New Orleans: new visions
Scores of planners around the nation are tendering ideas for the city's renewal. Here, four experts - all with New Orleans connections - offer their views on how to move forward.Skip to next paragraph
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Pres Kabacoff, CEO of HRI Properties, a New Orleans development firm
What will be different?
One of the realities is we're going to have a smaller geographical city. You're not going to be able to build on all of the ground, and we're going to lose population. We'll have to provide housing for 100,000 to 150,000, and we might lose 100,000 or more.... The goal should be to provide permanent housing in a more dense fashion on high ground, which would mean mixed-income housing.
What's the potential for innovation?
You should reorganize the public school system, taking advantage of models of success that have been developed around the country. As you look at the grid system, putting in high-speed broadband could give us a real advantage as a city. And you should take a look at light rail, both inner-city (the streetcar systems) and out to the airport, which is a project that could help people move out of the city in case of another catastrophe.
How can design enhance culture?
We need to build on our cultural assets. One project I had worked on was to develop 4,000 acres [in a way that would] make the city more like a Paris - an Afro-Caribbean Paris. One in which you expanded development into poor neighborhoods, to increase the amount of terrain that locals and visitors could safely navigate.... In Paris, you can walk 15 or 20 blocks and have an interesting experience the whole way. We need to develop microprojects to revitalize the poorer neighborhoods as well as the monumental projects that we do all the time.
Who should be involved?
We need to do everything with velocity.... You invite in the Urban Land Institute and the Brookings Institution and others, and have them work with locals, then stay up all night for a few weeks, set out a plan, and go. You want to have that national and international good thinking, but it needs to be combined with locals who understand the turf.
Reed Kroloff, dean of the Tulane University School of Architecture in New Orleans
What needs to be preserved?
New Orleans has a distinctive and unusual urban pattern. It's like a fine grain on a piece of wood. When the French originally laid out New Orleans, they tried to give as many planters riverfront exposure as they could ... and ended up with a city made up of long, narrow lots. That fine grain is very distinctive, and it's critical for maintaining the character of New Orleans. The beauty is that it makes automatically for a dense, urban, walkable city. It's among the better-designed, better-laid-out, quirkier, more humane cities in this country.
What are the dangers?
The worst thing that could happen is a bad 21st-century version of a great 19th-century home. It would be a bad cartoon version of what New Orleans actually is. We should be careful about creating something that not only respects the old city, but learns from it, because it is sustainable. There's no reason a neighborhood of single-family homes can't be replaced by multi- family homes, or multifamily homes within mid-rise buildings, and still maintain that character: a long, skinny, 12-story building that's elegant and beautiful.
Where should the city rebuild?
We could bring higher buildings into the downtown area or along the riverfront without damaging the character of the city. There are large pieces of blank land in the center that could be developed into dense residential, mixed-use areas.
What's the opportunity?
Why can't New Orleans become the center for sustainable modular housing in the future?... It's an industry that requires working people at every level of economic and educational strata. Why can't we be the people to design "green" modular housing? Those are immediate jobs that become permanent jobs.