It’s interesting, as a CoLab employee, to have interviewed, recorded, edited, and now watch this piece. As a student, I was also a NOLA fellow, but back then we weren’t called “NOLA fellows.” In summer of 2007, I went with a dozen other MIT students to New Orleans to labor under then newly appointed recovery czar, Ed Blakely.
Over the course of 7 weeks, we drafted 23 target neighborhood redevelopment “plans” (more like priority lists) for Blakely and the mayor. It seemed like an inane undertaking when first presented to us, but we threw ourselves into the task, seeing that there was really no one else there to do the work. Blakely put us young idealists to good use during our short assignment. In fact, I doubt that anyone will ever entrust me with that much responsibility so immediately ever again.
That summer, I devoted the most love and attention to the plan we wrote for the Lafitte/Treme neighborhood. Bringing back the vacant Robert’s grocery store at Broad and Bienville was high on the priority list. One afternoon, while foot-surveying properties in the 90 degree heat, we stopped to chat with a local homeowner. He said he had to drive 45 minutes to go grocery shopping. Sadly, he may still be driving that distance to feed himself and his family.
Nevertheless, I’m encouraged by the fact that this store might actually re-open. I think this is the third or fourth time that MIT students have committed themselves to this effort. I’m hopeful that this time we’ve reached the tipping point.