Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Look Back, To Look Ahead
Personally, I have no grand vision for how New Orleans should build. Notice how I said should build. Last week I got a bit hasty and inferred that New Orleans should be left alone. It geographic location makes that impossible, and in a more calm and sober state, I realize that. However, I do have a opinion on a very basic city planning guideline that the city should follow.
Respect topography! All the buildings that were destroyed were clearly not occupying sites that were high enough in elevation. The buildings that did survive, the winds and the water, were in the historic French Quarter (thank goodness) and in the wealthy mansion strewn neighborhoods that are adjacent. This shows us two things: One, those who founded and built New Orleans were wise enough to plan the city around the most intelligent geographic position. They would have never built in locations that were so susceptible to such destruction. It's not smart, and its too difficult. Two, the rich will always occupy the best sites. Clearly, the wealthy in New Orleans were living in the best location, as their homes still exist. If New Orleans is to be rebuilt, it should only be done on land that has a fighting chance to survive another Katrina like disaster. Moreover, it should be reserved for those who are less fortunate and really had no choice but to live in poorly constructed and poorly sited houses.
The challenges that lay ahead for the New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and the country are immense. This would be a great opportunity for a widespread planning effort based on traditional city building. The outcome could be a marvelous example for the rest of the country. It could display our country's resilience, and most importantly that we still have a modicum of intelligence left. Rumor had it that Andres Duany was meeting with the Mayor of Baton Rouge and the Governor of Mississipi. I'm not holding my breath, but this horrific tragedy could wind up becoming a positive if we re-learn a few basic planning principles. Let's look back and see what worked so that we can look ahead to a better built environment. New Orleans can be our crown jewel once again.