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NOLA Lessons: Bankruptcy Offers Opportunity for Inclusive Collaboration

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Emphasizing the importance of collaboration and community engagement, a panel of experts from the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Lessons Learned tour of New Orleans provided insight into rebuilding the city following its exit from bankruptcy during the Detroit Policy Conference session “New Orleans to Detroit: Lessons on Revitalization.

Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah kicked off the session, providing an overview of the Lessons Learned tour and playing a video of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu from the 2014 Mackinac Policy Conference. The panel included: Melissa Ehlinger, interim president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance; Scott Hutcheson, senior adviser of cultural economy for the city of New Orleans; Julia Stewart, programs director for Propeller; and Laura Trudeau, managing director of community development for The Kresge Foundation.

Similar to New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Trudeau said Detroit’s bankruptcy gives the city a chance to collaborate with all stakeholders in the community – from entrepreneurs to artists, business owners and local residents – to reinvent itself.

“A master plan without community feedback is not sustainable,” she said. “People need to feel like they have a voice in their community and that their voice is heard.”

Hutcheson agreed, but acknowledged that community collaboration is not always easy.

“When the first planning processes began in New Orleans, it was a colossal disaster. Every meeting got us closer to what the new city was going to look like,” he said.

The key, Hutcheson said, is embracing diverse perspectives that can lead to positive growth and innovation.

“That moment of possibly seeing our city go away twice, once from the hurricane and the other under the guise of the well intent of making it better, didn’t get us to where we needed to be,” he said. “Collaboration comes a little bit from skepticism.”

Trudeau said as Detroit begins its next chapter, the role of neighborhood revitalization should remain at the forefront of discussions.

“It’s residential areas where people put a stake in the city, raise their families, and where schools become anchors. We need to have that equality of opportunity for our youths that we have in other suburban areas,” she said.

Trudeau acknowledged revitalization won’t happen overnight, however she said that, over time, investment in neighborhoods will restore pride in the city and faith in its leadership.