[Dixielandjazz] Reviving New Orleans - Perspective

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Sep 14 07:31:31 PDT 2005

Long Article. More about broad Cultural & Design aspects of New Orleans, but
some references to the music. Many parallels to OKOM - Like "Any city that
only tries to preserve itself is already dead." Substitute "music" for
"city" above and you get an interesting topic for discussion. ;-) VBG.


Reviving a City: The Design Perspective

By ROBIN POGREBIN - September 14, 2005 - NY Times

Even as the federal government and local developers push to resurrect New
Orleans as quickly as possible in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, some
architects and urban planners are contemplating the larger question of what
form the city should take - whether restored, reimagined or something in

"I hesitate to say there is a silver lining," said Michael Sorkin, director
of the City College of New York's graduate urban design program. "But it
would be a wasted opportunity if one didn't think in a systematic way about
the 21st-century city."

Among the questions facing architects are whether the city's footprint
should be irrelevant, given that so many residents may not return; whether
surviving industries should be pivotal to what is built; whether
preservation should trump other priorities; and whether bold new
architecture can or should rise from the muck and devastation.

Many experts also warned against moving too quickly, arguing that being away
from the city could help residents clarify what was most valued and should
be reclaimed. 

"This is one of the few moments in time in which the entire population of a
city can tell you what they miss about it," said Mark Wigley, dean of
Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and
Preservation. "It's like when people sit around a room wearing black talking
about the person who's gone. The French Quarter is probably one of the
smallest elements of what people treasure."

"Any city that only tries to preserve itself is already dead," Mr. Wigley
added. "The great tragedy would be to embalm New Orleans by simply
rebuilding it the way it was."

Alexander Garvin, an urban planning professor at Yale University, said:
"Here we have a chance to look at the street system, public open space, to
ask ourselves what are the things there we want to keep of great historic
and cultural significance."

"If you start with what you want to retain," he added, "you have a

Most architects and planners say preservation should be a priority. "There
was a very unique vernacular," said Angela O'Byrne, president of the New
Orleans chapter of the American Institute of Architects. She pointed to the
city's mix of Greek Revival, Italianate and Creole styles, and to its
cottages and bungalows with porches suited to the climate, adding, "As much
as possible, all of it needs to come back."

Steve Dumez, another New Orleans architect, agreed: "We fundamentally
believe New Orleans is too important a city to be a throwaway. We intend to
work hard to make certain that it does come back."

The French Quarter, with its mix of Spanish and French influences,
wrought-iron balconies and ornate cornices, is on high ground and was
therefore largely spared from the flooding. Damage to the historic Garden
District was similarly limited.

But some architects cautioned that the historic quarters should not be the
only focus. "New Orleans - along with San Francisco - is the greatest
collection of 18th-, 19th- and early-20th-century residential architecture
in the United States," said Reed Kroloff, the dean of the School of
Architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans. "You're talking about
miles and miles of historic properties.

"But saving the historic context does not mean necessarily rebuilding
everything in it," he added. "I don't think you build a bad 21st-century
copy of a brilliant 19th-century building."

Architects and planners worry that developers might try to recreate some
fairy-tale version of the city, compromising its 300-year-old character. "My
big concern is that it will become a Disneyland," said Raymond G. Post Jr.,
a Baton Rouge architect. "If we come up with a plastic New Orleans, then
you've got a plastic New Orleans. You lose the charm and the quaintness and
the crooked walls and the old shutters."

Without the rejuvenation of the city's varied industries, and with too much
reliance on tourism, the city could become something of a stage set where
people work but do not live, some experts said. "That's a recipe for a
Venice," said Terence Riley, chief curator of the Museum of Modern Art's
architecture and design department, who described that city as being "on
life support."

Trula Remson, president of the Louisiana chapter of the American Institute
of Architects, pleaded for deliberation and care. "I'm concerned that
particularly residentially, it may be built back cheaply and quickly," she
said. "You don't want to build something that's not going to stand the test
of time."

At the same time, the sense of a clean slate offers an opportunity to
improve on what was poorly conceived or constructed, and to aim for some
contemporary architectural distinction. "I hope we see some progressive
design," Ms. Remson said.

Some architects and planners urged a rethinking of New Orleans's sprawl,
arguing that the city should be consolidated. Indeed, given that New Orleans
may be uninhabitable for six months to a year, many residents are likely to
put down roots elsewhere, planning experts say, greatly reducing what was a
population of nearly 500,000.

"The most difficult thing to do might be the planning of the shrinking of
the city," said Mr. Riley, the MoMA architecture curator.

If the population contracts sharply, he said, any effort to duplicate the
city's former footprint will leave some areas largely deserted, robbing the
metropolis of its overall texture and vitality.

Others emphasize that the city's low-income housing was due for an overhaul
long before the hurricane. "I think this is an opportunity to rethink some
of the urban planning," Ms. O'Byrne said. "Some of the blighted areas
probably needed to be bulldozed anyway."

If there is any social dividend from the hurricane, some architects and
planners said, it is the view the storm afforded of how the other half
lives, the areas that are not in the guidebooks. "We have to get past the
standardized image," Mr. Wigley said. "It didn't include any of the poor
people - any of those neighborhoods that we only know now because they're
filled with water."

Any discussion of aesthetics, experts agree, must come second to improving
the city's infrastructure. New regulations may be established, for example,
about building higher and about where a building's first habitable floor
should be.

"The city needs to be understood as a wetlands that's been drained, with new
elevations that move people out of harm's way," said Dan Williams, an urban
and regional planner who helped rebuild South Florida after Hurricane Andrew
in 1992.

"At what point do you decide, like San Francisco did, like Seattle in the
early 1900's, to build up and over an existing structure?" Mr. Williams
asked. "It's important to talk right now about strategies in terms of
long-term planning."

Ms. Remson of the architectural institute said: "We're going to try to
educate our architects about the technology available now for making things
flood-proof. So much will have to be torn down, we're going to want to build

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