New Orleans’s City Park claims some impressive titles: At 1,300 acres, it’s the largest regional park in Louisiana, and it ranks as the most visited park in the state at nearly 15 million visits per year. But that wasn’t the case 13 years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, and devastated the city — including that well-loved civic space.
For this special episode of People Behind the Plans, recorded in New Orleans at the National Planning Conference earlier this year, Courtney hears from Bob Becker, FAICP, CEO of City Park and an adjunct professor at the University of New Orleans. During the first half of the episode, Courtney and Bob look back on the effect of Hurricane Katrina on the park — every building damaged, 2,000 trees destroyed, and 90 percent of its funding gone overnight. Just five months before the storm hit, the organization finished devising a new master plan for the space, and Bob stresses how important that document was for charting a course forward during the recovery effort. (In fact, their work was recognized with a 2010 National Planning Excellence Award for a Hard-Won Victory.) During the second half of the episode, Bob talks about his career trajectory, including how he ended up doing planning work in Kuala Kencana, a company town in Papua, Indonesia, and how he finished a PhD program at a later-than-typical point in his career.