is that transparency i see?

August 12, 2006 at 4:46 pm 6 comments

It seems like I can’t even get to the coffee shop in the morning anymore without nearly tripping over some type of reference to transparency in the planning process. It’s like every time somebody gets up to wash his hands he has to say “Attention patrons of PJ’s. I’m heading to the rest room now. On account of the fact that I am so darned transparent I just wanted everyone to know that I’ve given everyone fair warning of this trip to the restroom and invite you all to join me. Please also help me spread the word that this emergency hand-washing event will be simulcast in Houston, Baton Rouge, Atlanta, Little Rock, and Memphis for maximum outreach to the Diaspora. In the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know that PJ’s buys its hand soap from the Shaw Group, but I’m making every effort to maintain a wall of separation between these economic issues and any substantive hygiene decisions. Thank you for your continued support during this difficult and busy time.”

What’s up with all this transparency? We could all just write it off as part of the rhetoric of citizen engagement, but I’m not sure that would be get at the real issues. It’s clear that the obsession with openness is designed to avoid answering tough questions about the recovery. Anyone who attended GNOF’s infamous Sunday Meeting knows that 500 voices can literally drown out the the rationality of any one argument. An open meeting does not always produce a greater volume of input. Sometimes it just creates greater volume.

Within the context of individual neighborhood planning meetings, the issue of transparency and openness is equally muddy. In the past months I have probably attended 100 such meetings, at which I have encountered the following outspoken regulars: Sustainable Energy Man, Submergable House Guy, Army Corps is Made Up of Alien Hybrids Dude, Unhumanly-Slowtalking Lead Poisoning Lady, and Enraged Jazz Fest Shirt Guy, just to name a few.

For a lot of people, especially those who are still emotionally battered by tremendous loss, community meetings have become much like group therapy sessions. They are opportunities to voice frustration, anger, hopelessness, and the fear caused by sudden loss of security. From within the paradigm of maximum citizen participation it is difficult, if not impossible, to curb these redundant, time consuming rants in favor of more “productive” discussion.

Am I saying that planning meeting attendance should be limited to a select few? Absolutely not. But what I am saying is that we may need to strategically limit such discussions. Therapy is best left to trained professionals. Neighborhoods have already waited 11 months for solid, implementable recovery plans. As Oliver Thomas argued at a recent City Council meeting, “We waited for water. We waited for food. We don’t want to wait anymore.”

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Entry filed under: New Orleans, planning, recovery, UNOP.

duany dance under the moonlight surreal

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. NewOrleansTruth  |  August 14, 2006 at 6:08 am

    Important New Orleans Voices

    While we are seeking to find truth about what happened and what is happening in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, we realize that we are not on the ground living it.  To find the true story about what is happening, we suggest you read some of t…

    Reply
  • 2. Francis Puertos  |  August 14, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    You have a great website and it is great for the community. You should join the disscusions here as well:

    New Orleans community blog

    Please join in the discussions there and link people back to your blog. There are already a lot of people participating daily. It is a great place to poll the communitie and see how people realy feel about the issues. This should serve to strengthen the new orleans community and NO online commlunity as a whole.

    My belief is that to get real transparency in our government and in our planning process we need to get the young folks involved and up to speed on the new paradigms. Teaching only civics in school and not smart growth and new urbanism concepts is like teaching our kids to count to ten without teaching them arithmetic, algebra and calculus and then expecting them to make it in this world.

    Help us get those concepts out there! Create an account on live journal and help build a community, an educated community.

    Thanks,

    Reply
  • 3. Karen  |  August 14, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    Sarah,
    Perhaps we should create a grassroots transparency journal on our website?

    Reply
  • 4. Becky  |  August 15, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    All this transparency is getting pretty opaque.

    Reply
  • 5. Francis Puertos  |  August 17, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    lets not confuse transparency with all the whinning and ranting being disucussed. The first step of Transparency is having all of the information in public view. Once that happens, most people won’t know what to do with it. especially in complicated planning issues. Sometimes it is simple, if you were to put all the propertie tax assessments onlilne you could sit back and watch everyone start going crazy and asking a lot of questions. “Why is this huge house right next to my little shack only paying $700 dollars a year, while I am paying $3000 dollars a year?”
    You can relax at this point because people can start governing themselves. The real heroes moving these issues should be the taxpayers: members of the community and unions, neighborhood groups , bloggers, budget watchdog groups, human rights groups , budget watchdog groups, investigative journalists, environmentalists and land-use activists and whoever else is interested in making our government more transparent. Lets encourage Diversity and create a better and reformed democratic nature that aims to benefit the whole community and not just the politically connected. The more folks poking around, uncovering things the bettter.

    You have a long way to go and a lot of democratic nature to restore before trasparanency in complicated issues like city planning starts getting any real traction.

    But once it does…

    Reply
  • 6. Easton Ellsworth  |  August 19, 2006 at 5:16 am

    Important points worth thinking about. I’m still getting immersed somewhat in learning about this, so I haven’t formed any conclusions on it yet. But thanks for the thoughtful post and comments.

    Reply

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