Campus & Community

Students help the grass roots grow in New Orleans

4 min read

Statistics may cause some people to grow bleary-eyed, but not a group of New Orleans residents at a recent community meeting where they listened to Harvard students talk about post-Hurricane Katrina recovery rates in their neighborhood.

Eighteen students are concluding a week of number crunching in the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans as part of the Kennedy School of Government’s “Broadmoor Project: New Orleans Community Engagement Initiative,” an ongoing, multiyear research project to support redevelopment efforts by the neighborhood’s proactive resident groups.

Students from the Kennedy School, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the Harvard School of Public Health spent the week quantifying the Broadmoor neighborhood’s rate of recovery and establishing benchmarks for future measurement at six-month intervals over the next several years. This work builds on the research of dozens of other Harvard students who have spent time in Broadmoor over the past year as spring and summer interns.

The project was initiated by Doug Ahlers, a New Orleans resident and senior fellow at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

“I’m confident that the preliminary data we’re seeing this week is indicating that Broadmoor’s recovery is extraordinary,” Ahlers said. “What we learn and do in Broadmoor will be shared with other neighborhoods in New Orleans, and with other communities post-disaster.”

As the students outlined their methodology and preliminary findings — based on data gleaned from building permits, real estate transactions, national change-of-address data, census statistics, and comprehensive field survey data of every property in Broadmoor — residents at the March 29 meeting asked frequent and detailed questions, reflecting that lives and livelihoods depend on connecting the data with the health and progress of the neighborhood.

“We learn from one another — the residents and the students,” said LaToya Cantrell, president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association. “It doesn’t get any better than having the boots on the ground to jump right in and have a direct impact. When they’re here, they’re working on a specific task, and when they leave, then we’re able to put that into action. For example, this week they’re compiling data about Broadmoor’s recovery compared to other neighborhoods in the city of New Orleans. When interns this summer continue the research, we’ll be able to use the data to show our level of recovery. We can use this to help us write grants and to garner additional resources needed to implement our redevelopment plan.”

This appreciation was echoed by Angie Blalock, both a Broadmoor resident and a representative of Shell Exploration & Production, which funded the week’s work. She told the students, “Out of this disaster came all of this coming together — all of you, all of us — rebuilding together.”

Henry Lee, director of the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program and faculty chair of the Broadmoor Project, visited the neighborhood earlier this year and noted that the collaboration is an opportunity for Kennedy School students to put into action the governance skills they are learning in the classroom.

“I went into public policy thinking, ‘I want to make a difference,’” Alexis Watson, a first-year public policy student, said this week. “To come here and really apply and understand what we’re learning and to be able to meet the people that we’re working with and working for makes it that much more worthwhile.”

In the midst of all the number crunching, second-year public policy student Jose Maeso said, “When I hear the residents say that we bring them hope, just by being here — they can see that something’s happening, they’re not just alone — to me, that’s really gratifying.”