Posts about recovery2

Recovery 2.0: Reimagining New Orleans

We need to put our country’s best brains and experience to the question of what to do with New Orleans.

We should see a cooperative effort — or perhaps a competition — among the country’s best urban studies programs, architecture schools, economics departments, MBA programs, engineering and environmental programs and their counterparts in industry, with a few (the few) competent politicians thrown in (read: Rudy).

This is not as simple as pumping out, digging up, and moving back in, of course. There are complex engineering and enviromental issues: Can this city be made safe from the water and the pollutants that took it over and at what cost? There are blunt economic questions that must be asked: How many people can this place support when it had no industry aside from tourism before the storm and when residents will stay away in droves after the storm? There are social issues we’ve not begun to grapple with: How can we improve the prospects of minorities trapped in the poverty, crime, and injustice that took over this city? What is appropriate public spending and what is merely the product of cynical political ass-covering? How do we make sure that money reaches its goals? What is the appropriate and fair public policy for this and future disasters? What is a new vision for the city?

This could start at a grandiose level: a foundation brings together the best and brightest.

Or this could start at our level: someone starts a weblog or a wiki with an idea and a challenge to share better ideas. Big thinking can come from small starts, from anyone anywhere.

And we need big thinking that is unafraid to ask the hard questions and come up with imaginative answers. Perhaps New Orleans should be a new planned community. Or it should be all but abandoned and its residents helped with relocation elsewhere. Or it should finally go all the way and become the Vegas of the South with entertainment, food, gambling, and conventions at its core. Or turned into an economic development zone that creates opportunities where so few existed. Or what?

Recovering from Katrina needs more than water bottles and helicopters and buses. It needs strategy, imagination, the intelligent use of capital, real and political. We can’t leave this to the governments that made such a mess of the city — at every level, yes, every level. We need to need to help our fellow citizens in New Orleans find a better future. For tomorrow, it could be our town.

: This is about the positive: building the appropriate future. But it also about preventing the negative: corruption, patronage, pork. Glenn Reynolds spotted this scathing criticism of Louisiana’s pols in today’s Post:

The state’s representatives have come up with a request for $250 billion in federal reconstruction funds for Louisiana alone — more than $50,000 per person in the state. This money would come on top of payouts from businesses, national charities and insurers. And it would come on top of the $62.3 billion that Congress has already appropriated for emergency relief.

Like looters who seize six televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly spend usefully. For example, their bill demands $7 billion for rebuilding evacuation and energy supply routes, but it also demands a separate $5 billion for road building and makes no mention of the $3.1 billion already awarded to the state in the recent transportation legislation. …

The Louisiana delegation has apparently devoted little thought to the root causes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans was flooded not because the Army Corps of Engineers had insufficient money to build flood protections, but because its money was allocated by a system of political patronage. The smart response would be to insist that, in the future, no Corps money be wasted on unworthy projects, but the Louisiana bill instead creates a mechanism by which cost-benefit analysis can be avoided….

…Congress should ignore the Louisiana bill and force itself to think seriously about the sort of reconstruction that makes sense. Katrina has exposed mistakes of policy: water-infrastructure programs that made flooding more likely, and levees and insurance schemes that encouraged human settlement in dangerous places. Now that Congress is getting ready to spend tens of billions on reconstruction, it must seize the opportunity to correct those past errors.

Do we trust Congress more than the legislators of Louisiana? Barely, perhaps. Mark Tapscott urged that the entire process of reconstruction be thick with FOIAs. He’s right. We have to watch these people.

: Note that I’m not saying I have any experience to contribute to reimagining New Orleans or accounting for the money; I’m just a gadfly journalist. But I know there are brilliant people in this country who can set the agenda that government does not have. I’m eager to see them help.

: Note also that I’ll be posting what I hope is a simple agenda for next month’s Recovery 2.0 meeting. I hadn’t intended to raise anything so grandiose as this but who knows what people will want to bring in.

Recovery 2.0: The swarm ethic

Out of all the good efforts to use the internet to help Katrina’s victims, I’ve been thinking about the ethic of the swarm.

One thing the internet does well is bring people together around shared interests, needs, functions, and lines of communication. We swarm around standards and make them standard. We swarm around tags on Flickr or Del.icio.us so we can find each other’s stuff. We swarm around applications — BitTorrent, IMs of various flavors, and so on — so we can all use them together. We swarm around news and decide what matters.

And when people don’t respect the swarm, others will bring them in line: If you go into a support forum and ask a question that’s in the FAQ, you’ll quickly be directed there because other people had the same question and we all shasre the answer.

The swarm is useful. It’s efficient. It’s good citizenship.

So I wonder whether we should discuss the swarm ethic in relation to recovery 2.0 efforts. Try this:

If you see a need, first look to see whether someone else is already trying to meet that need and doing it well. Then you have a three choices:
1. You can decide that incumbent efforts are lacking in some way that you can fix and you do so.
2. Or you can decide to throw your support — your work, your promotion, your links — behind that effort.
3. Or you can decide to work separately but around shared standards to allow you to work together.
And in any case, it would be a courtesy to communicate with the incumbent.

In the case of the missing boards after Katrina, it was quickly obvious that people could miss connections because there were so many separate repositories of names. One option is to swarm around just one, but I’m not saying that’s what should happen; that’s the 1.0 way to work, it’s antithetical to the distributed nature of the internet and to people’s inclination to gather around their own communities (some people will look for each other around their churches, for example).

That’s why we have efforts to compile the names in one place (the Katrina peoplefinder project), to search the names across where they are (see Yahoo’s search), and to create standards for tagging the names (the people finder interchange format).

These are efforts to help us swarm. Swarming is the way we capture not just the wisdom but also the work of the crowd.

This is one of the things I hope we discuss at the Recovery 2.0 meeting in San Francisco. I think all we really want to accomplish is to provide ways — wikis, email, blogs, you tell me — for people to more readily communicate their needs and solutions. We need help swarming.

On Recovery 2.0

Bob Garfield talked to me about Recovery 2.0 on On the Media.

Recovery 2.0: The network

The AP reports that wimax is being deployed at a Katrina shelter and in New Orleans. Add this to Recovery 2.0.

: And here’s an AP story that illustrates just why we need Recovery 2.0 to at least communicate among good efforts:

It took Priddy and three other volunteers from the First Baptist Church most of the weekend to post details online on about 500 refugees.

Each person’s data had to be typed in five times to populate just five of as many as 50 online databases and message boards created to connect those displaced by the disaster with loved ones.

“It’s incredibly slow when you have to input each one,” Priddy said. “What’s aggravating is they are not in the same format so it’s not like you can cut and paste.”

Although the Internet makes it simple for people around the world to help out with disaster relief, all the well-intentioned but largely duplicative people-finding efforts have led to confusion, frustration and wasted time….

But who?

The Red Cross believes its Family Links Registry, previously used during civil wars abroad and the Asian tsunami, can perform that role. By Wednesday, more than 117,000 entries had been submitted by people seeking a loved one or reporting that they are safe, and many more people visited the site to conduct searches.

“Our Web site is so widely known and so heavily used that I think it’s got a momentum of its own,” said Sara Blandford, manager of international family tracing services at the
American Red Cross.

The site even has the blessing of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Nonetheless, the U.S.
Department of Justice turned to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children when it wanted a database for refugee children and parents.

Having worked for years with local law enforcement agencies, the nonprofit organization was glad to build a database that, unlike the Red Cross’, has room for photos and the types of physical attributes familiar to police.

And then there’s the National Next of Kin Registry, a nonprofit group that is willing to work with relief organizations but can’t share data directly for privacy and security reasons, spokesman John Hill said. Its database isn’t publicly searchable.

Media organizations such as CNN and MSNBC have also created databases, as did the Web-only GulfCoastNews.com.

Recovery 2.0: A date to meet

Thanks to John Battelle and Web 2.0, we have a date and a room for a Recovery 2.0 meeting: Thursday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Argent Hotel, 50 3rd Street, San Francisco. The aim, again, is to just to bring together smart people trying to do good things so we can do them better, not to create any giant organization and bureacracy (we already have FEMA and we know how well that’s working…). Background here; wiki here.

: LATER: See Chris Nolan on Recovery 2.0.