Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I'M WORRIED about the great City of New Orleans. Only 15% of the residents of the city have been able to come back. The rest are scattered around the country, not knowing when or if they will be able to return. Meanwhile, too many in the city and in Baton Rouge fight for their own interests, with the result that too little happens.
There are good leaders in Louisiana, particularly Governor Blanco and Senator Landrieux (and others I don't know about, I'm sure). But too many commissions are competing for dominance, too many on the commissions have no experience making places, and too many of their consultants couldn't make a good place if their life depended on it.
For more than a month now, some of the leaders have wanted to announce the hiring of two of the best architecture and planning offices in the country. The announcement hasn't been made because others have asked them to wait. Local architects and planners have fought against the announcement because they think there will be less work for them. Some well-connected local architects with no experience in planning or urban design think they should be in charge of redesigning New Orleans. They work for their own goals while the city suffers.
There's a feeling among many that there's no hurry. This may be comme il faut in New Orleans, but in the face of the 85% of the city being homeless, it's a problem. And it's costing the city money — one session in Congress has recently ended, and many in Washington feel that Louisiana has not been organized enough. The city and the state may have missed an opportunity for funding that will never come again.
People around Congress often compare the post-Katrina situations in Mississippi and Louisiana. Historically, Louisiana has had very strong representation in both the Senate and the House, with famous politicians like former House Majority Leader Hale Boggs. Now its representation is young, and shut out of the influential committees, while Mississippi has Trent Lott, and the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and a Governor who is the powerful former Chairman of the Republican National Committee and the President's former Campaign Manager.
Mississippi made a plan (including hiring the CNU for the Gulf Coast charrette), made a budget for the plan, and was well received in Washington. Louisiana asked for money without a budget or a plan, and has been unfavorably compared to their neighboring state. It's almost a cliche in Washington to say they would have done better if they had acted more quickly and in a more organized way.
In Mississippi, the governor appointed a native son and internet billionaire to run a Gulf Coast commission and get things done. Louisiana's dueling commissions prevent things from happening. A friend who was at the Lousiana Recovery & Rebuilding Conference with me is a native Louisianan and a former municipal planner in Mississippi and Louisiana. Writing about the conference (below), she said that Mississippi's hiring the New Urbanists for the Gulf Coast charrette was like sending in the Marines, while the Louisiana conference was like a United Nations session — talk, talk, talk.
From a native Louisianan and former planner in Louisiana and Mississippi:
I fear Louisiana cannot even function in times of deep distress. It is plagued by politics as usual, and that means it is sadly dysfunctional.
Governor Kathleen Blanco had her statewide forum meeting in one room at the Marriott (about 600 invited, mostly South LA participants), the Louisiana Recovery Authority met at the same time in another room, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin made no appearance. He had his own meetings going on elsewhere.
The conference was presented by the American Institute of Architects in collaboration with the American Planning Association and cosponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Society of Civil Engineers
Much of participants' time was spent battling tremendous angst. The people of New Orleans and Louisiana clearly feel their leadership is not working together regionally or collaboratively and not listening to their voices. If this conference does nothing else it should send a message to the electeds that they are on notice. There is also the real fear that New Orleans has lost its population forever. The city is almost devoid of life.
The work accomplished was publicly inclusive, but it was overly general and WAY behind. It took two days of debate to uncover very obvious rebuilding and recovery principles that the Mississippi CNU effort used as its starting point. These included speaking to the nation with one voice, market and government responsiveness, good planning (which had yet to be defined), sensitivity to the built and cultural heritage, new models for economic development, improved education, affordable housing and social equity, and inclusive processes. AND of course, a built infrastructure that far surpasses the quality of what was there before.
There were a couple of excellent speeches with some highly innovative ideas, especially from Steven Bingler on reinventing educational models that are neighborhood based. He should be brought into the Mississippi effort.
The three days of 8:30-6:00 nonstop sessions (not even any planned breaks) were facilitated by America Speaks, and were technologically advanced. It featured individual voting remotes and round tables of 7-9 participants, each with a computer aided facilitator inputting info. Dozens of "principles" were argued and boiled down as individual tables and then the entire room reached consensus. A very effective process if all participants share an equal level of understanding about issues.
Funding the construction of a Category 5 levee system and restoring the fast-eroding Mississippi Delta coastal wetlands emerged as the single most important commitment attendees wanted from federal leaders in Washington. Without that guarantee of safety, no rebuilding can begin. The Dutch model was seen as appropriate.
The few mentions of design happened primarily in the last day. Smart Growth was referenced numerous times and was seen as the most important rebuilding strategy. This included a mass transit and regional rail system to facilitate timely evacuation as well as offer an alternative way to get around the region. "High quality, sustainable development" was another theme, although there appeared to be little understanding by the audience of what this meant or how it could be accomplished.
The players that will implement LA's rebuilding may already be in place. Word is that a famous planner has been hired to do a regional plan. Then a "super planner" will be brought in (David Dixon with Goody Clancy did the planning presentation, which was very decent). There was a session on codes by Craig Richardson of Clarion Associates of Chapel Hill, NC. New Urbanism was mentioned once, when thanks was extended to CNU by Jerry Weitz of Alpharetta, GA, for work on land development codes.
Of the people I already knew who were there, very few are New Urbanists. Some are downright hostile to NU, like XXX, YYY APA Chapter pres) and almost all the LA planning constituency. Most believe they should do the rebuild planning themselves. What they don't understand is that the CNU in Mississippi was the Marines and this meeting in Louisiana a United Nations. It was painful. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt and see how things move from process to action.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference New Orleans:
» http://massengale.typepad.com/venustas/2005/12/bigtime_urban_p.html from Veritas et Venustas
Greater Baton Rouge Business ReportPosted 11.30.05 - 11.38 AM A support wing of Gov. Blanco's Louisiana Recovery Authority is set to hire three renowned national urban planners to provide long- and short-term designs for rebuilding hurricane-distressed... [Read More]
Tracked on Dec 2, 2005 7:36:15 PM
» Louisiana Recovery Authority Press Release from Veritas et Venustas
LRA Engages Nationally-Renowned Planners in Community Planning Effort Louisiana Recovery Authority Board of Directors Meeting Thursday, December 1, 2005 - 9:00 a.m. State Capitol – House Committee Room 1 Contact: Catherine Heitman 225-376-7797 225-978-... [Read More]
Tracked on Dec 2, 2005 7:51:32 PM
Why couldn't there be an open call for tender to redevelop portions of the city ? and perhaps a representative portion of the population, together with a few urban "experts" could come together to vote on the final proposal..
Posted by: nonarchitect at Dec 1, 2005 12:00:58 PM