Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Route 66

Residents of Mid City probably feel like the citizens of Radiator Springs when the Mayor endorsed the Police Chief's recommendation to move the Endymion parade from its traditional Mid City route to Uptown due to safety and security concerns.

Mid-City residents cheered last week when six members of the New Orleans City Council said they favored letting the Krewe of Endymion parade on its traditional Mid-City route for Carnival 2007, rather than the Uptown route that it followed in 2006 and that Police Superintendent Warren Riley has said he wants it to follow again in 2007.

The residents' spirits fell this week when Mayor Ray Nagin said that as far as he is concerned, the Mid-City route is out of the question for next year.

Nagin said Monday that Endymion's procession, the largest of the Carnival season, will have to roll Uptown, like all of the city's other east bank parades, because it would be too dangerous to let it roll through what he depicted as an area of abandoned homes and buildings.

"It's not about money," Nagin said. He said Riley is concerned that he wouldn't have the resources to handle a serious crime along the Mid-City route on the same day that other parades will be marching Uptown.

But there appears to be a slim hope that Endymion could yet roll on the route it has followed almost every year since the 1960s.

Nagin said Tuesday he might change his mind if Riley tells him he no longer objects to the Mid-City route.

Mid City residents have a legitimate concern that their neighborhood will end up like Radiator Springs, forgotten. I think the Police Chief's concerns are legitimate also. However, I would also like to see Endymion roll in Mid City again.

So rather than continuing to fight to keep the 2007 route in Mid City, they should start fighting for 2008. As long as people don't forget about Endymion's tradition, it will roll in Mid City again.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Start Me Up

One mile of the St. Charles streetcar from Canal Street to Lee Circle is up and running today. Only five more miles to go.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Tell Me Where People Want To Go So I May Lead Them There

The Times-Picayune's art critic penned an article about the effort of Andrés Duany of DPZ and his efforts to recreate New Orleans one small piece at a time. Much of the article has been covered by this blog before so I wont belabor the point. Although one paragraph mentions something I think is important and should be discussed in more detail.

He dismissed showy, big-budget projects such as the "Reinventing the Crescent" plan as "silver bullet" solutions. New Orleans, he said, is historically addicted to them. The aquarium, Convention Center and world's fair were all silver bullets meant to save the struggling city. They were high-profile substitutes for more elemental changes to the municipal codes that, he believed, would have accomplished more over time. Duany puts great stock in municipal codes.
His objections, though, is tempered by the knowledge of what is really needed.
They were high-profile substitutes for more elemental changes to the municipal codes that, he believed, would have accomplished more over time. Duany puts great stock in municipal codes.
Taken independently he is correct. Taken as a whole he is wrong. New Orleans needs all these solutions. That is why I have consistently favored all of them even if it is with reservations.
All of the project Mr. Duany mentioned have improved the city though they have not solved all of the city's ills.

Bringing the city back will be a long-term and multifaceted slog through the cypress swamps. The journey will be hard, dirty and impossible without effective leadership. People like Andrés Duany are providing that leadership. But what makes his leadership so effective that he takes the effort to listen to the residents and brings them to where they wish to go.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

MR-GO Gotta GoGo

The Environmental Defense group has released calling for MR-GO to be closed by Congress.

The group Environmental Defense released a report urging Congress to take certain steps to control MRGO, called “Mr. Go.” It claims the channel costs taxpayers $11.8 million a year to maintain and degrades wetlands and cypress forests.

The report comes 10 days before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to present Congress with a plan to close MRGO to oceangoing ships, if not all water traffic.

“The community has been calling for the closure of MRGO for decades,” said Paul Harrison, coastal Louisiana project manager for Environmental Defense. “The next step is Congress’ part.”

Congress has directed $3.3 million to the corps to develop a closure plan. Also, the most recent congressional supplemental funding bill included $75 million for closure.

Among the report’s recommendations are:
  • Stop wetlands-killing saltwater intrusion by closing a hole cut through the Bayou la Loutre ridge by MRGO construction.
  • Build a vegetated buffer in front of the MRGO levee to disperse 95 percent of wave energy.
  • Reintroduce freshwater, sediment and nutrients to re-grow the central wetlands, cypress forests and Lake Borgne wetlands while pushing back saltwater.
  • Build four constrictions across MRGO to encourage the rest of the channel to fill in naturally and reduce the tendency of the channel to carry storm surge inland.
The entire report can be read here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Road Home-less Program

Governor Kathleen Blanco's Road Home Program has been taking criticism from all directions due to the slooooowwww pace of distributing checks to flooded homeowners. Now, City Business has take up the task of tracking the rate of progress (or lack thereof) the the Road Home Program in making people whole.

Since last week, almost 2,000 homeowners have made their selections and mailed back their Benefit Option Letters to The Road Home. Since last week, almost 2,000 homeowners have made

However, just 56 of 85,256 applpicants have been paid. The average claim being paid totals $51,452.

Homeowners are marking their choices to stay in their homes, relocate to new homes in Louisiana or sell their homes and move out of state.

In November, The Road Home mailed more than 10,000 letters to homeowners, detailing their options and informing them of the award amounts for which they are eligible.

Upon receiving a homeowner’s letter, program officials are entering each homeowner’s response into the system and are compiling reports detailing the choices that homeowners are making. This information will be released as soon as it is available.

The Road Home is working to ensure that homeowners understand the content of their letters. Each homeowner who has received a letter will also receive a phone call from a program representative to answer any questions they may have about their awards or the closing process.

Some phone calls have already been made to applicants. Homeowners should carefully read the instructions contained within the letter when making their choice. Those homeowners with questions about their letters are encouraged to call The Road Home hotline at (888) ROAD-2-LA and choose prompt No. 6. Staffing at the call center is being increased on a daily basis to accommodate the expected influx of homeowner calls.

Since the program began sometime around early October, just 56 checks have been mailed. At that rate, all applicants should be made whole about 270 years from now. I understand that the wheels of government turn slowly, but this is ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sister Act

The Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick have returned to their convent in Gentilly. I didn't know they were here before the storm but I'm glad to know they're back after the storm.

The Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick have called New Orleans home since 1914, spending nearly a century tending to the sick and dying in their time of greatest need. The devastation Katrina left behind threatened to permanently chase the 18 nuns from their beloved city.

"We never evacuated in our whole lives," said Mother Superior Silvia Juarez. "When we heard there was a mandatory evacuation, we decided we should think about leaving, but we only had two cars available to us and we couldn’t fit 18 sisters in them. We decided some should go. That was a very difficult decision. Six sisters left and 12 stayed behind."

The nuns who stayed at the convent on 5001 Perlita St. were soon chased to the second floor by 5 feet of floodwater the day after the storm. They spent the next three days awaiting rescue.

They took in two elderly neighbors and three young men, providing them with food, water and shelter.

When a passing rescue boat spotted the nuns standing on the roof of the convent still wearing full white habits in the festering heat, the sisters insisted their neighbors be rescued first.

That boat returned with two others that ferried the nuns to safety as the last people rescued in Lakeview.

Fifteen months later, the Servants are back in their convent thanks to the hard work of volunteers from across the country and help from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana and Shell Oil.

You can more about their ordeal here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Turning Japanese

Japan apparently has a simple yet novel way of protecting their cities from potential flooding.

The Arakawa spillway and other engineering improvements -- chiefly, a more modern system of levees and locks that manage water flowing from the Arakawa -- have drastically reduced river flooding in Tokyo. As in New Orleans, the levee system means the city depends on pumps to keep low areas from flooding after heavy rains, a battle the pumps don't always win. (The Tokyo government is upgrading its pumps to handle 2 inches of rain in an hour, roughly the amount for which New Orleans pumps are designed.)

nd as in New Orleans, other forms of flooding are possible: a typhoon that brings heavy rain, for instance, or a storm surge that tops levees and causes them to fail. Or, worse, an earthquake that ruptures levees and sends a tsunami through the breach. (The levee system in Tokyo includes roughly 60 miles of oceanfront breakwaters.)

To minimize those possibilities, the Japanese have been replacing the traditional levees along the Arakawa with what they refer to as "superlevees."

There's nothing gee-whiz about these ramparts, no high-tech gimmickry comparable to the computer-controlled storm gates and permeable levees deployed by the Dutch in their eternal struggle with the North Sea. Superlevees are actually no higher than the levees they replace; their effectiveness lies in their extraordinary width.

Rather than dropping back to grade level at the same steep pitch on both sides, a superlevee is severely asymmetrical, sloping down gradually on its backside for a distance of perhaps several blocks. The goal, one the Japanese believe they have achieved, is a breach-proof levee.

Imagine a Mississippi River levee that doesn't stop shy of the river road but continues all the way across Tchoupitoulas Street to Annunciation, and you get a sense of how seriously the Japanese have taken the responsibility to mitigate flooding.

Unfortunately Japanese doesn't translate well into Creole. While these "superlevees" may be practical in more recently developed or undeveloped areas of a city, how do proponents of "superlevees" in New Orleans propose that we build such a levee without destroying the MOST historic parts of the city. This most surely a case if cutting off one's nose despite its face.

However, the "superlevee" idea is not totally without merit in southeast Louisiana. There are many miles of levees that exist in undeveloped areas. The problem is that it is not that important to protect marshland from storm surge. One advantage to the "superlevee" is that it creates land that is high and dry and is ripe for development.

The problem with this scenario is the the Corps of Engineers is not too keen on people building anything in their levees. Besides, most earthen levees held up well during the onslaught that was Hurricane Katrina. It was the smaller, I-wall levees that failed during the storm. The Japanese don't seem to have an answer to that problem.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Takin' Out Da' Trash

The New Orleans City Council is set to vote for or against the city's contract for trash collection in the French Quarter, CBD and Wharehouse District.

The mayor's office chose SDT to handle around-the-clock trash pickup and street cleaning in the French Quarter, Central Business District and Warehouse District.
The article delves into the intricacies of the bidding process and the additional costs but what I'm sure most residents want to really know. To what extent will trash collection occur in these neighborhoods?

If the contract calls for the winning bidder to ensure that trash is collected on at least a daily basis and includes street and sidewalk cleaning, this is a good thing. One of the things that has limited progress in the city and hindered our recovery are the piles of garbage and debris in the street. No one likes to see a dirty city. And New Orleans is dirty. Visitors to the French Quarter have for years complained about the trash but have largely fallen on deaf ears. Now their complaints have gotten louder. Piggybacked with French Quarter business owners complaints about lack of business, politicians started listening.

If this is a good contract we may finally see a French Quarter in all its pristine beauty.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bye-Bye Birdie

Hurricane season has officially ended. Only six months to go till next years hurricane season begins.

We can hardly wait.

Snake Oil Salesmen

John Massengale has another post regarding the arrogance of our elite architects propose that they know what is best for New Orleans despite the wishes of New Orleaneans. Marianne Cusato writes about her encounter with one of these architects (academically speaking).

Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY hosted a symposium this weekend on rebuilding and the future of New Orleans. The speakers included the winner of Brad Pitt's Global Green Competition, representatives from Acorn Housing, several others involved with planning efforts and a few displaced residents who had relocated to this area.

I was on a panel with the winner of the Global Green Competition, Matthew Berman from Workshop/APD. I presented the Katrina Cottages as well as a house I designed at the UDA Treme/LaFitte charrette. In my talk I discussed the feedback we'd received from the residents of Treme/LaFitte. We heard from them that they liked the look of the Shotguns, but wanted the plans be adapted to modern living and they had to be practical and affordable.

After we each presented our work we had a Q&A with the audience. The members of the audience that were from New Orleans, passionately attacked the "award winning" Global Green design. They were outraged that this project had been selected. They were upset that it had no resemblance to the existing neighborhood, either with the architecture or the plan. One woman stood up and explained to the architect that the "Historic" buildings weren't old and out dated. They were REALLY well designed, NOT because of the balustrades, brackets and architectural details, but because of the tall ceilings, cross ventilation and the materials. She was great because she elevated the conversation away from style to practical common sense.

The residents in the room were disgusted that modern designs were being imposed on them. The architect admitted that the residents that he had spoken to didn't like the modern designs, but that didn't stop him from proceeding with his work. It seemed more about his personal design exploration, rather than a project based in reality or any form of practicality. The amazing thing about the day was that no one in the room, NOLA residents or even the SLC students, were buying it - or cutting him any slack.

One resident pointed out that the architecture could either support or destroy a community. From the planning of where buildings go to the interior plans of where the kitchen is located. He went on to tell the architect of the GG Design that his building would destroy the community and probably cause people to kill themselves.

The professor at the school that was moderating our panel tried to let the guy off the hook by asking the audience if they could set aside the site plan, which he admitted was really bad, but looked only at the buildings, would they be happier with the designs, the room spontaneously yelled out NO.

Then he went on to try and talk about the theory and academic approach of the modern design, I interrupted and challenged that this was a real world problem not an academic experiment, that it was the wrong approach to ignore the existing context and the desires of the people. Instead we needed to listen to what people are asking for and through design, build communities. The room erupted in applause. The professor went on to dismiss me by saying "Well yes, that might be the populous view, but...."

We have so many struggles in the work we are doing down on the coast, politics at every level, but after a day like today, hearing the passion in the voices of these residents, it was so clear how important it is that we are down there and working so hard. The people want what we are doing.

I've said all along that the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast must have the involvement of its residents because they know what is best for their community and they know what works down here. That is why I have commended the work of Adreas Duany and his urban planning charettes in many small communities and New Orleans. Not because I'm an adherent of his style of architecture but because he offers his expertise to the residents to help them realize THEIR dreams of what their neighborhood/town should be, not what he thinks it should be. And when it comes right down to it, that is what all real architects do. We are not here to impose our vision of someones home should be like at roadside salesman urging passers by to try their elixir, its good for them. Somewhere along the line, these academic architects lost site of that, if they ever had it at all.

The Classicist Blog has more input on Marianne Cusato.

Take This Job And Shove It

The commander of the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District is asking to be relieved of duty.

Col. Rich Wagenaar, who took the helm of the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District the month before Hurricane Katrina toppled the corps-built levee system in August 2005, has requested to step down as district commander and retire from the Army.
His absence will surely not be missed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fiddlers On The Rooftops

Nero probably has a better reputation as a leader during times of disaster that many of our more notable architects in their (lack of) influence in the rebuilding. At least according to John Massengale at Veritas et Venustas. Unfortunately, these architects view themselves more as Pied Pipers.

The real heroes are the architects in the trenches doing the grunt of actually getting the renovations and repairs done without fanfare.
Those that are using the situation in New Orleans to promote themselves are only hindering our recovery and are leaches on society.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

No Easy Way Out

Photo by David Gregor via Squandered Heritage

FEMA has designated St. Francis Cabrina Catholic Church as a historic landmark.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has concluded that St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on Paris Avenue in Gentilly is historically significant, which could bring an effort to move the 147-year-old Holy Cross School there to a screeching halt.

In a Friday meeting, FEMA officials notified representatives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the school's board of directors of their decision, which they said would block use of FEMA grant dollars to pay a significant chunk of the $23 million cost of building a new school on the 17-acre Cabrini campus.

The FEMA decision was immediately attacked by Holy Cross officials and New Orleans City Council members, including Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, whose district includes the church and who was a parishioner of Cabrini.

But Holy Cross' objection the the church appears to be mostly aesthetic.

Chauvin said keeping the 1960s-era building on the campus would clash with plans to build a new Holy Cross that will reflect the 1800s architecture of the original school.

"That's not what Holy Cross is, not what our history is," he said.

However, Holy Cross has practical concerns as well.

And the church building has been described as a "money pit" by the archdiocese, Chauvin said, the result of long-deferred maintenance, inadequate heating and air-conditioning systems and a roof that has leaked since the church opened.

"How can we go to parents and say your tuition has to be this high because we had to add a component to pay for maintenance on this facility?" he said.

Unfortunately these types of problems are all too common in many of these modern buildings. But these may just be excuses by the owner as a third option has been proposed and rejected by Holy Cross.
(Stephen) Verderber said he has been unsuccessful in attempts to meet with Holy Cross officials to show them a site layout that would allow the church building to be used as part of the new school. He said the design would have little impact on the space school officials say is needed for football and baseball practice fields and for parking.
Maybe a fourth option is possible. Perhaps Holy Cross could apply to FEMA for a grant to make permanent repairs to the church in lieu of demolition. FEMA will probably reject this sort of compromise in that it might make all parties satisfied.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Streetcar Names Rewire

The RTA is saying that a portion of the St. Charles streetcar line will be operational sometime by Christmas. The portion of the line expected to be repaired will extend from Canal St. to Lee Circle. The complete line will be up and running in about another year.

Seymour D. Fair has more at The Third Battle of New Orleans.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sore Thumb

A politician once said that all politics is local. The same is true for good architecture. The redevelopment of the Jefferson Plaza Shopping Center is a good example of this axiom.

Conceptual renderings show a pair of curved glass-and-steel towers rising to points, with trees growing on rooftop terraces, fountains and pools on the grounds and intense lighting at the base of the structures, tapering toward the peaks. One tower might exceed 30 stories, far taller than any building for miles.

"It's going to be real dramatic lighting, along with dramatic water features," St. Raymond said.

The idea, however, is not receiving an entirely enthusiastic welcome in the neighborhood. Some nearby residents protest that it will exacerbate traffic problems, overshadow their houses and stick out, rather than stand out, among Old Jefferson's post-World War II wood frame houses.

So why is this design so unpopular? Seymour D. Fair offers his thoughts:
Architect Daniel Libeskind's above design was not what I had in mind--and I am not completely against multiple floored residential buildings at this site unlike many residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Daniel Libeskind is a great architect with soaring ideas for his designs, however like most starchitects, he is not in tune with the local vernacular and traditions. It is likely that the architectural firm was given a survey of the site along with some photos. With this information in hand, the design process begins. The architect may be able to come up with a design that will get noticed. But that is not always a good think. Severe birth defects get noticed too but no one wants one.

The developer and local residents would have been better served had a local architect been retained for the design. Perhaps the local architect's design wouldn't have been as radical but it probably would have been more contextual meaning more sensitive to the local environment and residents. This can't be done from a corner office in Manhattan.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

River Of Dreams

An earlier post related the agreement between the city and the Port of New Orleans to return part of the riverfront back to the citizens. Now five teams of designers have been chosen to plan the redevelopment.

Nine teams of architects and planners from New Orleans and cities around the world responded to a recent invitation to help plan the redevelopment of a 4.1-mile stretch of publicly owned land along the east bank riverfront.

Among them were at least two winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the highest international honor in the field, and architects from London, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Mexico City, Edinburgh and other cities.

Famous names such as Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid, Reiser + Umemoto, TEN Arquitectos and Chan Krieger Sieniewicz adorn the list of applicants to lead what Sean Cummings calls "reinventing the crescent" that gave the Crescent City its nickname.

The foundation of the planning effort is a cooperative endeavor agreement recently agreed to by the city and the Port of New Orleans that spells out what east bank wharves the port will continue to need for maritime activities and what areas will be available for public, nonmaritime redevelopment.

Among other things, the agreement envisions "an uninterrupted and continuous linear green space or riverfront park" along the entire stretch between Jackson and Poland avenues, a "world-class performance venue" at the Louisa Street Wharf or another site, and a hotel and expanded cruise ship terminal at the Julia Street Wharf.

Other possibilities include more cruise ship terminals, hotels, parking garages, museums, an amphitheater, an opera house or a planetarium, according to the city-port document.

Rebirth on the batture

A major goal of the agreement is to expand the area of the riverfront, once devoted entirely to maritime uses, that is available for public use. City leaders have talked about "reclaiming the riverfront" since at least the 1970s, and the process already has resulted in French Quarter and Central Business District attractions such as the Moonwalk, Woldenberg Riverfront Park, the Aquarium of the Americas and the Riverwalk shopping mall.

And the finalists are:

  • Chan Krieger Sieniewicz (planning and urban design), Cambridge, Mass.; Hargreaves Associates (landscape architecture), Cambridge; TEN Arquitectos (architecture), New York; and Eskew + Dumez + Ripple (executive management and urban design), New Orleans.
  • EDAW (planning and landscape architecture), Alexandria, Va.; Frank Gehry (architecture and urban design), Los Angeles; and Marks Associates (landscape consultant), New Orleans.
  • Mathes Brierre Architects, New Orleans; HOK (planning), 23 offices worldwide; and Studio Daniel Libeskind (architecture), New York.
  • Reiser + Umemoto (architecture), New York; Olin Partnership (landscape architecture), Philadelphia; Studio Matrixx (architecture), New Orleans; and Alan Gordon (design consultant).
  • Zaha Hadid Architects, London; Trahan Architects, Baton Rouge; Billes Architecture, New Orleans; Bruce Mau Design, Toronto; and Gross Max Landscape Architects, Edinburgh.
This is a pretty heady group. What is more encouraging is the inclusion of local firms the all the design teams.

After reviewing the location map of the proposed revitalization, I have to ask the question, what will become of the existing wharves in the proposed development area? Don't get me wrong, the wharves are an eyesore and I will be glad to see them go but we cannot ignore economic contribution that the port provides for New Orleans. My guess is they will move either upstream of downstream of downtown New Orleans in either St. Bernard, Jefferson or maybe St. Charles Parish. Or will the Port simply reduce the number of wharves in the city.

The latter seems likely as the port now has more capacity than it needs. However lately, state and local officials have been making trips to Asia and the Persian Gulf to encourage more trade with Louisiana. In addition, Panamanian officials have been visiting Louisiana. This is possibly in conjunction with that country beginning to look at widening the Panama Canal to accommodate larger cargo ships traveling to and from the East/Gulf Coast and Asia. With New Orleans being the largest port in the region and the west coast ports at or near capacity, we are looking at the possibility that New Orleans will see a great up tick in shipping. I wonder if this is being taken into account when redeveloping the riverfront.

I'm not favoring more wharves versus less public access to the river but rather that future needs have to be taken into consideration during the design process.

So to quote Billy Joel:

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the jungle of doubt
To the river so deep
I know I'm searching for something
Something so undefined
That it can only be seen
By the eyes of the blind
In the middle of the night

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Victim Of Coicumstance

[Curly is taking the oath]

Court Clerk: Take off your hat.

[Curly takes off his hat with his right hand]

Court Clerk: Raise your right hand.

[With his right hand, Curly puts his hat back on, and raises the hand]

Court Clerk: [gesturing to the book he is holding] Put your left hand here.

Judge: [to Curly] Take off you hat.

[Curly does so with his right hand]

Court Clerk: [to Curly] Raise your right hand.

[Curly puts his hat back on to raise the hand]

Court Clerk: [gesturing to the book he is holding] Now, put your left hand here.

Judge: [to Curly] Please, take off your hat.

[Curly does so with his right hand]

Court Clerk: [to Curly] Raise your right hand.

[Curly repeats the process]

Court Clerk: [gesturing to the book he is holding] Now, put your left hand here.

Judge: [to Curly] Will you please take off your hat?

[Curly does so with his right hand]

Court Clerk: [angrily, to Curly] Raise your RIGHT HAND.

[Curly repeats the process]

Court Clerk: [gesturing to the book he is holding] Now, put your left hand here.

Judge: [to Curly] Take off your hat.

[Curly takes off the hat and places it on his cane, which is in his right hand]

Court Clerk: [to Curly] Raise your right hand.

[Curly raises his cane with the hat on it]

Court Clerk: [taking the hat off the cane] Get rid of that hat.

[Curly takes the hat and puts it on the court clerk's head]

Curly: [with both hands on the book] Raise YOUR right hand.

[the court clerk does so, startles, takes the hat off, and places it under the book]

Court Clerk: Raise your right hand.

[Curly does so]

This scene from The Three Stooges "Disorder in the Court" is reminiscent of the kabuki dance between local courts, law enforcement, the district attorney and good government organizations. One of the problems with the justice system in New Orleans is the lack of open courts. Now the court system wont have that excuse rest on anymore.

For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, all 12 sections of Criminal District Court are back in operation today at the courthouse at 2700 Tulane Ave.

With the completion of most of the repairs of the courthouse’s storm damage, every section again has its own courtroom, so judges are no longer forced by lack of space to hear cases in weekly shifts of six. Since returning to New Orleans in early December, the judges have worked in shifts, first at U.S. District Court and, since early June, at the Tulane Avenue building.

Having all the judges back at work at the same time “will mean that at least we’ll be back up to the point of five or six jury trials in the same day,” Division E. Judge Calvin Johnson said before taking reporters inside the cavernous court building where huge temporary air conditioning ducts, in place as recently as Friday, had disappeared.

“It’s almost a miracle when you think in terms of what we’ve had to endure,” said Johnson, recalling how the judges and staffers, toting court records and computers, were evacuated from the flooded building by boat in early September and set up shop at Southern University in Baton Rouge.

Johnson said availablity of all the courtrooms is a giant step toward normalcy, but there are still some holes to be filled, among them a need for more people to serve on juries and more lawyers to represent indigent defendants.
Though I wouldn't hold my breath that New Orleans' crime problem will be solved anytime soon, if ever. The court system could end up being more like "Night Court" rather than "Perry Mason".

Sunday, October 29, 2006


The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina doesn't appear to have frightened off many of this Halloween's partiers by judging the brisk sales of costumes shops.

In the days leading up to Halloween before Hurricane Katrina, a security guard stood outside the door of Uptown Costume and Dancewear while lines of anxious customers stretched two blocks down Magazine Street waiting to be ushered inside.

“But rules are rules,” the guard would say. “Only 20 in at a time.”

Inside, the lucky few clutch bat wings and corsets and mini-dress nurse uniforms while waiting in an hour-long line to reach the register.

Employee Webbie Rhodes said when Halloween is over, Uptown Costume and Dancewear usually looks like most stores did following the storm — looted. This year is no different.

“People are just buying, buying, buying everything,” Rhodes said. “Pirates and wood fairies are big this year. And they’re buying corsets and can-can skirts up a storm. We do a lot of sexy versions of everything, from Snow White to Alice in Wonderland. Those are really big.”

Uptown Costume opened shortly before Halloween last year and the lines were out the door. This year’s pre-Halloween rush started three weeks ago and has been steady ever since.

“People wonder why the hell we do this in New Orleans and it amuses me,” Rhodes said. “Some people think we’d be hesitant to celebrate anything, but this is our industry, tourism, and if we didn’t do it they would say we were done down here. Yes, it is a party town and it keeps the bars open and the hotels going.”

As Halloween weekend nears, Rhodes expects the crowds to be the same size as they have for the past decade.

We may not have been prepared for this hurricane season. But I've got my costume already. Never let it be said that New Orleaneans will pass up an opportunity to have a good time.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Teacher's Dirty Look

The Times-Picayune has been reading my blog.

As architect Michael O'Brien of Virginia Tech's Myers-Lawson School of Construction explains, economies of scale, standardization of design and assembly-line construction techniques were applied to high-volume home-building.

"In the 1950s and 1960s, slab-at-grade ranch-style construction in the city and along the low-lying Lakefront became the norm," said Richard Campanella, a geographer at Tulane University.

Suburban New Orleans, sunken though it was, broke with its past. It became a region dominated by slab-on-grade homes.

In the ensuing decades, local government, developers and eager home buyers sought to maintain the constantly shifting equilibrium that kept drainage improvements ahead of the spreading, slab-on-grade home-building.

Weather watch

It mostly worked. But there were spectacular, and increasingly frequent, exceptions.

Time would demonstrate that the inauguration of the slab-on-grade era coincided with a relative lull in extreme rainstorms. But three decades after the slab revolution began, intense spring cloudbursts of 10 inches and more in just a few hours, storms thought to be relatively rare, came with dismaying frequency: 1978, 1980, 1989 and 1995.

Now that we know the problems inherent in the slab-on-grade home, we now need to develop methods to make the raised home compete economically with the ranch house.

In my post I wrote: The popularity of the ranch house is due in part because of the cost savings involved by substituting materials cost for labor cost as a result of the changing labor market immediately after World War II. Rule of thumb is that labor cost is twice that of materials cost. When developers needed to build thousands of housing units in a short period of time and for families on a limited budget, the ranch house built on a concrete slab became the construction method of choice for many decades. The ranch style further grew in popularity as it became a symbol of middle-class upward mobility and the raised cottage came to symbolize the old neighborhood.

This is echoed by Michael O'Brien of Virginia Tech's Myers-Lawson School of Construction:

Levitt broke down the construction of a house into 26 industrial processes, right down to landscaping. He used just a few floor plans with few variations. His building crews moved from lot to lot, doing one thing at each site -- flooring, window installation, painting -- with ferocious efficiency. He effectively reversed the assembly line: The house stood still, the assembly line moved relentlessly past.

"What American industry learned in cranking out B-17's and Sherman tanks, they started to apply to housing," O'Brien said.

In four years beginning in 1947, Levitt produced 17,447 homes in his landmark Levittown. At its peak, O'Brien said, Levitt's teams finished 25 to 30 homes per day. Home builders around the country took note.

Moreover, a new consumer psychology was taking shape. The new ranch-style house -- the iconic "Red Rambler" model -- became the consumer ideal, the popular symbol of progress and status.

But the ranch soon exposed its soft underbelly.

(I)n time the homes would show their limitations, chiefly their limited size and, oddly in the earliest days, their lack of central air conditioning or other amenities like porches, high ceilings or big windows to deal with the New Orleans heat. The Maumuses started with an attic fan. They would add central air conditioning later.

The limitations existed because the houses had powerful national appeal across every region, O'Brien said. Especially in the early years, builders learning mass-production techniques tended to export successful models into new climates with little or no adaptation, he said.

"People were not thinking so critically when they took designs from one part of the country and moved them to another.

"In the Northeast, a house might not be too bad. But you put it in Florida and it might not be the best thing. But the history of housing is filled with those kinds of errors," he said.

The good news is that maybe people are beginning to take notice. The Southern Pine Council (Southern Pine is the type of wood most used in the Southeast United States) has launched a web site promoting the virtues of raised floor construction. The site is full of good information but what I think is lacking is inovative detailing that would reduce the extra cost of raised floor construction versus slab-on-grade.

Without the kind of outside-the-box thinking that is needed, builders should be sent to the Principal's office.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


The RAND Corp. has released a study which proposes that the rebuilding process should not concentrate on restoring things the way they used to be but rather improving and restructuring the infrastructure to have the Gulf Coast better weather the next catastraphe.

The politically volatile option of closing flood-prone areas to redevelopment might do more to reduce death and property loss than building bigger and better levees and floodgates, a new RAND Corp. study concluded. The study released Monday also warns public officials to plan now to avoid a repeat of the breakdowns in regional infrastructure and services, including a disruption of first-response and public safety networks, in the event of another Katrina-like storm hitting the Gulf Coast.

And it warns that as the community rebuilds, the "inherent bias towards creating what used to be" could blind residents and public officials to better rebuilding alternatives.

The wide-ranging 66-page report, which examined four flood disasters around the world in an effort to find lessons for New Orleans, contains both short- and long-term recommendations and examines both preparation for floods and rebuilding issues.

"In the short term, you've got to realize that someday this kind of disaster is going to come back," said James Kahan, one of the authors of the report and a senior behavioral scientist with RAND, the Washington, D.C., policy think tank. "It may happen next year or in two years or five or 10 years. But you've got to have the infrastructure to deal with it, even if it brings another tidal wave and the levees break again."

These are all good points and citizens need to see that their elected officials follow-though on their obligations. That said, one of the authors, James Kahan, points out the obvious that throws spanner in the works:

"Some activities, such as evacuation planning, simply cannot be implemented on the fly," the report said. Kahan said the most difficult decisions will concern where people rebuild in Katrina's aftermath.

"You've got to have a place for people to live or you can't encourage them to come back," he said. "But if you just put people in the same old flood plain, the next time a similar storm comes, you'll have the same problems all over again, and you don't want that.

"Maybe you don't want to encourage a return for everyone who wants to come back," he said. "It's not an automatic decision. Their protection has economic and environmental consequences, and I think there's 100 percent agreement that what happened last year is not to be tolerated."

He realizes that with private-property rights, the government cannot simply tell people where they can and can't live. What can be done is to offer incentives for people not to rebuild in flood-prone areas. Use the carrot, not the stick.

Release The Architects

The LRA has submitted it's application to FEMA's Alternative Housing Pilot Program which is intended "to identify and evaluate alternatives to and alternative forms of FEMA Disaster Housing."

No conclusions are reported in this press release but it is interesting to note some of the participants involved.

Katrina Cottages & Carpet Cottages - Cypress Cottage Partners
This partnership of The Cypress Group, The Shaw Group, ICF International, Duany Plater-Zyberk, and Lowes with architect Marianne Cusato showcases both single-family models and a multi-family model. This project includes infill redevelopment housing in New Orleans in the historic Treme neighborhood, as well as at Jackson Barracks, the headquarters of the Louisiana National Guard. Additional project sites are infill locations in Lake Charles and Abbeville - addressing diverse housing needs, particularly elderly housing for rural aging populations.

Home at Last - Family Resources of New Orleans
This non-profit community housing development organization identified two sites in rural St. Charles Parish that will serve as transitional housing communities for displaced residents of New Orleans. Working in partnership with Skyline Homes and Champion Homes, Family Resources presents a project that is transitional, while also working with modular housing developers to design an alternative solution to group trailer communities.

The Phoenix Systems-Built Home - Fibrebond Corporation
This company is an established, high production capacity firm that builds concrete panel building systems. After Hurricane Katrina, they were essential in adapting their building designs to produce and build many schools throughout the disaster-impacted area. Fibrebond has developed a model home that applies their building system and capacity to the housing market. This home represents an affordable, easily produced and built solution to the challenges of critical post-disaster housing.

SmartPlus® For A Better Built Home - Palm Harbor Homes
This manufacturing company has significant production capacity and designs that have the flexibility to be applicable Louisiana and nationwide. The models in this project represent a cost effective, attractive alternative to the trailer.

Homes Now LLP
This firm is based in Louisiana and partners with Genesis Homes, Inc. a division of Michigan based Champion Enterprises, Inc. Champion operates 36 manufacturing facilities in North America and the United Kingdom. Genesis has developed a series of off-site built homes specifically for the Southern Louisiana market. They can produce 250 homes per month or 2,880 homes per year.

CORE - Plus One
The "CORE" concept from Plus One, an architecture and construction services firm, represents an immediate emergency concept for transitional recovery housing. This CORE is a module of essential services (bathroom, kitchen, utilities) that can be appended to a home being rebuilt for a temporary period. The module can be stockpiled for reuse in the next disaster.

Once FEMA announces a decision, the state will work with the parish and municipal governments or applicable jurisdictions to determine sites, where needed, for the placement of the housing units in the most heavily impacted parishes. The LRA will set the overall housing policy and guidance for the transitioning of displaced citizens into livable homes.

More than 200,000 housing units in Louisiana suffered major or severe damage as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Currently, there are over 85,000 occupied trailers in Louisiana and an estimated need of 96,000. Louisiana has the largest number of occupied trailers both individually and in group sites of any state impacted by the hurricanes of 2005.

Based on this list it appears that the direction that Louisiana is intended to pursue is for more permanent, modular housing be provided as opposed to the tin-cans we are so accustomed to. Also I like the fact that Marianne Cusato and Duany Plater-Zyberk are involved in in this project. From the beginning, they have demonstrated the ability to think outside the box while proposing designs that are architecturaly pleasing, but also popular with the general public.

Should FEMA adopt some of what the LRA is proposing, we may see in improvement in the appearnce, value and code compliance with these new homes as they will have some things much of the current housing stock does not: economically constructed and architect designed.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Take Me To The River

In a follow-up to earlier posts here and here, New Orleans CityBusiness has a story about an agreement between the city and the Port of New Orleans that would ostensibility return part of the riverfront back to the citizens.

The cooperative endeavor agreement between Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans, tentatively scheduled for Thursday as of press time, symbolizes the return of a 4-mile stretch of Mississippi riverfront to citizens. It includes visions of riverside green space and the construction of RiverSphere — a museum and river research center — and a riverfront performing arts venue.
Quote the Talking Heads:

I dont know why I love her like I do
All the changes you put me through

The Mississippi River has always been a threat to New Orleans but likewise, we can't bring ourselves to leave it. Indeed, for New Orleans to be content, she need to be brought closer to it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

(Your Home Has Lifted Me) Higher And Higher

Some people are not happy the local rebuilders are not doing so in accordance with federal regulations requiring that rebuilt home be raised three feet.

NEW ORLEANS — Nearly three-fourths of New Orleans homeowners applying for federal grants say they'll rebuild their Katrina-damaged homes in flood areas even though city restrictions are unlikely to prevent their houses from being wiped out if the levees fail again.

The restrictions, which say that the city's homes must be raised at least 3 feet to avoid flooding, have come under fire from some local officials and government watchdog groups. They say 3 feet of elevation is not needed in areas that did not flood after Hurricane Katrina, and 3 feet is too low in areas that saw 20 feet of water.

Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency says thousands of houses could flood again if they are rebuilt under the new rules. "If there is another catastrophic event, flooding will occur," says Doug Bellomo, a deputy director of risk analysis at FEMA.

The Louisiana Recovery Authority, which controls billions in federal relief money, expects about 53,000 New Orleans homeowners to apply for federal grants. The grants provide up to $150,000 for uninsured losses, and residents can use the money to rebuild or relocate.

So far, 14,534 New Orleanians have applied for grants; about 10,634 have said they want to rebuild where they were.

"The taxpayers are going to be subsidizing unwise construction," says Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. About $7.5 billion is available to homeowners.

The New Orleans City Council adopted the 3-foot rule on Sept. 1 to avoid losing millions in federal grants. The recovery authority has said parishes that don't adopt the rules will be excluded from receiving some of the relief money.

St. Bernard Parish, where all but 50 homes flooded, is considering rejecting the rules. "Our goal is not to adopt them," says St. Bernard Councilman Craig Taffaro. "We don't agree with the science."

Paul Rainwater of the recovery authority says the rules are "not perfect," but will help residents get much-needed flood insurance.

The second paragraph sums up the contradiction in the government's regulations. The second problem is that, while residents will get government grants to repair their homes, it does not include enough to cover the cost of raising it three feet.

It is possible to get a FEMA grant of up to $30,000 to rais a home. However, that amout is about what it costs to raise a house that is already raised on piers. If your home is a slab-on-grade (BTW is the type of house most likely to flood), the estimated cost to raise it could be as much as $100,000.

So when homeowners are contemplating taking out a loan for approximately $70,000 versus purchasing flood insurance, it may be that the premiums are lower for a non-raised house compared to the mortgage payment.

Rita Coolidge would be proud.

Wi-Fi Unplugged

The City of New Orleans will pull the plug on its citywide wireless network as it is replaced with a network provide by a private ISP.

The wireless network that is run by the city for citizens will be taken down to avoid overlap between the two systems, said Mark Kurt, the city's director of information technology.

"Once EarthLink has deployed their network, we will remove our equipment, and redeploy elsewhere as the situation warrants. The other wireless networks that have been set up by the city for temporary facilities and public safety will continue to be operated by the city as long as they are necessary and funding is available," Kurt said.

EarthLink intends on providing wireless service to 20 square miles of the city, in the Garden District, Central Business District, French Quarter and Algiers, by the end of the year, said Clifton Roscoe, EarthLink general manager for New Orleans.

Having both the city and EarthLink systems running in the same spots might cause interference, Roscoe said.

The Atlanta-based company began constructing a wireless system in New Orleans in September by starting to install its access points. Next, individual radios will be installed around the city. Once the system is running, it will be turned on, but EarthLink won't necessarily announce that the system is up until the entire project is complete, said Deisha Galberth, a spokeswoman for EarthLink.

The free service, which is faster than dial-up access but slower than other high-speed Internet options, will be provided as long as the city rebuilds, according to EarthLink. The company has said it hopes to profit from the deal by selling higher-speed wireless service to those who want it. It also plans to continue building out the system if there is demand for it outside the original 20 square miles.

The city's small Wi-Fi network in the Central Business District and a portion of the French Quarter, which was started just after Hurricane Katrina, enabled businesses that no longer have offices to operate out of coffee shops, restaurants and bars in the days and months after the storm when there were few communications options available.

Not everyone is happy with the city providing this service.

But, the city's efforts were opposed by other Internet service providers who said the city was essentially taking business away from them.

The have a point. The companies made a not insigficant investement to provide their technology only the have the government use taxpayer money to compete with them.

Now, while the city will contract with a private company to provide this service is a good thing, at least in the short term, I have reservations about the city creating what will amount to a monopoly and stiffling incentive to create competition which drives advancements in technology while keeping costs down.

Monday, October 16, 2006

How I Hate Thee...

The LRA isn't too popular these days. Want to know how unpopular, just read this letter-to-the-editor.

Published: Oct 14, 2006

Are the media in Baton Rouge giving you any sense of how the people in the most-devastated areas feel about the Louisiana Recovery Authority? Hate is not too strong a word.

We hate the bureaucracy designed to siphon off money that people need to rebuild their lives.

We hate the unnecessary delays.

We hate Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s “covenant” that tells people in a free country where they have to live.

We hate elevation requirements enacted to make the Army Corps of Engineers’ job easier.

We hate the fact that this is ridiculously impractical even if they gave us the pittance they are offering for the work.

Where will we get the thousands of skilled workers to do this job? How long would someone have to wait?

We hate the fact that they know this, and still choose to place this burden on us.

The recovery authority’s Sean Reilly indicated that they would use the “money we control” to send a message that some areas should not be rebuilt.

We hate the fact that people who evacuated and now live and work out of state will still face financial ruin because we are worth less to Blanco since we won’t be around to vote for her.

We really do hate the LRA, and we’re trying not to hate the people who developed this plan. The whole tone of the plan is condescending.

This “covenant” business sounds like it was written by someone who lives in a restricted community.

The pain caused by government ineptness and corruption is second only to losing our loved ones.

It was actually LESS stressful to lose all our earthly possessions.

God help us, because the state of Louisiana sure isn’t.

Vicky Mocklin
St. Bernard resident now in Memphis

God help us all, indeed.

Oooohhh, That Smell

The New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board and St. Bernard Parish are considering using treated sewerage to rebuild wetlands in southeast Louisiana.

The $40 million project would create the largest "wetlands treatment" system of its kind in the world, according to New Orleans and St. Bernard officials and state scientists familiar with the plan. It is being pursued by the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board in conjunction with St. Bernard.

The project, which is still being refined, calls for diverting sewage plant discharge that now ends up in the Mississippi River and instead pumping it into wetlands in the vicinity of Bayou Bienvenue. That area once was a dense cypress forest that served as a buffer against Gulf of Mexico hurricanes. But in recent decades, lethal doses of salt water intruded into the wetlands and levees cut off nutrients from the Mississippi. The 30,000-acre area has degenerated into scrub marsh broken up by large swaths of open water.

Louisiana politics stinks. Now, so will our wetlands. But, at least there's symmetry.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Risky Business

Investors and potential buyers are understandably skittish about getting into the condo business in New Orleans. But enough of them are jumping in to keep several condominium projects in the area on track.

Hurricane Katrina sped along plans for a spate of new high-rise residential towers, but more than a quarter of the proposed housing units have already been killed or put on hold.

Out-of-town investors "are circling like eagles" with capital ready to invest in downtown projects, said Kurt Weigle, executive director of the Downtown Development District. And inquiries from outside developers have increased five-fold, possibly because of special tax incentives being made available to building projects in hurricane-impacted areas.

But not all of the residential projects will be built, experts say. The pricetags on most of the announced projects have risen 30 percent due to escalating prices on labor and building materials, developers say. That big of an increase is giving pause to both the developers behind the condo towers and the potential condo buyers who, in some cases, are backing out of sales contracts when presented with the higher prices.

Furthermore, the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act, which created billions in subsidy programs to assist in the rebuilding of New Orleans, has been less encouraging of condominium projects, which enjoy no tax benefits under the program, said Gary Elkins, a local attorney specializing in tax credits.

On the surface this is good news for the economy in the short term. In the long term, the jury is still out. If these projects do get built but without sufficient clients to fill the units, the result will be an overbuilt market with undervalued properties and depressed revenue.

Partially completed and and vacant condominiums are not the kind of development we are looking for.

Robbing Perault To Pay Perrilloux

The Corps of Engineers plan to restart drainage project in the area. That is good news. The bad news that there may not be sufficient funding for them.

Nine months after Congress appropriated $224 million in emergency spending for new flood-control projects in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, the Army Corps of Engineers appears poised to award the first few contracts.

Representatives of the corps and local governments hope that's enough to build 14 priority Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control, or SELA, projects that are designed and ready to go.

But there are financial doubts, in part, because of spiraling costs churned up by the post-Hurricane Katrina construction frenzy.

And it now also appears that the corps will have to use some of the money to pay for SELA construction already in progress.

Although Congress and the Bush administration earmarked $224 million for new SELA projects last December, they also took back the $27 million that had been appropriated for ongoing work in the 2006 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

And no SELA construction money was included in the administration's proposed '07 budget, either.

"Because there has been such a slowdown of work and only one new SELA contract issued in the last five years, I think we'll only have to spend about $8 million of the money this fiscal year," said corps SELA program manager Stan Green. "Beyond that, I don't know. We can only spend what we have to spend."

But whether the $224 million will cover the 14 SELA projects isn't the only financial concern for flood-control program managers, who predict they will need several hundred million dollars more to complete all the SELA projects that have been authorized but not funded. Many of them aren't even designed yet.

Now here's the bad news:

"Unfortunately, the number ($224 million) that went to Congress was outdated when it was given, and it didn't reflect post-Katrina costs, which weren't even known at the time," Green said. "But as a result, SELA is way in the hole."

Corps Protection and Restoration Office chief Tom Podnay estimates that it could take as much as an additional $800 million to finish out the program.

The good news for local sponsors, such as Jefferson Parish and the Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, is that projects built with the $224 million in emergency money require no local match.

But the flip side is that less construction will be done because all remaining costs for the 14 projects, including the corps' overhead, must come from that pot of money.

My question is this; since Congress doesn't know squat about the cost of flood control projects in Louisiana, someone had to compile an estimate of what the potential costs would be. I wonder who that would be? Hmmmmm.

Bon Voyage

For the first time in fourteen months, a cruise ship has shoved off from a New Orleans pier.

The Norwegian Sun, which will sail every Sunday through April 8, 2007, will be followed by the Carnival Fantasy, which on Oct. 26 begins five- and four-night cruises to Mexico year-round; and Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, which resumes its week-long cruises to the Western Caribbean Dec. 2, continuing through early April. Royal Caribbean has no plans to return to New Orleans after the spring.

Princess' Golden Princess will sail three cruises in December, testing the market for possible future sailings, said Robert Jumonville, who oversees the cruise industry for the Port of New Orleans.

It was obvious Sunday that the worry isn't so much about drawing passengers from the New Orleans area. The ship was packed with people wearing Saints jerseys. Questions about the score were the buzz, even during the fire/safety drill. TVs in the bars were broadcasting another game, so shouts erupted when the crawl gave the final score.
But the reason for optimism is not because of the locals going on cruises. Rather, it is the expecation of out-of-towners staying in-town just prior to their cruise.
It was obvious Sunday that the worry isn't so much about drawing passengers from the New Orleans area. The ship was packed with people wearing Saints jerseys. Questions about the score were the buzz, even during the fire/safety drill. TVs in the bars were broadcasting another game, so shouts erupted when the crawl gave the final score.

"Everywhere I go, people think we're underwater," said LaGrange, who added that confronting this misconception is one reason he's traveling so much. "The major point is to tell them the sliver on the river, the French Quarter, the Garden District, Uptown are open for business."

LaGrange said the cruise industry here is an economic engine that has filled almost 20,000 hotel room nights a year.

Officials of the International Council of Cruise Lines report that cruise passengers in New Orleans leave an average of $330 a night in direct spending, he said. That compares with about $92 a night spent by cruise passengers in other cities. The reason is so many passengers spend a couple of days in New Orleans when they cruise from here.
The irony here is that the ocean almost destroyed the city. Now we are looking to the sea as a way to rebuild.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Yossarian Lives!

Conventioneers are not coming to New Orleans because of a lack of flights. Airlines aren't scheduling more flights to New Orleans because of a lack of conventioneers.

Last week, Microsoft canceled three meetings in New Orleans that would have brought a combined 30,000 people to the city next year because the company felt there weren't enough flights for attendees to travel to New Orleans in a reasonable amount of time. The group was particularly concerned about international attendees.

Though Microsoft is the only group known to have canceled a post-Katrina convention because of limited air service, the move was still a blow to the New Orleans tourism industry, which says that such corporate meetings are critical as the city struggles to hang on to conventions and lure new ones. Contrary to initial reports, airport and convention officials had worked closely with the company, but they said little could be done about Microsoft's need for stronger international service. Meanwhile, some conventions with dates in New Orleans are urging their attendees to book flights early to avoid problems.

Although the airport made great strides in restoring flight service in the first months after the storm, the gains have come more slowly in the past six months. New Orleans now has about 61 percent of the seats and 65 percent of the flights it had operating before Hurricane Katrina. The airport serves about 25 percent fewer destinations than it did before the storm, increasing the chances that passengers will have to fly to a hub city such as Dallas, Houston, Memphis or Atlanta to catch a connecting flight. And planes are going out fuller than they were before the storm, making it harder -- and often more expensive -- to book a flight.

"There's just no flights," said Al Latham, a Denver real estate agent with a home in the French Quarter. Latham has traveled to New Orleans five times since Hurricane Katrina, and next month he's bringing 25 people from his office to the National Association of Realtors convention, the largest show to convene in New Orleans since the storm.

Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the bureau has been able to work with convention groups and airlines to make sure there's adequate air service for meetings.

"We're doing literally everything humanly possible," Perry said. "We're being more aggressive than ever."

But others say New Orleans is losing business because of its air-service challenges.

"Unfortunately, the answer to that is yes. I've talked with a number of groups that were booked or were interested in holding a meeting in New Orleans, but after checking into the (air)lift, they decided against booking into New Orleans," said Phillip Jones, president and chief executive of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau and former secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism for Louisiana. "It's a real challenge for New Orleans.

But the airlines say it's not their fault.

With a lower population and reduced tourism to the city, showing sustained demand is a challenge. Airlines want to see at least 90 days of sustained demand for more service before they'll consider additional flights or larger planes, Hunter said, and there's a six-month time lag before the official enplanement statistics are released through the Department of Transportation.
Fortunaely there may be a solution:
Your probably thinking that the last thing we need is another airline that's more than glad to suck us dry by charging outrageous prices, but not this time (miracle). One Louisiana native is trying to put together a New Orleans airline called DirectAir that would offer cut-rate fares to last-minute travelers. Though the idea seems unrealistic, it has stirred some interest among legislators which in return is prompting the state's 7-commercial airports to condider spending money to study the concept.

The airline would offer low fares (I've heard that before), and would funnel travelers from Louisiana's 6-regional airports to New Orleans, there they could connect flights serving 57 other cities in the U.S. and Latin America. DirectAir plans on using Boeing 737-300 or McDonnell MD-80 aircraft for the trips.

Now get this, DirectAir plans on offering $50 flights to Atlanta, $78 flights to Cancun, and $55 flights to Houston (again I'll believe it, when I see it). Passengers would not be charged extra for switching flights and would not pay extra for making last-minute reservations.
So catch as Catch-22 can.

News To Me

Carnegie Mellon University recently (Oct. 9) held a series of lectures where one subject was New Orleans' Master Plan. Though many pixels have been used informing the public of the ongoing process of re-planning flooded and devestated areas of New Orleans but a master plan for the French Quarter is news to me.

Title: Stepping up to the Scaffold: Post-Katrina Planning on the Gulf Coast The basics: Architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, leaders of the firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, will speak about their involvement in post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts in Mississippi and Louisiana. The team is one of the leading proponents of New Urbanism, an urban design movement dedicated to the promotion of healthy alternatives to suburban sprawl, and was recently awarded the master-planning contract for the French Quarter in New Orleans. When: 6:30 p.m. today Where: Carnegie Library Lecture Hall.
No transcript is available as far as I know nor could any information on the French Quarter master plan be found.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dude, Where's My Coastline?

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped away 217 square miles of Louisiana's fragile coastline, with each turning huge swaths of land to water overnight, accelerating a process that already posed grave threats to coastal communities, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

Survey scientists compared satellite images taken in 2004 with similar images from October 2005 to match areas that were wetlands, undeveloped dry land and farmland with what looked like open water several weeks after the storms.

The survey underscores the state's repeated demands that federal officials speed efforts to rebuild the Louisiana coastline, both to protect fragile fisheries and wildlife and to augment the buffer of plants, soils and barrier islands that can slow the approach of killer storm surges.

Everyone knew that our coastline was seriously damaged during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita but no definite number was established to quantify the damage. Although this map puts it in visual terms that most people can understand.

So far, finding a solution to this problem has been as elusive as finding an honest politician in Louisiana.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Wild Blue Yonder

The N'Awlins Air Show is back on schedule for 2006 after a one-year hiatus due to MWR New Orleans being used as a staging base immediately after Hurricane Katrina.

Signs Of The Times

New Orleans will finally begin replacing damaged and missing streetsigns throught the city.

Navigating the post-Katrina streets of New Orleans should get easier with the launch of a months-long project Monday to replace thousands of traffic signs knocked down or swept away by Katrina.

City officials estimate that up to 20,000 signs -- from one-ways and yields to street names to parking and freight zones -- need to be replaced across the city.

As city officials have struggled to cut through mountains of red tape over the past year, many neighborhood residents have taken matters into their own hands, fashioning and hanging hand-painted signs themselves.

While FEMA has fronted the money to start the work, Public Works Director Robert Mendoza said City Hall and the federal agency remain about 10,000 signs and $1 million apart in determining replacement needs.

Ronnie Simpson, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Monday that FEMA and the city are continuing to negotiate, but he couldn't provide specifics.

The sign initiative, which began Monday in the Garden District, Coliseum Square and Central City areas, is not scheduled to be completed until next spring.

Though signs were restored on major thoroughfares months ago, many main streets still lack functioning traffic signals. In most cases, those intersections have four-way stop signs.

Plans call for the sign replacement effort to move systematically through the city's 13 planning districts over the next six months.

Beginning next month and continuing though year's end, the program will move to the Uptown and Carrollton neighborhoods, followed by Marigny and Bywater; the French Quarter, the Central Business District and the Warehouse District; and upper Algiers.

In January, work crews will move to Lower Coast Algiers, followed in February by the Lakeview and the Lakefront, Gentilly and Pontilly and eastern New Orleans.

The Lower 9th Ward, one of the city's least populated and most heavily damaged areas, will be addressed in March.

The contractor performing the work is United Rental of Harvey. The firm monitoring the work is Integrated Management Systems Engineers.

City officials said sign crews are prioritizing their work based on safety concerns and will deal with individual citizen complaints as they come in. Anyone wishing to report a missing sign can call 658-2299.

Squandered Heritage

Karen Gadbois is a member of the Squandered Heritage blog which is chronicling the demolition of New Orleans architectural gems. Their blog is a must read if you care about the character of this great city.

Drink Da' Wata'

You can now drink the water in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Tap water is now safe to drink in the northern section of the Lower 9th Ward where thousands of homes have been without potable water for more than a year.

Sewerage & Water Board officials announced Monday that the basic public service has been restored to more than 4,000 customers in what had been the sole remaining section of New Orleans without drinkable water.

The state Department of Health and Hospitals has certified the water as safe for everyday use, Marcia St. Martin, executive director of the S&WB, said at a news conference.

The affected area, hard hit by Hurricane Katrina and floodwaters, is bordered by the Industrial Canal, the St. Bernard Parish line, North Derbigny Street and Florida Avenue, St. Martin said. It also includes the sewage-treatment plant at 6501 Florida Ave., she said.

"That area's now open for development and repopulation," said City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who has pleaded with water board officials and Mayor Ray Nagin's administration to speed up infrastructure repairs.

St. Martin said the S&WB needed more than a year to return water to all of New Orleans because of the "unprecedented amount of damage." Workers couldn't begin repairs on a "major trunk line on Florida Avenue until a barge was removed," she said.

There were buses on top of houses, and houses on top of houses, said Willard-Lewis, who noted that a portion of the Lower 9th Ward was damaged by Hurricane Rita as well.

"I think it's great, but I'm not sure I trust it," said George McCullum, who lived for nearly 50 years in the area.

"I'm driving over to New Orleans tomorrow (Tuesday) to cut the grass," said McCullum, referring to his flood-damaged property, "but I'll probably bring my own water."

McCullum and his wife were displaced to Dallas and have since moved to Bay St. Louis, Miss.

"I still haven't gotten back into my home," McCullum said. "I'm still waiting to see what's going to happen to my neighborhood."

Now if only the Corps of Engineers can keep out the non-potable water.