Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project collaborates with residents for green community renewal

In July, a group of six students visited New Orleans to aid Lower Ninth Ward residents and institutions in the district’s redevelopment. The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina are still very tangible, but this team of students hopes to help remedy the situation by identifying opportunities for entrepreneurship, business development, “green” initiatives, and community renewal.

The students are working as part of Lafayette’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project. Under the guidance of faculty mentor Gladstone Fluney Hutchinson, associate professor of economics and business, EEGLP helps facilitate entrepreneurship and growth by collaborating with communities on developing sustainable business plans. The initiative is also currently working on projects in two rural Honduran villages and a project in Easton.

In March, President Bill Clinton recognized EEGLP’s efforts in New Orleans at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference held in New Orleans, and the organization recently awarded the team a $2,500 grant to continue their work.

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The EEGLP N.O. team has been building relationships with potential community and institutional partners and identifying which redevelopment issues to focus their efforts on in the Lower Ninth Ward since 2007. This past summer, the team worked directly with Lower Ninth Ward residents and partner institutions, including the region’s Holy Cross Neighborhood Association and the Center for Bio-Environmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities, to identify opportunities that would advance the “green” community and economic development ambitions of the residents. They are also discussing a partnership with University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is restoring Bayou wetlands that were once prime fishing and recreation grounds.

New Orleans team leader, Katherine Reeves ’10 (Colorado Springs, Colo.), is optimistic about the community’s advancements, although she admits there is still much work to be done.

“I was amazed by the amount of progress the community had made toward repopulating the area,” she says. “They had formed farmers’ markets and community gardens, and the amount of blighted and abandoned homes had significantly decreased.”

EEGLP N.O.’s proposals included plans for The Village, a local organization providing assistance and social activities for older residents of the district, as well as The St. Claude Initiative, a clustering of retail stores and “green” social activities into a community life-style center for Saint Claude Avenue (the Lower Ninth Ward’s main thoroughfare).

The Lower Ninth Ward has already committed to becoming the first urban carbon-neutral community in the United States, and, in light of this, EEGLP also presented an economic analysis demonstrating that the use of solar energy in new construction and rebuilding projects in the Lower Ninth Ward has the potential to significantly reduce carbon production.

The EEGLP team was also asked to develop a proposal for ferry service that would travel from downtown New Orleans to the wharf at the foot of the district. This would alleviate transportation problems caused by drawbridge unreliability, and if utilized correctly, the wharf could become a point of embarkation, clustered with an arts village on the pier.

Charles E. Allen, III, president of the HCNA, was pleased with the students’ dedication and commitment to the residents.

“I would like to commend Professor Hutchinson and the students of Lafayette College for reaching out to our community and offering their support. We appreciate the students and all their hard work,” Allen says.

Members of the EEGLP N.O. team are Hristiana Eneva ’10 (Stara Zagora, Bulgaria), economics and business; Felix Forster ’09 (Rostock, Germany), mathematics; Lori Gonzalez ’10 (Bronx, N.Y.), mechanical engineering; Ben Towne ’09 (Litchfield, N.H.), electrical and computer engineering; and Kavinda Udugama ’09 (Kandy, Sri Lanka), mathematics and electrical & computer engineering.