After Vanguard: Experts Praise New Orleans Leadership, Offer Solutions

NEW ORLEANSOne of the most unique conferences ever held in New Orleans is over, but the work of its sponsors and participants goes on.

Known as the Vanguard Conference, this working seminar annually attracts urban specialists from around the world who study the successes and challenges of the conference’s host city. A creation of Next City, this year’s event was co-sponsored by the New Orleans Business Alliance with a focus on inclusive economic development and “Equity as a Growth Strategy”.

Blue Bikes
The Vanguards enjoy a tutorial on using the Blue Bikes before riding around the city as part of the “experiential” conference.

Where New Orleans Gets it Right

According to many of the participants, New Orleans earned its place as a thought leader, and deserves recognition in several key areas:

  1. Claiborne Corridor Cultural Innovation District: For initiating targeted policies and programs to redevelop the underserved neighborhoods surrounding Claiborne Avenue and help residents become financially secure.
  2. Holistic, inclusive economic development: As traditional economic development offices focus on new business attraction, the New Orleans Business Alliance was praised for its intentionality with holistic, non-traditional growth and inclusion through small business development especially targeting entrepreneurs of color, place-based growth (strategic neighborhoods like the Claiborne Corridor), cultural economy growth, and workforce development in addition to business attraction.
  3. Modern growth while maintaining cultural preservation: New Orleans is experiencing incredibly modern growth while maintaining its traditional culture. For example, The Pythian Building is a trendy “food court” but honors local civil rights leaders while providing both market rate and permanent affordable housing in the facility.
  4. Tackling affordable housing: The City is addressing affordable housing with investors and public organizations before we lose our architecture, culture, community and homegrown citizenry.

The Big Idea

Throughout the conference, the attendees participated in a workshop to address six key areas specific to New Orleans. Known as The Big Idea Workshop six teams focused on the challenges and opportunities facing the Claiborne Corridor.

Vanguard participants met with the Claiborne Corridor redevelopment team under the I-10 bridges.

Here’s a brief recap of the key ideas by the Vanguard teams:

  1. Affordable Housing: Institute a Claiborne Corridor Opportunity Fund by creating a TIFF district and by taxing short-term rentals (i.e. AirBNB) to fund new affordable housing, preserve existing rentals, and end blight by repairing and restoring existing homes. Besides updating and offering more affordable housing for residents, this will end the suppression of longterm rental opportunities (i.e. families who rent a year or more at a time).
  2. Economic Development/Workforce Development: Raise the median income of Claiborne Corridor from $18k to $47K (basic cost of living in NOLA) by instituting fast-track training programs to get locals into the high-paying medical industry.
  3. Healthy Neighborhoods: Create “Health Hubs” with healthcare services provided by professionals and housed in small offices under the Claiborne overpass.
  4. Environmental Sustainability: The Claiborne Corridor is at the bottom of “the bowl”. Stop flooding by reducing storm water runoff. Install specially-designed pots and planters along I-10 Overpass to prevent run off, and use tax incentives for homeowners to install pervious concrete on their properties to manage water at the street level.
  5. Transportation Choice & Access: Because 40 percent of Claiborne residents rely on public transportation, increase the number of buses to reduce wait times. Create “mobility hubs” through dedicated bus lanes, and shaded and artistic bus stops equipped with WiFi, charging stations, better curbs, bike lockers, mini libraries, misting stations (for heat) and retail.
  6. Cultural Preservation: Give intellectual property training and ownership to the creators of local culture (music, art, Mardi Gras Indians, etc.) so they can profit from their own cultural creations. Also, launch a paid app geared to New Orleans art that provides revenue to the artists.

The disciplines of the 2018 Vanguard fellows included philanthropic changemakers, academics, policymakers and planners working for influential organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as the Kresge and Ford foundations.


Speakers included Brandan “Bmike” Odums, local activist and nationally renowned visual artist; Brandy Christian, Port of New Orleans CEO; Mark Davis, director of the Bywater Institute; Beth Caniglia, editor of the Solutions Journal; Kurt Weigle, Downtown Development District CEO; Dennis Bagneris, CEO of Liberty’s Kitchen; Geoff Coats, executive director of Blue Bikes; Claiborne Corridor leaders and more.

“We’re proud to have hosted this incredibly immersive conference. We take their suggestions and advice seriously and will want to determine any actions we can take to improve economic security for all New Orleanians,” said Quentin L. Messer, Jr., New Orleans Business Alliance president and CEO.

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