How do you bring a once-proud city back to life? In the last 100 years, New Orleans’s natural resources have been sucked out and taken away, and the profit almost entirely taken by outsiders.
The jewel of a city that New Orleans once was became colonized by Big Oil, which deposited wages and warped the local economy while it extracted wealth.
But one person in particular has looked closer. Veteran architect, urban planner, and economic development specialist Greg Delaune sees a better story ahead. He says the banana republic-like economy contains seeds for revival of the Gulf region’s “blue economy” — already worth an annual $3.8 billion and growing fast. The skills for the fading oil industry — welders, pipe fitters, heavy machinery builders and operators, marine-infrastructure builders and maintainers — are easily retooled for the thriving “blue” economy.
Delaune’s driving it through the organization he founded, the Deep Blue Institute. He describes it is a think tank and aggregator of local, forward-thinking institutions dedicated to building marine-based, resilient communities.
The first hurdle, he says, is helping people see their worth. has found that local populations tend to forget or overlook what they have. They look outside for models or expertise. He recalls, for example, that in a small city near Sacramento, CA, Yuba City, people pointed to a nearby city as an example of what they wanted to see in their own city. Yuba City actually had something similar, but they had forgotten it.
In collaboration with local organizations, such as those that participated in last year’s Clean Tech Open, he is recruiting mentors and startup teams to establish a curriculum. With that, he can demonstrate to the local economic development community, local politicians and businesses, and local leaders that he’s attracting and aggregating talent in the tech industry. That, he hopes, will attract other companies to help establish the story of New Orleans as an emerging center of tech development, particularly in blue tech or clean tech.
He hopes to have a graduating cohort by fall of at least five or 10 companies to demonstrate momentum.
Meanwhile, Deep Blue has formed partnerships, such as with Joe Mistich of Comite Resources, to restore wetlands and the nearby barrier islands. The biomass of each has been long degraded by storm surges and rising sea level. That biomass can be nursed back to health and even restored with the help of nutrients in disinfected and treated domestic effluent. Altogether, these steps will help repair the delta, and the reduced carbon footprint can even be sold as carbon credits to oil and gas companies. Such sales could provide revenue for the municipality.
Chevron and other companies seem to be interested, he said, in growing a carbon-neutral or even carbon-positive life cycle for anything new they do. This project could, as Delaune says, “give them a literal pipeline” of carbon credits and goodwill they can hang their hat on.
What Delaune envisions follows a familiar pattern in economic development called import replacing, a theory of Jane Jacobs. Famously, as she described in her book from the 1960s Cities and the Wealth of Nations, this is how Japan launched a bicycle manufacturing industry. For years after World War 2, they had imported bicycles from Britain. Naturally, they also imported repair parts. Eventually they used the parts to make their own bikes.
I will continue to cover Greg Delaune’s work in New Orleans.