Recovering Place: On the Agency
Based on the author’s ongoing involvement in the recovery after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and the Lower Ninth Ward neighbourhood in particular, this paper discusses the implications of alternative strategies and tactics involved in the recovery, restoration and rebuilding of post-disaster landscapes. It emphasises that the recovery and rebuilding of community is as important as physical restoration. The empowerment of disaster-affected communities is posited as a central element, in particular, because disasters often reveal long-standing underlying dysfunctions and uneven development patterns as important factors disproportionally affecting communities that were already victimised and marginalised.
Design and planning approaches that gain the trust of local residents can reveal hidden, suppressed and alternative narratives and histories central to understanding the processes leading up to the disaster and to the development of viable and sustainable future scenarios. The active participation of traumatised communities is critical to an inclusive discourse on their future, allowing them to become co-authors of the landscapes and places they inhabit instead of victims of hegemonial agendas that created pre-disaster conditions in the first place.
The paper discusses a modest spatial intervention in the Lower Ninth Ward and its impacts as an example of the agency of landscape in processes of cultural change. It discusses the instrumentality of a truly public space in a critical location in asserting the viability of a post-disaster neighbourhood and in changing the discourses on human–environment relationships to facilitate a sustainable future in a landscape shaped by challenging social and environmental dynamics.
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