Community Data Center report. …
Stuck in Baton Rouge, Olinger scrambled to get his business, a market research firm called the Olinger Group, back up and running remotely. He raced around Louisiana’s capital city with two computer hard drives containing the data upon which his business depended, in search of someone with the skills to extract the information. “We were stuck in a city that had doubled in population and everyone was still shell-shocked,” Olinger, 43, said of Baton Rouge, 80 miles northwest of New Orleans. …
Five years later, Olinger sees where Katrina made him a more confident businessman, more focused on the most important aspects of work. “I now know that if we can survive that, we can survive anything,” Olinger said.
For Erika Olinger, the aftermath of Katrina is a story of a community rebuilt. The business she owned, the Cole Pratt Gallery on Magazine Street, had catered largely to tourists with its showcase of Southern artists. But seven weeks after the storm, a New Orleanian friend said, “I’m going to buy a painting.”
“That just started off this wonderful trend of people buying locally,” she said. “I had three of the most phenomenal years. I think people who in the past would go shopping for things elsewhere decided it was time to put their money back into the community.” Looking back over the past five years, Erika Olinger sees the “entrepreneurial spirit” around her. And that has brought back the city she loves. “It’s grungy, it’s gritty, it’s poetical, it’s musical.” …
Just as the Wild West offered opportunities for those with perseverance and moxie, Katrina did the same for people like Skipper Bond. Bond, 38, spent a few years in New York working for the global public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard until the September 11, 2001, terror attacks convinced him to return to the South. Once home, he started an event production and public relations company called Proscenia, which, as he put it, “made a lot of money and lost a lot of money.”
He started a second public relations firm. That firm, Bond Public Relations and Brand Strategy, was gaining momentum when Katrina wiped out his local clients. He got lucky: A national client with local ties, Southern Comfort, kept business alive. …
“Katrina was definitely a springboard,” Bond said. “There was so much opportunity after for those of us that stuck around and endured.” Five years after Hurricane Katrina, Kevin Langley is not just a New Orleans resident and business owner. He’s a resilient entrepreneur, one who is as concerned about building his city as he is his business.
Langley doesn’t really see a city whose population has fallen, and he tries not to focus on the swaths of land where houses once stood. Instead, he points out a local economy that somehow survived the Great Recession better than most major cities. It’s a city where the levy system has been largely rebuilt and where its once-dysfunctional school system has been replaced by a network of charter schools closely watched as a model for other cities.
The recovery of Langley’s construction business, while hugely important, is only part of what he wants. His goal is for New Orleans to experience a full-fledged entrepreneurial renaissance. He’s taken on a role as mentor to entrepreneurs like Bond and Sus. Through the international Entrepreneur’s Organization, he helped develop a program for helping young entrepreneurs grow their businesses to $1 million revenue, which is the level at which an entrepreneur is eligible to join EO, which he helped launch in New Orleans right after the storm. The experience of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath helped him focus on what’s important about entrepreneurship—the courage to take risks to create something of lasting value, service to community, and to family.
“The reality is, it was the same struggle I had before. It just was much more dramatic, much more serious, much more purposeful after the storm,” Langley said. “So, for me, the storm was a dramatic event that allowed me to focus on what was most important. And doing the right things for the right reasons for the right purpose, that was Katrina.”
HOUSING INNOVATION BLOOMS IN NEW ORLEANS
Out of the crud and rubble of Katrina, New Orleans has patches of wonderful new houses springing up. This is thanks in large part to the presence of celebrities – rather than the government. This part of the BLOG will profile three model housing developments that have lessons for the rest of the Gulf Coast and the country.
Musicians’ Village, a cornerstone of the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH) post-Katrina rebuilding effort, is designed to both construct a community and preserve a culture. Conceived by New Orleans natives Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis, Musicians’ Village will provide a home for both the artists who have defined the city’s culture and the sounds that have shaped the musical vernacular of the world.
The core idea behind Musicians’ Village is the establishment of a community for the city’s several generations of musicians and other families, many of whom had lived in inadequate housing prior to the catastrophe and remain displaced in its aftermath. A central part of this vision is the establishment of a focal point for teaching, sharing and preserving the rich musical tradition of a city that has done so much to shape the art of the past century.
Musicians’ Village is being constructed in the Upper Ninth Ward, where an eight-acre parcel of land was initially selected for the construction of 72 single-family homes built by volunteers, donors, sponsors and low-income families. All 72 homes have since been completed. In one of the project’s innovative features, Musicians’ Village also provides five elder-friendly duplexes for the senior members of the community, which have also all been completed.
Another important innovation in the Musicians’ Village effort is the inclusion of the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, named in honor of the New Orleans native and legendary jazz pianist, educator and patriarch of the Marsalis clan. Focusing on the ethnically and culturally diverse musical heritage of the city, the Center will include a 150-seat performance space with state-of-the-art lighting and sound. The Center will also support the growth of emerging New Orleans talent and music by providing classrooms, technical and administrative support, and producing the accomplishments of its students. These facilities will be available for residents of Musicians’ Village as well as artists and students citywide.
Because of the Center’s unique physical setting within the Musicians’ Village, it will attract an exceptional group of students and teachers devoted to revitalizing the vibrant music scene in the Crescent City. Construction of the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music began in early 2010, and is slated to open in 2011. Musicians’ Village has proven to be the leading example of how a meaningful vision and focused efforts can provide immediate relief as well as long-term hope for the survival of a great city and many of its most essential citizens.
Five years ago, after Hurricane Katrina struck, a wall of water burst through the Industrial Canal levee just west of Tennessee Street in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, and blasted 4,000 homes into kindling. Now, almost 50 colorful houses with bat-wing roofs and louver-trellised porches have been built or are in construction. They are the most cheering emblem of a city where hundreds of thousands have returned yet full recovery and drivers of future growth remain elusive.
Tennessee Street’s rebirth was made possible by Make It Right, the charity that actor Brad Pitt, appalled by how little had happened two years after the Lower Ninth’s inundation, founded in 2007. It has raised $31 million so far — including $5 million of Pitt’s own money — to build 150 houses in the Lower Ninth, which became the symbolic epicenter of the human failure that made Hurricane Katrina so senselessly devastating.
Steven Bingler is one of 21 architects brought in by Make It Right, he pointed to a boxy, one-story house with a cockeyed hip roof that he had designed. In spirit, it’s a traditional New Orleans house, long and narrow, though the roof tips to orient solar panels to the best sun angle. Bingler supplied a deep front porch because people in this neighborhood need to talk to neighbors and wave at passersby. Indeed several people tracking the passing scene from their porches that morning looked a lot more comfortable than we were in the searing heat.
Tour buses passed constantly as we walked. Most of the houses perch 8 feet above future floods on sturdy concrete columns. I wondered if that height was too aloof, severing the amiable relationship to the street. People use the porches and the space under the house, which turns out to be perfect for a shaded card game, with easy access to a grill. Pitt’s an architecture aficionado, and Make It Right has mixed insightful designs by local architects with adventurous work by rising stars and big names from around the world. …
All of the architects have rethought traditional architectural elements to fit the city’s post-Katrina reality: informal living accommodated at modest cost in houses that stand above possible floods yet are tied-down tightly against hurricane winds. The roofs of Make It Right houses form upward-angled sheds and inverted Vs not just for the sake of invention but to harvest breezes and shade outdoor space. The houses ambitiously incorporate other green tactics: geothermal wells, high levels of insulation and rain gardens that slow the flow of rain into the city’s storm-water system.
Local, national and international architects have donated designs for single family and duplexes to Make It Right. By December 2010, there will be 150 homes on the site. Because all of the homes built to date have been certified as LEED platinum for their energy efficiency and sustainability, the Make It Right community is now the “largest, greenest neighborhood of single family homes in America,” according to the U.S. Green Building Council.
Five years after Hurricane Katrina, there are signs of new life in Gentilly, where new homes are going up as part of the Pontchartrain Park Community Development Project. The project is spearheaded by award-winning actor Wendell Pierce, a New Orleans native and star of the HBO show “Treme.” … I hope to see the neighborhood I grew up in even better,” Pierce said. “A wonderful golf course, a playground where we can hear concerts and see ball games, see people going into their homes, new families. “The project will install affordable, energy-efficient homes that look and feel like new construction.
Pontchartrain Park was New Orleans’ first suburban-style development designed for a rising black middle class. Pierce, who co-stars in HBO’s “Treme” and other former residents of the Gentilly neighborhood formed The Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation in 2007 as a nonprofit to spur the area’s rebuilding. In a separate interview, Pierce said the project demonstrates “how a group of residents who love their neighborhood are doing everything possible to bring it back.”
“It’s a demonstration of the resilience of the people of New Orleans, ” he added. “It’s people saying, ‘Let’s bring solutions to the table.’ “I always said, ‘I don’t mind criticism. I don’t mind people complaining.’ We said, ‘We’ve got to bring solutions to the table.’ “We know that Pontchartrain Park had been an incubator for great talent for many years, ” he said. “I always knew that we had it in our ranks to do it, and it’s on display now, and it’ll be a model for the city if not the nation.”
In the years that followed, New Orleans could have remained a symbol of destruction and decay; of a storm that came and the inadequate response that followed. It was not hard to imagine a day when we’d tell our children that a once vibrant and wonderful city had been laid low by indifference and neglect. But that’s not what happened. ,,, Instead this city has become a symbol of resilience and of community and of the fundamental responsibility that we have to one another. …
I’ve seen the sense of purpose people felt after the storm when I visited Musicians’ Village in the Ninth Ward back in 2006. Volunteers were not only constructing houses; they were coming together to preserve the culture of music and art that’s part of the soul of this city — and the soul of this country. And today, more than 70 homes are complete, and construction is underway on the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. …
Because of all the advocates, all the organizers who are here today, folks standing behind me who’ve worked so hard, who never gave up hope — you are all leading the way toward a better future for this city with innovative approaches to fight poverty and improve health care, reduce crime, and create opportunities for young people. Because of you, New Orleans is coming back.
When I took office, I directed my Cabinet to redouble our efforts, to put an end to the turf wars between agencies, to cut the red tape and cut the bureaucracy. I wanted to make sure that the federal government was a partner — not an obstacle — to recovery here in the Gulf Coast. Members of my Cabinet (including EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, who grew up in Pontchartrain Park) have come down here dozens of times. They came down here to listen and to learn and make real the changes that were necessary so that government was actually working for you.
WEBSITES FOR SELECTED
NEW ORLEANS ORGANIZATIONS
Here are a lot of links to websites of some of the organizations that are developing and promoting social innovation within the greater New Orleans area.
Selected Non-Profit and Public Organizations
- 504ward. Hub for young talent in New Orleans to meet, learn, explore connect and grow
- Center for Music and Arts Entrepreneurship! Dedicated to helping musicians, artists, arts educators and arts entrepreneurs create sustainable careers. We are dedicated to enhancing the cultural economy of our city.
- Downtown Development District (DDD). Assessment-based business improvement district created to drive economic development, cleaning, and safety in downtown New Orleans
- Evacuteer.org. Mobilizes New Orleanians willing to push their boundaries for the collective good, building networks to empower successful, efficient, sanitary and safe evacuations of New Orleans.
- Greater New Orleans, Inc. (GNO). Public/private partnership formed to spearhead economic development.
- Icehouse. Office space and entrepreneurial environment located in Faubourg St. John.
- Idea Village. Nonprofit dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship, located in the IP (The Intellectual Property). This includes the Entergy Innovation Center (Co-working space with office, retail and community meeting space in Upper Ninth Ward.)
- Launch Pad. Co-working and private office space located in Central Business District in the IP (The Intellectual Property).
- Louisiana Economic Development (LED). Agency responsible for strengthening the state’s business environment and economy.
- Louisiana Office of Social Entrepreneurship. Mission is to advance social innovation by supporting the creation and growth of the most innovate, measurable and sustainable solutions to the social problems affecting Louisiana’s citizens.
- Net2NO Meets on the first Tuesday of every month to bring together social changemakers and technological forerunners.
- New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. Downtown New Orleans was transformed into an entrepreneurial village, characterized by a line-up of world-class activities including investor presentations, business workshops, networking events and speeches from our nation’s most respected thought leaders.
- New Orleans Tech.Net. Highlighting the technology community in New Orleans.
- Policypitch.com. Online platform for individuals to pitch and promote ideas with communities.
- Project 30-90. First green sustainable music festival, help in 2009.
- Startup New Orleans. Website guide to local entrepreneurs.
- Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans (SENO). Diverse resources for entrepreneurs addressing social problems.
- TribeCon. Conference focused on bridging the online and offline for change. Debuted October 2009.
- Voodoo Ventures (Idea Fuel) Our core philosophy revolves around matching talented partners with great ideas to build businesses.
- Young Leadership Council. Develops leadership through community projects.
Selected New Orleans Companies
- Dukky. Platform for multi-channel marketing that provides campaign management and analysis tools.
- Feelgoodz. Natural, comfortable and ethical rubber flip-flops.
- Free Flow Power. Hydropower developer and technology company focused on using the force of moving water to generate electricity without building new dams or diversions.
- FSC Interactive. Strategic online interactive campaign development, focusing on paid search placement, social media and website optimization.
- Naked Pizza. Developing new operating model for take-out and delivery pizza, aiming to change the nutritional profile of fast food.
- playNOLA. Organizer of sports leagues for young professionals. Winner of 2009 Idea Village and 504ward Business Plan Competition.
- Trumpet. Full-service branding agency specializing in the success of startups, launches and turnarounds.
- WorkNOLA.com. Collaboration with many local partners to help those living in New Orleans, as well as looking to move to New Orleans, a way to explore and apply for local job openings online.