By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

Since coming into office last year, eastern New Orleans City Councilman Jon Johnson has repeatedly stressed the difficulties he faces trying to explain to his constituents why, nearly six years after Hurricane Katrina, their neighborhoods still lack basic amenities.

“What do you tell people when they ask why they still don’t have a park, a library, a hospital in their community?” Johnson asked Deputy Mayor of Facilities and Infrastructure Cedric Grant at a council hearing in April.

He and hundreds of frustrated constituents got an answer Monday night from Grant and other city officials, who gave updates on the rebuilding of Methodist Hospital, Lake Forest Plaza and other infrastructure projects in the area. Grant fielded questions on everything from a repaving of Crowder Road that was scheduled to be done last month, but remains in construction, to what to do when an alligator appears in your neighborhood pond and whether major retail outlets will be revivied. (Answers: Crowder Road will be done by December of 2011; call the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for with help with errant gators; and well, who knows; corporations like to keep plans quiet.)

In his trademark soft-spoken way, the deputy mayor assured residents that progress will continue, and that they can depend on a more responsive City Hall.

“We are working hard to make steady progress and making changes when needed to make sure that your concerns are met,” Grant told the roughly 500 people gathered in the vast sanctuary of City Church. The message from Grant and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s chief of staff, Judy Reese Morse, was two-fold — first,  the city is building long-planned public facilities, such a new regional library and Joe Brown Park, and second, that the city and the new Nola Business Alliance, is investing in public-private ventures including the redevelopment of Lake Forest Plaza and the construction of grocery stores. The city has already promised $40 million for the once-bustling Lake Forest mall and more is not out of the question, officials said.

In a departure from Landrieu’s predecessor, Ray Nagin, the administration emphasized the importance of citizen engagement with City Hall. Touting the city’s new Office of Neighborhood Engagement, Reese Morse and Grant encouraged residents to contact the new neighborhood liaison for the east, Le’Kedra Robertson. “Le’Kedra and the office are for you,” Reese Morse said.

City officials reiterated Landrieu’s commitment to reopening a full-service, 24-hour, emergency room-equipped hospital. While the commitment drew cheers from the crowds, the facility’s 2013 anticipated opening drew groans of exasperation.

Updates made during this meeting can be found on Twitter by searching #nolatownhall or @cohenlensnola