By DAVID GREEN
2004 Morenci graduate Rosanna Green-Ballinger was part of a team competing in this year’s JP Morgan Chase Community Development Competition. The team beat competitors from colleges around the country to win first place with its project, “Bringing Fresh Food to the Lower Ninth Ward.”
The annual competition calls for students to work with nonprofit organizations to develop a real estate project that is feasible, sustainable and helps to build and strengthen the local community.
Ballinger, a University of New Orleans graduate student studying urban and regional planning, worked with three other members from her school who joined forces with students from Louisiana State University and DePaul University in Chicago. Students from each school focussed on a different portion of the project.
DePaul provided the financial data, LSU came through with the architectural renderings, and Ballinger’s team focussed on the community development aspect, along with the market analysis.
Second place was won by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Washington University in St. Louis. Third place went to a team from The New School in New York City.
Other finalists included a Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Tulane University team and a University of California, Davis/ University of Oregon team.
The first-place finish brings a prize of $25,000 to the winner’s non-profit partner, the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED).
The winning plan calls for the redevelopment of commercial space where businesses failed to reopen following Hurricane Katrina.
The 15-year-old competition moved to New Orleans last year after 13 years in New York City. About half of the proposals to place first, second or third in the competition have become a reality. Lizette Terral, president of the New Orleans region for Chase, said she expects this project to fall in the category of successful ventures.
“I think it’s not just the viability of this project,” Terral said. “It’s the presentation, the research, the analysis that will make it successful.”
The competition brought closure to a lengthy effort.
“We started working on the project in the spring semester and all summer we worked on the research and market analysis,” Ballinger said.
Eventually her team thought less about the competition and more about doing whatever possible to make the project happen.
Lower Ninth residents—many without vehicles—have to travel several miles to reach a grocery with fresh foods, a fact that impedes efforts to rebuild the flood-ravaged area and also adversely affects the health of residents.
Time spent on the project grew as the filing deadline neared.
“We finally met the DePaul team on the Sunday before the competition,” Ballinger said. “They flew in that morning and we spent from noon until 10 p.m. working on the presentation.”
Additional fine-tuning came the next day and on the following—right up until the team stood before the panel of judges.
“When our professors sent the e-mail out asking if students were interested in working on a fresh food market project, I looked into it because I knew how badly the Lower Ninth Ward residents wanted a grocery store,” Ballinger said.
“I set up a lot of the community meetings and made connections with key people in the community,” she said about her role in the project. “I also did research on the health section of the project and the community background, and incorporated some of the hazard mitigation techniques to make sure the store is resilient to storm and flood waters.”
Several local agencies and officials have pledged support for the project and funding sources are coming to light. Ballinger thinks there’s a good chance the store will be built. She expects the publicity from the competition will bring additional funding.
For those living in the Lower Ninth Ward, the Chase competition offers some hope for the future.
“There’s a need. There’s a desire. It’s so hard to go elsewhere,” said Pam Dashiell of the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. “But most importantly, if there’s a store back here, it gives us something to attract people. If there’s a store and a school, that helps to rebuild the community.”