With government money for New Orleans trickling through the pipeline, private foundations, wealthy individuals, and philanthropies are playing a larger role than expected.
Billions of federal dollars have been allotted or spent in New Orleans since hurricane Katrina, so it may come as a surprise that the first public works project in the city's long-term recovery – the Rosa Keller Library in the middle-class Broadmoor neighborhood – was not paid for by American taxpayers but by the Carnegie Foundation in New York.
Government money is still trickling through the pipeline: On Monday, Louisiana recovery officials approved $117 million for the first post-Katrina community development grants. But with the long wait for cash, private foundations, wealthy individuals, and philanthropies have stepped in, playing a bigger role in the city's rebuilding than ever expected.
"The monies for rebuilding are coming first from private sources ... and that is definitely what is leading the recovery effort," says Doug Ahlers, a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. "Government funding is slow to arrive and is ... not playing a leadership role."
For many New Orleanians, wooing and leveraging private investments into cornerstone public works is empowering – and an example of how nearly 50 other struggling city neighborhoods can revitalize themselves. But concerns are emerging that the new model may leave behind unorganized poor neighborhoods, where 30 percent of the city's residents now live.
Charities, foundations, and private individuals have promised at least $50 million toward renovating and building schools, libraries, and senior centers in New Orleans since the hurricane, much of it in middle-class communities such as Uptown and St. Roch.
In contrast, the US has spent or allotted some $4.6 billion on activities ranging from helicopter rescues, levee repairs, housing assistance, and Superdome restoration.
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