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Day 11: New Orleans and that “quicksilver, slippery, intangible, mysterious connection to inspiration”
If you go to New Orleans for the Superbowl expect to see all new, clean, modern cabs, equipped with GPS systems, and mandatory English spoken by taxi drivers. We discovered this after it took forever to hail a cab in the morning: the cab driver who eventually picked us up told us these new city-imposed conditions had prompted many drivers to go on strike in protest. With Superbowl 2013 fast approaching, I can sympathize. Making what could be as much as an $80,000 investment in four months is a pretty tall order. From my experience I didn’t think the cabs were all that bad.
In any case, we arrived at the Regional Planning Commission half an hour late, but it was worth the wait. The group we spoke with – with their experience with Hurricanes Katrina, Isaac and other close calls – must surely be among the most skilled emergency preparedness and disaster recovery teams in North America. During Katrina one of them braved the flood waters in their building to rescue the agency’s server, which contained data for all of the critical infrastructure in the region down to the last fire hydrant – a vital resource for FEMA in directing the recovery and rebuilding effort.
They had terrific insights into the kind of preparation that is needed pre-disaster, including the kind of things that often don’t get thought about until a city is right in the middle of a disaster. Governments have to have offsite data backup (Alberta learned that lesson this summer), and pre-stored water supplies, food, fuel, communications devices, generators and other equipment. Doing a mass exodus of a large city requires having a plan for lane reversals on major thoroughfares and portable fuel trucks to prevent logjams caused by stalls. Doing an inventory of heavy equipment – bulldozers, earth movers, dumptrucks, and so on – as well as technical people – mechanics, electricians, plumbers and the like – within a 90 minute drive of the city, to help get major services restored faster. Things they wish they had thought of stockpiling pre-Katrina? Portable showers.
But the thing that is needed most during a major disaster, especially one where state and federal assistance is called in, is identifying who is in charge, empowering them to make decisions, and having them stay in charge for the duration of the crisis. That includes allowing the boss to ease up on some of the usual red tape. One person told us a story about the city running out of fuel and getting agreement from a tanker that was sitting offshore to extract diesel from their ship. Those involved got fined because they didn’t fill out the proper paperwork to do it. Yes – dumb rules and bureaucracy can survive even in disaster zones.
Two other meetings centred around the remarkably successful economic development efforts of two of the city’s major boosters: the Downtown Development District and Greater New Orleans Inc. I realize I’m treading into municipal jurisdiction with the following comments, but I think the insights offered (particularly from the DDD) might be helpful for both Calgary and Edmonton.
New Orleans developed a deliberate strategy to target what Richard Florida calls the creative class. Polling in Houston, Austin, San Francisco, Detroit and New Orleans found that the most important attributes people in this target group look for in a city are (in order of importance):
44% – lifestyle 39% – job 31% – college 18% – family 7% – cost of living 3% starting a new biz
Cost of living is apparently not a high motivating factor because individuals in the creative class believe they will be paid commensurate to the cost of living in the place they move to. What they do want is a diversity of micro-neighbourhoods, a diversity of micro-cultures and a diversity of job options.
From a practical point of view they want to have everything they want in a walkable radius (including public transit), “third places” (coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, parks and so on) to work and play, and internet access everywhere. (The DDD’s proxy measure for “third spaces” is their restaurant index: New Orleans has 176 restaurants and 32 sidewalk cafes in its downtown core.)
All this is summed up in a very cool marketing campaign centred around the statement: “New Orleans offers Industries of the Mind that quicksilver, slippery, intangible, mysterious connection to inspiration.”
A focus on biosciences, arts and, in particular, digital media has resulted in an impressive array of new media business start-ups locating here, including: Turbo Squid, Second Line Stages, Launchpad, Gameloft, Iseatz and the Receivables Exchange. Just 7 years post-Katrina Forbes magazine has called New Orleans the #1 Brain Magnet, it’s been voted the best place for young entrepreneurs and the best place to relocate.
One more program that appears to have been worth every dollar is the city’s Facade Improvement Program that matches the cost of a facade makeover dollar for dollar up to $35,000. So far they have improved 37 facades with a public investment of $720,000 matched by $2 million+ in private investment. The results are pretty spectacular. The takeaway: there is much more to New Orleans than Bourbon Street!
Expenses: If you didn’t read the press release for this trip, no doubt you might be wondering, who’s paying for this trip? Here’s the answer. The costs are covered by the US Department of State, and they estimate the expense at $9,080 US for the 21-day program. With politicians’ travel expenses very much in the news lately, I thought you’d be interested in knowing my expenses as we go.
I have always said that international travel is an important part of the Premier’s job and, as Official Opposition Leader and International and Intergovernmental Affairs and Aboriginal Relations Critic, I think it is a necessary part of my job too. Knowing how the political system works in the US in particular – our biggest customer and trading partner – is increasingly important as we watch the Keystone pipeline project grind its way through the approval process. Knowing how this process works, including the interplay between federal, state and local jurisdictions, and the impact of NGOs on the entire process is vital information for an Alberta political leader to have.
My criticism has not been about the fact that the Premier and her ministers are taking international trips, it’s the eye-popping price tag associated with them. You’ll notice this trip budgets out at about $432/day, whereas most ministeral trips lately have been costing in the range of $2000/person/day (or more). My expenses for Days 10 & 11 are below:
Here are my expenses for Days 10 & 11:
$23.00 Lunch at the Omni Hotel
$25.00 Dinner at the Omni Hotel
In addition, these expenses come out of IVLP’s $200 budget for Cultural Experiences:
$25.00 New Orleans Saints NFL game Ticket
$62.00 Creole Queen (Dinner and harbour cruise)
$142.00 Total for Day 10 & 11