But the mayor's goal of redeveloping 10,000 blighted properties by the end of 2013 won't be easy to achieve. Financial and political hurdles are substantial, never mind Louisiana's unique adherence to the property rules of the Napoleonic Code, where the concept of "forced heirship," or guaranteed property rights of descendants, can create a Gordian knot of paperwork for lawyers to untangle.
After clearing so many lots, what does the city hope to do with them? In short, officials intend to sell the cleared lots to developers through auctions, or use federal grants to give private and nonprofit developers incentive to build homes and apartments for low- and moderate-income residents.
"They're trying to find whatever means possible, including incentives, to maximize [available land] to create viable communities," says Rob Olshansky, a University of Illinois planning professor who has studied post-Katrina re-building. "But there are still two questions that remain: What happens to all those people who thought they wanted to rebuild but didn't because their neighbors weren't coming back? And, two, if the city ends up obtaining the most undesirable properties in the city, are they going to end up just holding a bunch of stuff that's going to cost money to maintain?"
Five years ago, residents helped create a blueprint for rebuilding New Orleans known as the Unified Plan. It backed resettlement of hard-hit areas in poor, low-lying districts, partly in a bid to retain a diverse populace. But New Orleans is today in danger of becoming what residents expressly said they didn't want: a smaller, whiter, more upscale city. Beyond the edges of the French Quarter and the tony Garden District, weedy wastelands dominate fabled neighborhoods such as the Lower Ninth Ward, Pontilly, and Lakeview, and in some spots packs of pitbulls roam, squatters languish, and the odd boat lies overturned.