Urban League opposes plan to close New Orleans neighborhoods

Sunday, January 8, 2006

NEW ORLEANS -- The National Urban League and likely other civil rights groups would oppose any New Orleans rebuilding plan that would do away with neighborhoods most heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the league's president said Saturday.

In an interview before a speech, Marc Morial, a former mayor of the city, said he was concerned about suggestions that officials focus on rebuilding the least damaged neighborhoods and that some devastated areas could be turned into marshland or open space.

Supporters say such changes would allow for flood control and also would avoid large tracts of blight between rebuilt sections.

Detractors fear that such moves would wipe out neighborhoods where generations of families have lived.

"For us, it's about equity," Morial said.

Decisions about whether to rebuild certain areas should be made by the community, not imposed from the top down, he said.

And if residents are going to be told they can't rebuild, the government should be forced to compensate them, he said.

"Fundamentally, people ought to be given an opportunity to build their neighborhood and their homes," Morial said.

Mayor Ray Nagin has sought to calm fears that some neighborhoods will be neglected or closed to residential use. His spokeswoman, Sally Forman, said Saturday it was too early to speculate on a master building plan that has not yet been formally unveiled, never mind decided upon.

A proposal by the mayor's Bring New Orleans Back Commission is expected to be released on Wednesday.

The New York Times reported Saturday that the commission would propose letting residents go back wherever they wanted for the first year. After that, neighborhoods without enough population could be closed and residents forced to leave.

Forman said the rebuilding proposals were formed with the participation of hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds and residents would be given time to consider any proposals.

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