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Hurricane Ida reinforces Kresge’s commitment to New Orleans and combatting climate change 

American Cities, From the President

Like so many of you, I watched with worry and a sense of familiar angst as Hurricane Ida made landfall in the Gulf Coast.

Although the storm was horrific – and continues to ravage large sections of the East Coast – the story of Ida will be different from the life-altering immediate aftermath of Katrina. Most notably, essential infrastructure investments safeguarded lives and property, as the levees held within the vast majority of protected areas.

At the same time, New Orleans and its surrounding environs remain in a state of disarray, as the power grid’s catastrophic failure forces hospitals to run on generators (slivers of welcome progress are just now being realized), residents to sort through the rubble of uninhabitable homes, and emergency responders to work in overdrive to provide food, shelter and health relief.

A more thorough understanding of conditions on the ground is trickling in only very slowly. But it is abundantly clear that those conditions remain very dangerous, making the arduous task of assessment and stabilization even more critical and hazardous.

That work draws on the proven resilience of a region that has seen heartbreak and disaster far too many times before. The Gulf Coast – and New Orleans – knows all too well that the energy and good will of every resident, every public employee, every volunteer from other communities will be necessary to start the painful and methodical process of restoring and rebuilding.

Kresge has worked closely with the nonprofit organizations joining the front tiers of response in providing the vitally needed emergency funding to nonprofits and grassroot groups serving residents of Greater New Orleans. Particularly in communities with less access to resources, people will depend on immediate mutual aid – they  simply cannot wait for food and medication, access to healthcare, diapers, roof tarps, lodging, mucking and gutting, and COVID tests. And our partners in New Orleans have worked diligently over the last decade to ensure that the resources from federal agencies reach those in greatest need.

It’s a haunting deja vu to the urgency we felt after Katrina. On the one hand, as now, there was an urgency to provide emergency aid. On the other hand, however, there was an equally compelling sense of urgency to make a long-term commitment to the people of New Orleans themselves.  For more than a decade we have invested in climate mitigation, to be sure, but also in the city’s cultural and artistic fabric . . . in the development of neighborhood small businesses . . . in community organizing and capacity-building. . . in the human services ecology . . . in the public health system . . . in college access and success at the city’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

After Ida, Kresge will be called to reaffirm those commitments to the city. We will.

In the near term, through Kresge’s American Cities Program, emergency grants will be provided to the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Foundation for Louisiana to enable them to supplement their normal operations with essential relief services.

In the long term, our investments in New Orleans will be predicated on the two existential challenges of our time: climate change and racial equity. We understand that, unabated, climate change guarantees that storms like Ida will repeat, again and again. We will accordingly incorporate into every investment our Foundation makes an assessment of how it addresses the practices and policies of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

But we will also assess for every investment we make how it advances equity, opportunity and justice. In New Orleans, as in every city in America, how we answer that question will define how we realize our mission of contributing to a more just and humane world.