“Every country, however large or small it may be, reacts in a different way to disasters”: so began Ed Blakely’s commentary at the workshop “Participation and resilience: Tuscany’s challenge” organized by ANCI Toscana. Blakely is an expert in post-disaster recovery management, the only commissioner for regeneration of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and is now an honorary professor of Urban Policy at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

“After Hurricane Katrina,” he continued, “80 percent of New Orleans was flooded with water for 57 days. When I arrived in the city, everyone expected me to have Christ-like capabilities, that I’d be able to make the water go away.”

This mission was not without its challenges: in particular, the bureaucracy and institutional rules linked to the past, lacking in resources and personnel to adequately respond to the emergency. The other challenge was setting up the rebuilding process, basing it not on the errors of the past, but by repositioning things with the future in mind. To reach these goals, civic participation was crucial: they aren’t experts, but if they’re informed, they can make their own contributions, the decisions made are better and this process of consultation has long-term impact.

There were two priorities that Blakely highlighted for rebuilding: the future and sustainability. All projects—from infrastructural ones to economic and social initiatives—have to be oriented toward the future and everything must be made sustainable.

The rebuilding of New Orleans was possible in large part due to insourcing: entrusting local construction workers and companies with the task of rebuilding what the hurricane had destroyed, and creating a new New Orleans that’s no longer afraid of water, but instead can use it and bounce back from it.

Blakely then made several suggestions for Italy: create a student task force for monitoring and upkeep of the environment, sensitizing them and potentially creating new scientists; launch a collaboration between states to resolve similar problems together; analyze the risks involved in specific intervention plans and develop an alerts app to be used to as a preventive measure and a way of keeping citizens informed. “We need to have faith in each other,” he concluded, “so that citizens don’t isolate themselves but instead help each other in rebuilding.”

Listen to the interview that we carried out with Ed Blakely on Italy, rebuilding and social media as a communication method during emergencies.

Article by Chiara Bianchini