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Ten Years Later - A Reflection from Green Coast President, Will Bradshaw

By Green Coast on 25 Aug 2015

In October of 2005, I traveled to New Orleans for the third time. As a kid, I had visited the city; the second time, like so many college kids, I came for Mardi Gras. This third time, I was coming to help Leonard and Louise Riggio start what later became Project Home Again. They had asked me to move here for six months to identify opportunities for their support.

I never expected that six months would turn into the rest of my life.

I received a new education during that time, one that had never been broached in the 19 years I had spent in school to that point. What I learned most of all is that the people of New Orleans were a stubborn, faithful, inspiring lot, and to paraphrase my friend Tom Wooten’s fantastic book about the recovery, that they would not be moved. Not by a noxious pile of refrigerators or stacks of rusting cars under highway bridges. Not by endless amounts of dirt and grime and destruction. Not by a bumbling federal response or the haunting memories of everything that was lost as the floodwaters receded from the city too many weeks after the federal levees broke.

Being here, supporting recovery in any way that I knew how (and plenty of ways where we were all just guessing) was intoxicating, exhausting, deeply troubling, and every time I thought about leaving, I realized I no longer knew how to be any place else. Other places seemed too clean, too put together, with too little music and spirit, and I just didn’t feel needed in the same way. New Orleans had crept in through my nostrils in the middle of the night, grabbed me by the heart and I was done. It didn’t hurt that I met a certain New Orleans girl at Vaughan’s one Thursday night, and like the city itself, she had a way of being convincing.

We officially opened for business as Green Coast Enterprises in my living room in April of 2007, though we had been operating for many months before that as a sole proprietorship consulting practice. Our first client became Project Home Again. Ten years later, we have helped this organization build 171 homes in New Orleans Gentilly neighborhood, spurring redevelopment of many hundreds more houses more through a highly effective redevelopment strategy that allowed concentrated development into particular neighborhoods.

We also worked closely with the Broadmoor neighborhood, assisting in redeveloping or repairing more than 55 properties with a total development value of more than $10 million. Altogether, we have supported the redevelopment of more than 1,200 residential units and several hundred thousand square feet of commercial space.

We have also taken 11 neglected and flooded properties, and breathed new life into them. What was once a used tire shop is now home to the Propeller, a social innovation incubator, where over 120 social entrepreneurs involved in 85 different ventures work daily. What was a Broad Street storefront notable for its collection of syringes and broken glass is now Laurel Street Bakery and iDIYa, a do it yourself, maker space looking to democratize industry in this city and beyond. What was once a collection of derelict apartments that attracted vagrants and crime is now home for 23 local families.

And we™re just getting started. We have another four buildings representing an additional 50,000 square feet of commercial space and 93 units in construction and pre-development. Every one of these projects stays true to our founding principles of respecting people and helping repair the planet.

Had I sat down on August 28, 2005 and made a list of one hundred or even one thousand places I might live, New Orleans, the entire state of Louisiana, would not have cracked the list. For me, this is one of the tiny miracles of Katrina, and it makes me feel blessed and guilty at the same time. I did not live through the horror of the storm.

I came afterwards to help, and this city and its indomitable people gave me my whole world in return. My wife, my children, my company, and the person I have become. I’ve reflected on this often through the ensuing years since my arrival, especially these last few weeks. It brings to mind a little truism my wife, Rebekah, has said many times:

If you want to hear God laugh, show her your plans.

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