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Volume 41. No. 2.
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Rebuilding Broadmoor
An interview with Rebecca Hummel '03

Like the rest of the country, Rebecca Hummel '03 followed the news as Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005. Moving into her Cambridge, Mass., apartment, the Harvard University grad student read the headlines and watched the talking heads on network news-unaware of the impact that the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes to hit the Gulf would ultimately have on her. "I was certainly more distracted and not tuned into all the details of it," Hummel says. "I don't think I ever allowed myself to truly digest the reality of what was going on."

When Hummel learned of Kennedy School of Government students putting political theory into public practice in New Orleans, Hummel consulted fellow Pomona alum Nick Grudin '01. Grudin was already working with the Broadmoor Improvement Association to structure a redevelopment plan to rebuild the Broadmoor community and encouraged Hummel to also get involved. In spring 2006, Hummel made her first trip to Broadmoor, a tight-knit community of 2,900 homes marked by its racial and socioeconomic diversity. She has returned to the community two additional times, spending months in FEMA trailers helping what could have been a condemned community rebuild itself.

 In a region characterized by racial tension and political finger pointing, the Kennedy School students are facilitating a community-driven planning process that they hope will serve as the blueprint for future recovery efforts. In her second year at Harvard, Hummel has become a major figure in a rebuilding process that has helped the New Orleans neighborhood of Broadmoor get back on its feet.

Why did you decide to take part in the Broadmoor Project?

I felt a little bit guilty that I hadn't paid attention very much when Katrina hit. It was right when I was starting school and moving to Boston. I obviously read the papers and looked at the horrifying images on TV, but I hadn't really allowed myself to engage in it. When the opportunity came around, I decided to give it a shot.

It was actually very good that I didn't come with any preconceived notions. I came at it very open-minded and very humbly, and I just had the most rich, challenging, crazy week of working in the FEMA trailers with the community groups, with all these committees that were talking about what are the visions for bringing the community back. It was intense.

What is a community-driven planning process?

Back in January of 2006, there was a report that came out that said that certain neighborhoods should not be rebuilt, and Broadmoor was one of them because of the extent of the damage and because it was prone to flooding. Many people in Broadmoor who had come back and were rebuilding their houses thought, "No, we want our neighborhood to come back. We love our neighborhood." So, they decided to drive their own recovery. They didn't wait around for the city council or the mayor or the governor of Louisiana to tell them this is how you do it. They had a neighborhood association. They had a couple of key leaders who really started to rally the people. They started meeting in trailers. They started meeting in church spaces. Our role at Harvard was very much a support role.

In the community-driven planning process, you have to have the dialogue. You have to have the debate. It's a really powerful thing when you see it in action. I learned a lot about community and the process and what that really means and what that means to people whose communities have been truly threatened.

What was the most enjoyable part of your work in Broadmoor?

Definitely getting to know the people down there. They are amazing. They are the ones that make me want to get up earlier in the morning and stay later at night working on all of this stuff because of their energy. The power of the human spirit is truly inspirational.

 It made the work I did so much more relevant because I was staring at the people I was helping straight in the face. It wasn't as if I was in some air-conditioned office, typing away all day. I was in the trailers sweating and dealing with cockroaches just like everyone else, but it was OK-that's what actually made it so interesting

Do you feel that you made an impact?

My project has evolved in a really neat way. Part of it was just that I learned about what this community group is doing. It was really about digesting a lot of information and listening and thinking about it and synthesizing it.

What I'm doing now, which I think is going to make the biggest impact for the Gulf Coast area, is this guidebook that I've created, a guide to community-driven recovery. It's a useful book because it shows all the different pieces of that process, and I've compiled it in such a way that is very user-friendly. If that can help other New Orleans neighborhoods in the next year and other communities in the years to come that are faced with these disaster situations, that's probably the biggest impact I can make.

After months of hands-on volunteer work and research, Hummel has compiled a final draft of the guidebook and is trying to find funding to distribute the manuals across the Gulf Coast region. When the book is published, it will serve as a detailed log of the community's efforts as well as the work of the Harvard students who worked on the "Broadmoor Project," which garnered the support of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and the leaders of other New Orleans neighborhoods hoping to implement their own community-driven recovery efforts. With plans to return to Broadmoor in the near future, Hummel intends to continue working with community groups in the region. Two years after the disaster that claimed nearly 1,500 lives and displaced thousands of residents, Hummel hopes that her work will not only expedite the recovery but offer hope to Katrina's victims who feel neglected now that the news cameras have left. "Whenever I go back, there's an excitement because it's still something that I care about, and they appreciate that," Hummel says. "There's something powerful about the people of New Orleans knowing that they haven't been forgotten."
by Travis Kaya '10

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