Monday, January 30, 2006

You Want Fries Wit' Dat?

New Orleans restaurants are having to make adjustments to their business plans to aclimate to changes in the hospitility environment. But according to this article in City Business, local eateries are making due just fine. Cutting corners on expenses and instituting a more efficient operation, restaurant owners and managers have been able to more than offset the loss of customers.

If these new business plans continue, and business picks up over time, restaurants in New Orleans may be able to be model for doing business in the area. With increased profitability and a shortage of labor, we could see, in fact we are seeing, wages for restaurant employees increase while the quality and portions of local dishes remain high and the price remains low.

Kenny LaCour, owner of Restaurant Cuveé at 322 Magazine St. sums it up nicely:

"We’re looking at a business downturn in revenue, however, in our case, perhaps the profitability based on revenue is a little more sound than maybe it would have been a year ago," LaCour said. "The labor is more streamlined."

People have often said that Hurricane Katrina put a halt to the steady decline of New Orleans. What is unknown at this point is if Katrina will speed up that decline or reverse it. Let's hope that the restaurants of New Orleans are harbingers of things to come.

Wake Me Up Before You Go MR-GO

The MR-GO (Mississippi River - Gulf Outlet) is not very popular these days, In fact, it hasn't been popular for may years. Now residents of New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish are teaming up to support the closing of the waterway.

MR-GO has always been controversial, it was even blamed for much of the flooding of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. And with a repeat of that flooding from Katrina, MR-GO may finally go.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Got Mustard Out?

Now that the "Baker Bill" is on life support, developers with deep pockets are descending into town with real estate agents in tow. They are all looking for good deals on flooded homes. While the market is offering opportunities for middle-income people to buy into neighborhoods otherwise out of their price range, these developers are upping the ante freezing out the locals.

I'm not sure if this is good or bad. It's probably both. I know the local's don't like being out bid by some young kid from out of state who has a rich daddy, but by investing their money into the region, the local's don't risk investing their money into property that may be surrounded by blighted property. I have no problem in developers thaking the risk. On the flip side, an individual wanting to buy, may also be interested in making modifications to suite their needs. With a developer, they'll have to settle with what he think the market wants.

My own concern is that these developers will rebuild without knowledge of the local flavor of the architecture of New Orleans and change the mosaic of house styles to something more akin to assembly-line architecture. If a suggestion could be made to these individual developers, don't purchase blocks of houses in close proximity to each other, spread out your work. This will allow different developers own style to be intermixed with others, thereby creating a different mosaic, but mosaic nontheless. Also, to local historians and organizations such as the HDLC or the Preservation Resource Center.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hit The Road Jack, And Don't You Come Back No More is reporting that 80% of New Orleans blacks do not plan to return.

Professor John R. Logan, in findings released Thursday, determined that if the city's returning population was limited to neighborhoods undamaged by Katrina, half of the white population would not return and 80 percent of the black population would not return.

It has been bandied about since days after Katrina came ashore that New Orleans will be majority white in the future. While that may be true to some extent, it should not be as a result of actions by government entities or officials. This is what got Mayor "Willie Wonka" Nagin in such hot water because many white residents saw themsleves as being not welcome back. So far I have not heard anyone make statements to the effect that blacks should not come back to town. People have said that those who are not willing to work hard to rebuild the city, but they were mostly black.

In my opinion, New Orleans will be a lesser place if a large of portion of the black community does not come back. The culture of New Orleans has been greatly enhanced by their presence and efforts must be made to make sure that presence does not get washed away.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The New Urbanists Are Coming, The New Urbanists Are Coming!

This Sun Herald article makes it sound like New Urbanists are decending upon the Mississippi Gulf Coast like a hoard of developers and Reed Kroloff is in full Paul Revere mode.

It's also stirred up a simmering backlash among other architects, who say New Urbanists, while correct in building denser cities where people can walk, produce a "one-size-fits-all" model that confines its solutions to the past and isn't open to new ideas.

"This is a very conservative, very waspy ideology," said Reed Kroloff, dean of the Tulane University School of Architecture and head of a New Orleans rebuilding committee. "There's no doubt that a fair amount of New Urbanist principles have found their way into the embrace of the American right... . They call themselves neo-traditionalists. Neo-traditionalists and neo-conservatives make a very happy marriage."

Now I don't know how Republicans enter the mix, and speaking as one, I have some reservations about imposing New Urbanis ideology into every community but some of their ideas could be usefull in rebuilding New Orleans. The trick is deciding which ideas work where.

While I do think that urban planners and architects should play a vital role in the rebuilding of the region, we should keep in mind that the people should be allowed to rebuild their own communities. Our role should be one of advising and suggesting possible solutions and let the citizens decide what they like. That doesn't mean we can't sell our ideas, but if people get the impression that we are imposing on them what we think their ideal community should be like, we will get the same reaction in New Orleans with the BNOB proposal.

But based on the article, some of the ideas sound pretty good such as changing HWY 90 to some kind of boulevard. I've been to the MGC (Mississippi Gulf Coast) many times but what really turns me off is the fact that if you stay in one of the beach side hotels, you have to play a real-life game of Frogger to get to the beach.

In New Orleans, architects and planners are talking about New Urbanism like it is the second coming. Again, some of their ideas in one manestifasion or another might improve neighborhoods but we need to sit down and figure out what people like about their neighborhoods and what they don't and try to keep the good and change the bad for the better.

New Orleans is not a small town, it is a city of neighborhoods and any successful urban plan will be one which maintains that neighborhood atmosphere, not create a mosaic of villages in the image of Seaside. Like when contractors try to change our design on the pretext that they did that design elswhere and it worked just fine, therefore it should work here. I don't need to tell you what my reply was.

Don't Say That!

Interesting quote from Veritas et Venustas:

"This is absolutely remarkable!" he said. "I never thought I'd see such ideas happen in this town in my lifetime. It's simply unbelievable. Here's the case for mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-scale neighborhoods. For light-rail transit, for parks in every neighborhood, for protection of sensitive areas and covering canals for green space." Borah credits Paul Farmer, executive director of the American Planning Association, for telling New Orleans a sober truth Borah's preached for a lifetime: The city's master plan must have the force of law, or under-the-table deals will vitiate all the best development plans. And that's just what the report now recommends: a legally enforceable master plan.

Just don't mention eminent domain.

Buzzards Over Roadkill

President Bush has announced that the administration will oppose Rep. Richard Baker's bill to help rebuild flooded homes in Louisiana. Needless to say, the people of New Orleans are disappointed.

Officials in Washington must have no idea of people down here are going through. Tens of thousands of homeowners face the possibility of forclosure on their homes and a ruinous credit rating for the simple mistake of believing the government when it said that the levees were built to a category 3 level. The weren't.

Donald Powell stated yesterday on the Garland Robinette Show that the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) is sufficient. The administration repeatedly said that they want the recovery to locally driven. I agree with that in principle. What they don't realize is the the "Baker Bill", as it has become known, is a local Congressman from Baton Rouge and is supported my most residents. Furthermore, the money will go directly to the homeowners, not a bunch of pols to be used to fund pork. But that is exactly what the CDBG will do.

I don't know how familiar readers of this blog are with the way government operates in Baton Rouge, but if you've ever seen Buzzards feeding on road kill, that is exactly what our legislators will be when given billions in grants from the federal government to be dispursed as they see fit.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Four Out Of Five Landscape Architects Agree...

The ASLA has issued a statement supporting Bring New Orleans Back Commission’s report.

Apparently the ASLA is in the process of developing maps to allow citizens to make informed decisions.

Citizens deserve to have the best possible information with which to make decisions about how and where to rebuild their lives. Unfortunately, critical information gaps exist, but many are working hard right now to fill those gaps. For example, leading landscape architects, architects, engineers, and scientists are developing interactive maps of the Gulf region that will allow citizens and public officials to see first-hand those areas that are most at risk to flooding, hurricane damage, and coastal erosion. The maps will provide factual and objective analysis based on actual data.

This is what most residents have been asking for, information. The problem is, most have not been able to get it in a timely manner and it is hampering the recovery effort big-time.

I just hope the maps are more useful than bird cage liner.

Best Intentions Always Go Awry

Steven J. Oubre of Architects Southwest has a Q & A session with The Daily Advertiser to discuss his thoughts on new urbanism and smart growth. In it he sounds very optimistic but he mentions, almost in passing, the inherent contradiction of doing good design for low-income residents.

Q: Your firm designed River Ranch. Where's the affordable housing there?

A: We've been asked that question before. It's the first New Urbanist project in the state, and as a result, it's a jewel that there is so little of. It's been very successful. We intended that a first-year teacher coming to Lafayette could buy one of the smaller homes. But, the affordable housing that we intended to put in there is drawing high prices now. Unfortunately, because of the place we've created, these little homes that would sell for much less elsewhere are selling for premium prices.

Therin lies the conundrum. If we provide well designed housing for the poor, the poor will not be able to afford it due to the appeal of the market. People ask, why do the poor always live in the worst housing. The simple answer is that that is what they can afford.

Is There A Doctor In The House?

The Daily Health Policy Report states that

...there are far more sick people than there are doctors, nurses, beds and equipment to take care of them.

My response to this would be as follows: DUH!

This Ain't Complicated, It's Just Hard

Nicole Gelinas at City Journal thinks that New Orleans must look inward instead of outward as we attempt to rebuild our city. She notes that New Orleans problems have been around long before Hurricane Katrina blew ashore, thus the recovery will be long in coming too. But the solutions are not complicated.

The cumulative tragedy of New Orleans is the slow but violent wasting away of a strategic port city with a legacy of priceless physical assets. Those who care about New Orleans often fret that the city’s underclass youth grow up in isolated neighborhoods and attend execrable schools in an insular city that offers no opportunity. They’re right. But New Orleans offers no opportunity partly because it has no real private economy to speak of besides the drudgery of tourism and the violence of drugs. That’s why two early post-Katrina local moves are promising. The elected school board voted one month after Katrina to convert all 13 schools on the city’s smaller west bank to charter schools to get them up and running again quickly, while the mayor has asked the governor to help him create a citywide charter system, to be run in partnership with foundations, universities, and businesses. In addition, Nagin has proposed that the federal and state governments slash income and business taxes in New Orleans and in surrounding areas across the board, so that the private sector can pump new investment into the city.

The federal government can build floodwalls that hold up during storms—and the feds can commit to assuring personal safety while New Orleans rebuilds its city and its tax base. But only New Orleans, and Louisiana, can build a city that holds up day after day.

President Bush vowed to rebuild New Orleans but the federal government can do little more than deliver the cash, the hard part of rebuilding are the parts that cost no money at all.

I'm Shocked!

New Orleans Safety & Permits is no longer requiring permits for electrical work.

All residents will have to do is call a licensed electrician which will allow them to bypass the city permit process and get straight to work.

It's good to see the city government putting common-sense ahead of bureaucratic inertia in order to allow people rebuild their homes.

There Are Looters, And Then There Are Looters

Via Cox & Forkum

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Washing Away

Seymour D. Fair at The Third Battle of New Orleans explains some of the problems with wetland destruction and the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) and their relationship with storm surge in St. Bernard Parish

Maps are even included
This is Chalmette in 1953.

This is Chalmette in 1900.

Read the post for an explaination of the differences.

When You Come To A Fork In The Road, Take It

Tulane University School of Architecture Dean Reed Kroloff and architect Ray Manning both see an opportunity to make New Orleans a better city than before.

"All of a sudden, time sped up in New Orleans," Kroloff said. "Rarely does any citizen get to experience that. It's not always a good thing. And in our case, it's both bad and good. Because time sped up, we were forced to see the city for what it actually is -- damaged. It was damaged before in other ways. Now that damage has taken on a physical reality we can all understand."

Added Manning: "That's the real opportunity. That is the silver lining in this whole disaster -- that we have this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-engage and recalibrate this city in a way that, politically, you might never have been able to get to."

I've said all along that sucessful democratic societies are ones that operate from the bottom up, not from the top down and for New Orleans to be rebuilt, residents need to work together and develop a plan for the revitalization for their own neighborhoods else someone will do it for them. And if that happens, their neighborhood will probably be doomed to failure.

More here:

The ideas that become reality should come from the neighborhoods themselves, not imposed upon residents by planners,...

The city plan calls for every district, flooded or not, to come up with a plan that will cover everything from transit to parks and recreation to schools and neighborhood centers. Kroloff and Manning said the process probably will result in minor changes to the least damaged areas, among them District 1, which covers the city's commercial core, and the two Algiers districts.

I wonder if the two have been reading my blog.

Typical of dogooders around the globe, CNU may have some good ideas they but need to temper their enthusiasum for activism and allow the people most affected by disaster to get on with their lives as best they can and do what needs to be done to bring back some sense of normality

Ultimately it will be the people of the Gulf Coast who will decide what and how to rebuild for it is their community that will be re-created, not CNU's.

They also back-up my criticism of the BNOB Commission's presentation of their own proposal when they sa,

Manning and Kroloff said they recognize there is a deep suspicion about the planning process, a suspicion they say is not unique to New Orleans. Part of the reason, they said, is that people don't necessarily understand what planners do. "They see it as a process where they're going to be told what to do and how to live, as opposed to a process that comes in and says, all right, what is it that you like about things in this neighborhood, how can we work to see that those are sustained, and then are there ways we can improve them?" Kroloff said.
It's a long article, but read the whole thing

Friday, January 20, 2006

Gone With The Wind

A lot of residential developers and contractors are opposing the implementation of stricter residential building for fear of rising construction costs. While keeping costs down does have its benefits to the homeowner, making them safer also has its benefits.
According to researchers:

They calculated that applying the new rules would add a maximum of 4.5 percent to new home construction costs.
So for a $100,000 home, the new building code would add about $4,500 to the loan. When amortized at 8% APR over 30 years, this will add about $33 to the monthly mortgage note. It seems reasonable to think that some or most of the additional cost could be offset by savings in insurance premiums though I haven't found any research on that.

What builders really need to do is redirect their resources to developing cost-saving methods to impliment these changes instead of waging a loosing battle by fighting better building codes.

UPDATE: A Blog For All has a roundup.

Kiss Of Death

Gov. Kathleen Blanco on Thursday unveiled what she called a “dream team� of national planning firms to help south Louisiana rebuild after the devastation of two hurricanes.

Given Gov. "Drew a" Blanco's political popularity (try 19% approval rating), don't expect any solution this team comes up with to ever see the light of day. Besides, being that the Brookings Institute is a very liberal think tank, its not likely that any plan derived by them will be well received by one of the most conservative states in the union.

And we all know how the BNOB revitalization went last week.

Via The Advocate.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


KJ has posts and pictures of the damage and reconstruction efforts ongoing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Check it out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

What's In It For Me?

slhno at Stop The Flooding lists the reasons why Americans should care about adequate levee protection for New Orleans.

As to New Orleans, the flawed levees that the Corps built did not withstand what they were designed for. These levees were built with federal funds by the federal government. Homes were fine after the passage of Katrina; it wasn't until the levees broke when the flooding occurred. The levees were not topped. Rather, they fell over due to defective design.

Read the whole thing.

Remember folks, your taxes paid for this.

Shakespeare's Revenge

Hurricane Katrina shifted the legal landscape of New Orleans, probably for the better, at least according to this article in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report.

I guess it's safe to say that Houston got all of New Orleans' criminals and Baton Rouge got some of New Orleans' lawyers. Let's hope it stays that way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Go Figure has a series of graphs showing the changes in the New Orleans area economy.

When asked about the pace of the recovery, Rosanne Hirsch puts it this way:

"I don't see it so much as (turning a) corner as I do a slow curve, I see it as just inching and inching."
New Orleans residents want desperately to return to their city but are being hampered by government agencies that operate on geologic time.

Shrimp Boot In Mouth

Mayor Ray Nagin is still trying to pull the wader out of his mouth as a result of some comments he made yesterday at a MJK Day gathering.

This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way...

Needless to say, many in the white community are not too happy with his remarks. It didn't go down too well with many in the black community either. But what's most unfortunate, the other 90% of the speech was positive in nature, especially when he says

"I don't think we need to pay attention anymore as much about the other folk and racists on the other side.'' He said the thing we need to focus on as a community, black folks I'm talking to, is ourselves.

What are we doing? Why is black-on-black crime such an issue? Why do our young men hate each other so much that they look their brother in the face and they will take a gun and kill him in cold blood? He said we as a people need to fix ourselves first. He said the lack of love is killing us. And it's time, ladies and gentlemen.

This, BTW, was supposed to be MLK's remarks during a conversation Mayor Nagin had with the civil-rights leader.

The Mayor has since appoligized for his remarks. If comments given on the Garland Robinette Show are any indication, most people seem to be accepting his apology. On the other hand, an unofficial survey indicates otherwise.

I don't think Ray Nagin is a racist nor do I think he is a race-baiter of the likes of Louis Farrakan or Rev. Al Sharpton. But his comments have the same effect if one of them held a rally at the steps of city hall because before yesterday, New Orleaneans were coming together, black and white, because for once, we are all in the same boat wanting the city to come back, not wanting the criminal element to return and hoping the city is better than before.

He put a lot of the blame for racial tensions on the residents of "Uptown" and elsewhere. But the only people making comments on the future racial make-up of New Orleans are academics, demographers and other so-called experts. The people may be right, or the might be wrong. But whatever happens, none of them will have a say in what happens. None of this is pre-ordained. If most black New Orleaneans come back or most don't, it will be due their decisions.

Personally I hope New Orleans does have a significant black population in the future because much of what makes New Orleans such an interesting place to live and work is the culture that the black community brings to the city. What I hope doesn't return is the criminal element of the black community (a small fraction, BTW), the culture of political corruption so ably personified by the administration of Marc Morial, the race-baiting community activitists and, believe it or not, many religious leaders and those responsible for the public-school system.

If the hard-working citizens of New Orleans return and the gangbangers, crooks, pushers, agitators and welfare queens stay away, the Crescent City will see a new Renaissance.

For audio of the speach, you can listen here.

The transcript can be found here.

Listen here for his apology.

A Piece Of The Crawfish Pie

Gambit Weekly has an interesting article recounting the history of the various levee boards that makes south-east Louisiana look like a Picasso painting.

The article appears to give creadence to the levee districts status-quo in order to ensure that areas with less political clout can provide protection themselves rather than be left without protection.

While that process probably has some merit, our legislators should be able to come up with a scenario where flood protection is done holistically rather than ad-hoc yet still allow communities to provide for their own protection if they feel the regional levee board is leaving them high-and-dry (pun intended)

My idea is to have a regional board headed by flood professionals and engineers to be appointed by both the governor and officials of the various parishes within the levee region. In addition, an advisory board that has oversight but no power, whose member could either be appointed or elected, that will look out for the interests of their consituents.

In addition, the law could be written to allow for local levee districts to exist for the purpose of augmenting, if necessary, local flood control. The local districts can levy their own taxes and/or lobby the federal government for funds for flood control.

Flood control should be left to the professionals but politics should not be totally left out of the equasion as that is the method in this country whereby citizens are allowed to make their case before the government.

Praise The Lord And Pass The Shovel

Despite ten-feet of water and being located in the vitual ghost-town neighborhood of Lakeview, Mt. Carmel Academy opened it's doors at 7:50 a.m. this morning. Mt. Carmel is an all-girl Catholic high school that's been existance for 110 years and by the grace of God, will be in existence for another 100 years.

Apparently a lot of Guardsment spent some time in Catholic schools.

I managed to drive to New Orleans and get past the National Guardsmen -- you know, that old 'the good sister needs to see her convent' routine still works -- so I could see our school."

Sister Camille Anne Campbell deserves kudos for determination and hard-headedness for reviving another New Orleans institution.

Good Morning Class

With the exception of Dillard University, colleges around New Orleans are reopening this week. But classes wont be the same as before Katrina.

Many classes will be held in trailers and hotel conference rooms while they continue to repair of hundreds of millions of dollars of campus damage, and overall enrollment is considerably lower than before the storm. They have laid off hundreds of faculty and staff to try to meet budgets.


Some neighborhoods around Tulane and Loyola are relatively vibrant, but Xavier, the country's only historically black and Roman Catholic college, is in an area of mostly abandoned homes and stores. Dillard, near the London Avenue Canal breach, was so badly damaged that it will not reopen there until at least next fall. Even then, it will almost certainly be an island of life in a sea of empty neighborhoods.

Nonetheless, having college students back in town will be one more sign that New Orleans is on the road to recovery.

I hope that the returning students are aware of the situation down here. If they think that they can return the the same old lifestyle, they are horribly mistaken. However, if one is willing to make a few sacrafices and have a pioneer spirit with an eye for opportunities, then New Orleans is the best place a student can be.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Preserve This

National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe asks Mayor Nagin not to adopt the provision in the BNOB proposal for a moritorium on new building permits in devastated areas.


Preventing homeowners from taking those steps necessary to make their homes habitable would, in my view, deal a very serious blow to the recovery momentum which is now beginning to build all over the city.

The entire letter to the mayor can be read here.

Putting The Bandwagon Before The Mule

A mayoral arts commission is recommending that the city build a National Jazz Center to make New Orleans once again a center for Jazz music. As I said in an earlier post, New Orleans needs to create an environment that is amenible to jazz musicians and their patrons then create the infrastructure to support the community once it begins to materializes.

So to ask a rhetorical question, what if we gave a party and no one came?

Oh Build Me A Home, Where The Floodwaters Roam...

New Orleans Dep't. of Safety and Permits is being somewhat lenient when it comes to determining the amount of damage done to peoples' homes. The determining factor in deciding whether a home must be raised (or razed) if the cost of repair is more than 50% of the value of the home. Many homeowners are convincing city inspectors to lower their damage estimate in order for their house to be "grandfathered" in at the current base flood elevation. This means that it will not have to be elevated. And this not just because residents are cheap.

According to Greg Meffert, the city's chief technology officer,

"If it is a 'gray zone' call, virtually 100 percent of the time, we're going to go in the direction of where the resident wants us to go,"


For many homeowners, it's a matter of simple economics. Contractors say raising some homes, particularly those built on slabs, can top $100,000 before repairs even begin. Because many homeowners are finding their flood policies will pay enough to cover repairs to their homes -- but not to demolish and rebuild -- they are doing all they can to complete the work with the money they have.

Homeowners whose homes flooded are finding themselves between a rock and a soft space, with the soft space being the City of New Orleans and the rock being FEMA. What FEMA doesn't understand is that the flooding was not a result of being located in a low area with inadequate drainage, but rather what amounted to a dam break.

Residents also find themselves to be in the middle of a four-man tug-of-war with the Bring New Orleans Back Commision and FEMA pulling in one direction and mortgage lenders and insurance companies pulling in the other direction. With the city permit office supplying some leniency thereby allowing homeowners to rebuild, they are doing a great service to the rebuilding effort.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

No Mo' Dirty, No Mo'

NolaGirl has the details of the Katrina Krewe and their efforts to clean up New Orleans, and I don't mean politics.


Ernie the Attorney thinks the Southeastern Legal Foundation is full of crap. I agree.

Shortly after Katrina's aftermath, contractors visited various evacuation shelters looking for people to hire for reconstuction efforts. They got few replys. Apparently the evacuees were quite happy with their $2,000 check and government housing. Now with those New Orleaneans who still have their job (like me) and most of the rest moving to seek better opportunities, contractors were forced to choose between turning down work because of a shortage of labor or hire Mexicans.

Most chose the Mexicans and it's a good thing too. Were it not for the illegal Mexicans, most peoples homes would still be mold-filled heaps of soggy furniture. And as people were able to gut their homes, haul away the dibris, rebuilding is now able to take place.

Normally I'm opposed to illegal immigration but I also know that it fills a void in the labor market. Preferable, local people would do the rebuilding work, but if they are unwilling, we'll get someone else.

The rebuilding process is too important to be worried about a silly thing like border control.

UPDATE: An interesting article on the immigrant labor situation in the city.

It Depends On Your Definition Of Problem

Only of half of New Orleans traffic lights are currently working. The city sees this as a problem.

My own experience tells me that traffic has improved at intersections where four-way stop signs are placed.

Some people call it a bug. I call it a feature.

Hurry-Up And Wait

Mayor Ray Nagin want's New Orleans Residents to return to the city to rebuild. On the other hand his Bring New Orleans Back commission as well as FEMA is recommending that residents wait till the new flood maps are released. Residents that flooded now find themselves in a quandry.

They desperately want to return and rebuild their homes but don't know if their houses will have to be raised and if so, how much. Furthermore, the commission is also recommending that neighboroods prove their viability to the city in order to avoid being demolished.

Typical government operation, leave people's lives in limbo while they dither about what to do.

My suggestions that people forget about FEMA. The current flood maps from 1984, which can be seen here, is the law of the land and are to be enforced by the governing authorties. Residents should rebuild according to the 1984 maps and if the 2006 maps require your house to be raised, apply political pressure on the federal government to provided grants for people to raise their houses. After all, it's in the interest of FEMA that houses be build above base flood elevation, therefore, let FEMA pay for it.

A lot of people don't seem to realize that existing houses can be raised, even slab-on-grade, I've seen it done myself.

Ronald Reagan often said that government is not the solution to our problems, it is the problem. All levels of government now are proving him right.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I'm Not Paranoid, It's Just That Everyone Is Against Me

Over 500 residents today gathered into the City Council chambers to voice their opposition to the BNOB proposal that flooded communities prove their viability before revitalization is allowed. Civic "leaders" even went as far as to threaten civil disobedience to get their point accross.

While I sympathize with the residents predicement, they are fighting it all the wrong way. The best way to get the rebuilding process going and prevent a government takeover of their neighborhoods of for the residents to start looking forward and begin rebuilding. Even if all they can do is very little. Any signs of progress, no matter how small, will make it that much more difficult for the city of deem a neighborhood unviable. This was suggested in the BNOB proposal as a prerequesite for revitalization.

Whether the residents will take the advice is not certain. What is certain is that shouting threats and weaving
conspiracy theories will get them nowhere.

Friday, January 13, 2006


The good intentions of people are doing great harm to the recovery effort in New Orleans. The "we-know-best" crowd is out in force with recommendations on how the city should be rebuilt. Problem is, they don't all agree on how to proceed. And while all the experts debate and polititians dither, citizens whose communities were destroyed are itching to get back home and start rebuilding but are not allowed because some people are more interested in the unatainable perfect rather than the achievable pretty-good.

The Lower 9th Ward was/is an area with rampant poverty but with strong ties to family and community. Because some people are only able to see the material aspect of the community, they cannot comprehend the emotional ties that hold these communities together. And it's those emotional ties that maintains peoples spirit during these trying times.

What planners need to understand is what people want is for their community to be theirs, regardless of its drawbacks. Like a favorite stuffed animal as a child. Sure its dirty, frayed and is missing an eye but you have a sentimental bond to it that no new stuffed animal can replace.

Granted, much of the Lower 9th Ward is gone, but we need to let people rebuild their communities on their own terms, not ours. After all, they have to live there, not us.

#807 Or Desire?

Corbusier at Architecture + Morality has an interesting post about the role of government and mass transit in this post. We here in New Orleans will be having a similar debate on mass transit in the coming months. But unlike many municipalities deciding whether or not to have mass transit, our debate will be what will be the mix between bus and streetcar.

I realize that streetcar lines are expensive and not a practical replacement for all bus lines but I do believe that expanding the streetcar lines will help greatly to bring back certain areas that were,

  1. Heavily flooded by Hurricane Katrina, and
  2. are potential recreational/hospitality destinations for locals as well as tourists.
To give you and idea of the preference of streetcars to buses, the RTA's website - which operates both the streetcars and buses - chose only to post a picture of a streetcar, not their buses.

Let's face it, buses are not a good selling point for visitors, streetcars are.


More resources can be found here and here.

Any More Questions?

The Third Battle of New Orleans has seven questions regarding the levee failures.

I have my own question for the Corps of Engineers. Do they realize there was a problem with the levees in the first place?

Chinese Fire Drill

Wednesday's rebuilding master plan proposal has created a rush for homeowners to obtain building permits from the Office of Safety & Permits before any moritorium goes into effect. Confusion seems to reign among applicants as most are not aware that

...each person took a number and sat waiting until being summoned by a Safety and Permits staffer who demonstrated how to use city computers set up in the hallway to download damage assessments and get a building permit, as long as their damage was less than 50 percent.

One applicant was more complimentary:

...had high praise for the eighth-floor operation: "I was amazed how easy this was,"

FYI - Safety and Permits is on the seventh floor.

People need to be more informed of the facts as well as the process. Someone in city government - be it the Mayor or someone else - should be out front getting the correct information out to the public. Right now we sometimes see Mayor Nagin talking about rebuilding but it is rarely very informative.

Due to the massive extent of damage to homes, many homeowners who have little or no experience in obtaining building permits and with a lack of contractors - who often pull permits themselves - do-it-yourselfers can find the permit process overwhelming. As an architect who has pulled a few permits myself, the process has more often that not been akin to walking through a mine field.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Go South Young Man

James K. Glassman sees great potential for the rebuilding for New Orleans yet what is needed most is leadership and is in short supply at all levels.

The rebirth of New Orleans does, however, require a leap into the unknown. It can't be meticulously planned. Preserve the old buildings. Rope off the lowlands. But then let imagination takes its course. Unfortunately, Mr. Nagin's Bring Back New Orleans group is loaded with central planners prescribing a dream city built around such highlights as light-rail transport, a "jazz district" and a neuroscience center. Typical is Michael Cowan, head of the city's Human Relations Commission, who warned that "the alternative to a 'good-enough' plan for the future of our city is free-market chaos, also known . . . as every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost."

Actually, it was precisely this chaos that made New Orleans a great city in the first place. It was planning--specifically, the horrifying housing projects, largely destroyed in Katrina; the stultifying school system; the Superdome and other wasteful public-works projects--that held the city back.

If only there were some public forum for ordinary citizens to stand up and take some initiative in leading the city out of its morass. Although I'm doing my small part with this little blog, others need to be more visible.

One of the items mentioned in yesterdays presentation by ULI is that neighborhoods and communities get together to decide on the direction they would like to see their area move. Ideally, it is the city council members who act as midwives giving birth to these organizations. Unfourtunately, being polititians, it is unlikely they will willingly give up power like that.

So as usual, it is Louisiana polititians that are holding this state back. Hopefully this will motivate people to make much needed changes.

UPDATE: PawPaw's House has more.

Missing The Riverboat

When outsiders think of New Orleans, their vision goes no further than the Mardi Gras and the French Quarter. What they don't realize is that, at heart, New Orleans is very family oriented. Unlike other southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta, New Orleans is not a city of immigrants but a city of generations who have not only strong ties to a neighborhood but in many cases, strong ties to a block.

It is common for grown children to live around the corner or across the street from the house they grew up in. They might have a brother or sister living on the next block and cousins two to three blocks away.

So when outsiders come to town telling people they may not be able to live around the corner from their mama, you might as well ask a mother to give up one of their children. And that explains much of yesterdays animus directed toward ULI and their proposal for building New Orleans.

People here have strong ties to their community. Even if it is poor and devastated, it is all that they have and they are not going to give it up without a fight. And fight they will.

ULI made a major PR mistake when it had a planner from Philadelphia present their proposal. As well intentioned as he might have been, he is not a local and therefore not attuned to the sensitivities of New Orleanians. This made the presentation come off as something to be imposed on the populace and not as suggestions of ways to improve the city.

Being a professional in this field and having not only heard these presentations many times, but also given them, I understood the purpose of the master plan. Most people in the audience are not familiar with this process and all they heard was eminent domain and light rail. Understandably this incited much rage in the audience.

Now is the time for ULI to make their proposal available more widely for the public to allow time for citizens to digest the plan and for local leaders to get involved in not only explaining the plan but for them to listen.

The plan has many good ideas but it must be implimented by the populace. And they need to know that.

Or Else What?

The Bring New Orleans Back Commission appeared to make an empty threat when it...

...suggest[ion] that, for neighborhoods to be considered viable, at least half their pre-Katrina population must commit within the next four months to return.

If a neighborhood does not meet that threshhold, will the city use eminent domain to buyout those homeowners, including those that have rebuilt? If the Mayor and City Council have their way, and they will, don't expect this idea to ever see the light of day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Not A River In Egypt

The Corps of Engineers looks to be in full cover-up mode in response further revelations of the levee system. Weak soils have been the center of debate in the investigation. At the 17th Street Canal breach, a layer of peat beneath the broken wall is the prime suspect and heaving soils below the London Avenue Canal is primarily suspected. No one is supprised to find out that that is the main reason for the failures at MR-GO.

While other levee systems failed during the storm at specific weak spots, much of the Gulf Outlet levee simply disintegrated under the impact of Katrina's storm surge and waves, a clear indication it was built of weak materials, probably loose organic soils from nearby marshes, investigators said.

But the Corps thinks that nothing went wrong.

The corps said no problem exists. Project supervisor Kevin Wagner, who will guide investigators on an inspection of the area today, said on-site personnel are carefully monitoring material being used from the adjacent borrow holes in the marsh, separating strong clays from weaker organic soils, just as corps officials in Washington said. He said an outside inspector is working with a corps staff inspector each day, backed up by the corps' on-site supervisors and periodic visits from project's engineering design firm, Waldemar S. Nelson Co. of New Orleans, and soil investigators Eustis Engineering of Metairie. Those are backed up by the periodic lab tests, Wagner said.

That's like the proverbial doctor saying the the operation was a success but the patient died only in this case, the doctor thinks the patient is still breathing.

Turd In The Pool

The Urban Land Institute has just finished making their presentation for the future of New Orleans to the Bring New Orleans Back Commission and some of their ideas, like the four-month moritorium on new building permits and the light rail system, have gone over like at turd in the swimming pool. At least according to the public comments going on right now.

It's not very often that residents of Lakeview and the Lower 9th Ward agree on anything, and when they do, watch out!

Their power point presentation is available online here.

UPDATE: I've had a chance to take a look at the ULI rebuilding proposal and most of it is not objectionable yet much of it seems pie-in-the-sky dreamed up by an eye-in-the-sky without much sensitivity to local sensabilities is probably what rubbed most people the wrong way.

Based on the public comments, peoples main objection is the misconception - at least according to the report - that people will not be allowed to rebuild their own homes. However, the report does go a long way to recommending that financing be made available for rebuilding. But, in order to the plan to be fully implimented, eminent domain will probably have to be invoked to achieve it's goal that is what gets people riled up.

If eminent domain is used to rebuild infrastructure that is determined locallyto be needed, you may not find the level of objection that you saw today where infrastructure is deemed to be necessary from outside.

As I've said before, rebuilding needs to be driven from within, not from without.

UPDATE: has more.

Gert Town, Ghost Town

Gert Town is a neighborhood that has been pretty much abandoned by residents and officials. It is a predominately blue-collar area was fairly recently developed and so is mostly devoid of the cultural architecture that New Orleans is known for.

It is also 75% renter occupied which means there will be little economic impetus for property owners to rebuild. And because it is the location for much of New Orleans light industrial businesses, Gert Town may be one of New Orleans' neighborhoods that is least likely to be rebuild and a prime candidate for green space, especially the blocks in close proximity to Xavier University.

Redundant, See Redundant

New, tougher building codes go into effect in March for Louisiana's coastal parishes.

International Code Council Foundation, is also opening a Louisiana office.

I'm confused. The state adopted the International Building Code effictive January 1, 2004. Now the state has adopted what appears to be the International Building Code according to New Orleans CityBusiness.

Is the legislature aware of its own bills?

Square Pegs

Mayor Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back commission is proposing that residents be given four months to revive their neighborhoods. This to me seems a bit unfair. It takes the commission four months to come up with a plan and yet allows citizens that same amount of time to rebuild their houses. This is typical government thinking where people are expected to orient their lives in a way that is convient to bureaucrats.

Furthermore, the commission wants to use eminent domain to reshape the city in a manner that it sees fit.

Addressing the debate about whether planners and politicians should declare areas off limits or allow market forces to determine the city's future, Nagin's panel clearly sought a compromise by instead proposing a process to gauge residents' intentions to return to their neighborhoods. But ultimately, commissioners say, not every neighborhood will be sustainable and there will be a need to use eminent domain to seize some property. The panel proposes the creation of a new public agency, tentatively called the Crescent City Redevelopment Corp., to use that power, but only as a "last resort."
This is totally contrary to my previous posts where I posit that citizens be allowed to determine the nature of their neighborhoods, not some commission. Though the article states that;
The report recommends that residents of all city neighborhoods -- whether they flooded or not -- participate in a process to help sketch out a vision for their future.
its not clear what weight resident's input will have on the commission's ultimate decision. The city needs to tread lightly when it gets into deciding where people can and can't live. By doing so, government is overstepping it's bounds and getting into the area of central planning. The city should stay away from that and just do the simple things that government should do such as law enforcement, fire protection, building inspection and zoning, providing a judicial system, health inspection, etc...

What I think the government can do is to determine where city services will be provided and what kind of government is best for our situation as proposed here. Those things are entirely withing the scope of government yet it still maintains some influence over how the city progresses.

A map of the proposals can be found here.

Let the citizens rebuild the city as they would like it rebuilt and stop trying to force a square pegs into a round holes.

UPDATE: More from ABC News.

Ray Kinsella, Call Your Wife

If we build it, they might come.

That's the advice I offer to the Bring New Orleans Back Commission and their proposal to think big in order to revitalize Storyville and its jazz community before it was chased away after to 1917. What is needed to bring back jazz music that neighborhood is not a massive construction boondoggle with pretty rebuilt music halls but a new environment where political cronyism, police corruption and street crime are not the typical way doing business in the city.

If the city wants a jazz music district, business owners need to know that "friends of the Mayor" will not be the first one at the door asking for protection money, likewise that police wont be asking for the same. That potential patrons shouldn't expect to get mugged or see the friendly neighborhood drug dealer or hooker standing on every other street corner. Also, musicians should expect that most of their night's earnings will not be confiscated by the city government to help pay for the next construction boondoggle.

In the article the commissioners were told not to worry about how much their ideas will cost. Ideally this is correct because it shouldn't cost any extra revenue to make sure that New Orleans is a safe place to spend one's own hard earned money.

Make it safe, and they will come.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Book 'im, Danno

The Southeast Louisiana Criminal Justice Recovery Task Force has been looking into ways the law enforcement community of SE Louisiana can more effectively work together and has proposed the following:

* One crime lab for the region.
* One “world-class� police academy/training facility for the region.
* A violent crime intelligence system for real-time information sharing
Not only are these proposals more efficient in terms of resources but also in terms of communication. During the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina, all the different jurisdictions were unable to communicate hampering rescue and evacuation efforts. This consolidation will help alleviate competition among jurisdictions as well as foster an atmosphere of cooperation that is much needed, as many criminals will travel from one parish to another and one city to another. Just like J. Edgar Hoover created the FBI to track down gangsters who were avoiding arrest by criss-crossing multiple states and staying one step ahead of the law, we need that on a smaller scale.

Via The Advocate

UPDATE: More thoughts here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Social Strata Po-Boy

I've lived in New Orleans for over ten years but haven't been able to more concisely describe the social fabric than corbusier at Architecture and Morality.

There is a perennial class of native elites in the Crescent City, decedents of the city’s first successful agricultural barons, merchant tycoons and political dynasties. They live in the same neighborhoods for generations, and provide much in the way of philanthropy and cultural amenities to the city. Then there is a thin middle-class, most of whom eventually move to the surrounding suburbs for want of better public schools and less crime. Finally there is everyone else, a vast population of the poor subject to unspeakable conditions.

Indeed. However, it is often assumed that the future New Orleans will be more white and more gentrified as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The first part may be correct because the poor blacks don't have enough financial clout to rebuild their neighborhoods. The blue-blood community that mostly lives in the sliver of land near the river is largely unaffected. The middle-class is ripe to flex their muscles both financially and politically.

Everyone likes to focus on the Lower 9th Ward and the devestation there, but the areas most widely impacted by flooding were middle-class and upper middle-class. Needless to say they are not happy and are ready to do something about it.

Already were seeing some movement in the real estate market where people who could not afford to live in some of the nicer New Orleans neighborhoods before the storm are now picking up bargains with the intent on rebuilding. In a few years we can expect some to see "ghost town" neighborhoods to show signs of activity. This, I'm sure, has many a Big Easy politition quaking in his boots as these, many new, residents will not tolerate the old way of doing things.

This will have repercusions for many years to come. New Orleans may or may not be more white, but it will be more middle-class and that's just what the Voodoo doctor ordered.

Beware The Blank Slate

Architects and Urban Planners have a tendency to design cities with their own preconcieved notions of what a city should be. Unfourtunately their ideals often differ from those of the people who accually have to live in the city. They also like to ignore most of the less glamorous infrastructure that cities are required to provide to make a city function such as:

  • Water and sewer treatment and distribution
  • Power production and distribution
  • Wharehouses and storage
  • Airports and associated services
  • Ports
  • Railroads
  • Interstates
  • Auto repair
  • Fuel Distribution
  • Parking Garages and Parking Lots
  • Parking and Maintenance for Mass Transit
  • Lumber Yards
  • Utilities Maintenance Facilities
  • Wholesale Grocery Distribution Centers
  • An Many Many More...
Though the list is far from complete, you get the idea of what is required to create a functioning city (strictly from an infrastructure stand point). You'll often find that it's these fuctions that are lacking from most urban plans. They are usually ugly, inconvient and misunderstood by planners so are omitted. This is like building a human and leaving out the small intestine, spleen, pitutary gland, sweat glands and gall bladder.

Planners like to point to Seaside as a success in urban planning, but that is like creating a single-cell organism and claiming to be able to build a mouse. Not quite.

Planners can offer some insight on a limited bases such as how to improve transportation or zoning ordinances but don't think that they can come to New Orleans and solve all our ills if we just listen the them.

Architecture and Morality has more thoughts.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Some Things Never Change

A Federal Judge (as usual) has blocked the city of New Orleans from razing houses that have been determined to be structurally unsound. The city as three designations for building, in danger of imminent collapse, moderate to severe structural damage and little or no damage. Currently the city is attempting to demolish houses in the first category.

Typically houses listed in the first category are pretty obvious like the roof has caved in, the walls collapses or the entire house itself has moved two to three blocks. If your house fits one of these descriptions, why would someone not want the city to take it down? It's coming down anyway. The only questions is when.

But alas it seems that the same folks who were keeping the city from moving into the 20th century are back with a firm grasp on everyone's ankles.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

On Your Own

Mayor Ray Nagin has a proposal that will allow residents to move back to any part of the city but some areas may not receive some city services. This idea may have some legs. Although some residents in the affected areas will probably object, their anger could be alleviated if those residents were not required to pay for services not provided.

Mayor Ray Nagin said he will allow people to rebuild in any part of the city that they wish to rebuild in but he won’t guarantee the level of services that will be available to the hardest hit areas in the short term.
The simple solution for this is for the city to unincorporate those areas it chooses not to provide services for. Instead, minimal services in unincorporated areas will be provided by the parish.

This would prove no small undertaking as currently the entire parish is incorporated and thus would require changes to the city charter. For one, a new parish council will have to be created along with a parish president. Or, it could copy Baton Rouge's government blueprint and create a city-parish government. There the council and mayor both govern the entire parish as well as the city itself while still allowing unincorporated areas and other cities inside the parish. It works well there, no reason it couldn't work here.

One neighborhood which might favor this concept is Lakeview. Long a conversative Republican island in a liberal Democrat sea, Lakeview has until Hurricane Katrina been one of the city's major sources of revenue yet has seen most of their taxes gone to people the residents view as non-contributors to the welfare of the city. The thought of seceding from New Orleans has been bounced around for a number of years and this just might be their chance to carry through with it. Question is, will New Orleans be willing to give up that neighborhood.

Hat tip: Louisiana Libertarian

UPDATE: City Comforts has some thoughts.

Not So Fast

Witold Rybczynski at Slate concludes that Hurricane Katrina has only accelerated New Orleans' decline that has been occuring for the past forty years. Though Mr. Rybczynski aknowledges that central planning is not as prevalent in American cities as in European and Asian cities but seems to conclude that that is a bad thing.

He couldn't more wrong.

While newer centrally planned cities of Europe and Asia may be pleasing to look at and make nice magazine spreads, they also tend to take on the characteristics of the organizations that created them: Cold and impersonal. American cities differ in that regard and that's what makes them great. They grow organically much like the old Midieval cities of old Europe. This organic growth creates neighborhoods which foster social integration in contrast to the high-density developments so favored by government entities because it conforms to a governments' priority cost-efficiency (ironic, isn't it) instead of the individual's interest in quality of life.

The article is correct that lack of political leadership is hampering the rebuilding process, yet it is incorrect to assume that the path of history cannot be altered. Louisiana and New Orleans residents are for the time being stuck with the current hangers-on in office but with elections in the upcoming months, that environment is ripe for change.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Moby Dick to Free Willy

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is in the process of restocking and plans on reopening sometime this summer.

When we see lines of visitors waiting to the the aquarium near the river, we will be one step closer to that pre-Katrina attmosphere.

Grow, Baby, Grow

The Times Picayune reports that New Orleans population is growing faster than expected. I don't have any hard opinion as to why that is but it's a good sign.

But if I were to hazard a guess, some of the reasons are covered in the previous post.

There Goes The Neighborhood

Real estate prices in the metro New Orleans have jumped significantly since Hurricane Katrina. This, according While most of the surge is occuring the the parishes surrounding New Orleans, the city itself may soon see a similar uptick in housing sales.

I think there are several reasons for this:

1. Moving up. People whose homes flooded badly are looking for locations on higher ground.

2. Moving on. Where houses flooded badly, the owners are looking to unload their damaged homes for a song to either move to higher ground - see above - or relocate altogher. This is creating opportunities for former residents to move back to the city.

3. Winds of change. People are seeing changes brewing in the political climate which may bring an end to the corruption and imcompetance of city leaders which forced them to leave the city in the first place.

4. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Despite, or because of, the reduction of the population of the city, job opportunities abound. Because the areas of the city that flooded the worst is mostly residential, many business (at least physically) remain intact. The reason so many businesses are struggling is due to a lack of employees - and customers. This is causing a sharp rise in wages, especially in the lower paying services industries.

5. Levees. Now that the federal government has commited to rebuild the levee system and an investigation is underway to determine why the levees failed in the first place, people are confidant that the new levee system will be better than before. One thing that we are finding out is that with proper levee protection, New Orleans is quite safe from hurricane damage. Unlike our friends to the east, we have a barrier between us and the sea.

Although the crystal ball at this point is pretty hazy, I see a bright future for the city of New Orleans but not for many years to come.