Friday, March 31, 2006

Sticker Shock

The Corps of Engineers underestimated the cost of upgrading hurricane protection levees by more than half.

Stunned by new estimates that almost $6 billion more could be needed to raise and repair levees to protect the New Orleans area from a major hurricane, the Louisiana congressional delegation is demanding that the Bush administration quickly request the money from Congress.

President Bush's Gulf Coast recovery coordinator, Donald Powell, told reporters that the administration will decide in the next two weeks whether to request the additional money -- nearly three times what the administration said was needed just a month ago.

Maj. Gen. Don Riley, director of civil works with the corps, said the additional money was recommended as a result of system deficiencies uncovered during recent repairs and inspections of the 169 miles of levees damaged by Hurricane Katrina, outside assessments by independent experts and new data that measure the protection required by the increased probability of a Category 3 or stronger hurricane now predicted by the National Weather Service.
But aside from the money issue, this has important implications for rebuilding behind the levees.
A new request from the president is critical to the release of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's long-awaited flood-elevation maps, which will give residents and businesses an indication about whether to rebuild in the region. Property behind the upgraded levees could see relatively minor changes in elevation requirements, subject primarily to more typical flooding. Those areas without improved levees would have to build substantially higher to account for flooding and storm surge.
Should the levees not be upgraded as needed, the FEMA flood maps may require homes to be elevated to a much higher elevation than with upgraded levees. And the impact of having to raise homes even higher goes beyond just the cost of building higher.

But to raise homes to an extent to satisfy FEMA regulations may be counterproductive. According to Liz Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides:
Uncritically accepting the FEMA maps in their entirely without any exploration of alternatives is a mistake. It is clear that there are many technologies and techniques that can be used to create a home at grade that can withstand hurricane forces. Similarly, we believe the FEMA proposed buildings on stilts need further study. Aside from their inability to create good neighborhoods, respond to ADA standards, their extravagant cost, they are vulnerable to uplift winds and may not be the safest choice for Coastal reconstruction.
As architects are well aware, no solution is perfect. Each has its own drawbacks and the trick is to balance the pros with the cons to create the most economical solution. As the federal government is founding that out, their only reaction seems to be shock.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Baby, Who Can Drive My Car?

My previous post concerning the recovery of flooded automobiles in the city has gotten a new wrinkle.

The featured local company in a proposed $62 million state contract to remove abandoned cars from southern Louisiana lists a flood-ruined 9th Ward address as its headquarters and has a disconnected phone, according to public documents and a cursory investigation by a state senator.

The Department of Environmental Quality contract remains unsigned, although the negotiations have apparently been completed between the state and TruSource Facility Services of Georgia and L&L Steel Builders Inc. of 1939 Desire St. in New Orleans, state officials said. It is this contract that the city of New Orleans requested to join this week, following days of questions about its decision not to sell tens of thousands of hurricane-wrecked vehicles to crushers but instead to pay a company $23 million to clear the cityscape of the blight.
I have a better idea. Let's let the market work for us. All the city needs to do is develop some mechanism by which all flooded vehicles deemed to be salvaged are to be identified and marked by some kind of official plackard. All identified vehicles are then to be considered "open-range". Free to anyone willing to tow it away.

Now, that wont get rid of all cars but it sure will get rid of a lot of them.

So, once again, our politicians are seeking ordinary means to solve extrordinary problems.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Our "Prefab" House

As a result of the severe housing shortage caused by Hurricane Katrina, some entrepreneurs are looking to alternative building methods to solve the problem.

If one of these new technologies can prove itself, producing houses that look like regular houses but are faster to build and cost-competitive, it could remake the industry. And if that happened, south Louisiana--including Baton Rouge--would become Ground Zero for the future of home building.

Enter "systems building," a blanket term that describes a number of technologies for mass-producing large parts of houses in a factory. On-site, the house is then assembled more than built. But the end result is a regular house, not a dressed-up doublewide.

"You can produce high quality in a factory environment," says Rodney Cobi, whose firm, Center for Landscape Interpretation, has been working to bring systems building to Louisiana for years.

Because systems-built houses favor framing in fiberglass, steel or concrete, they are also more resistant to wind and mold, not to mention fire and termites.

Where less-traditional home building typically falls short, though, is price. Non-wood homes typically sell at 10% to 15% higher than stick-built, says LED's Director of Advanced Materials Jim Landry. But couple increased demand for wood with stricter building codes in high-risk areas, and wood may lose its price advantage.

While these new methods may well be beneficial, a lot of salemanship will have to take place in order for potential homeowners buy into the prefab idea.

Just recently CNU members Andres Duany, Susan Henderson, Eric Moser, Steve Mouzon, Matt Lambert, and Diane Dorney designed and built a prototype Katrina Cottage II in Chalmette and invited the public to see it in person. The same was true for the original Katrina Cottage designed by New York City architect Marianne Cusato and displayed in Orlando and Biloxi. When viewed by homeowners in person, the homes were quite well received.

If, on the other hand, prefab developers rely on periodical articles and glossy flyers, they shouldn't expect much interest from the people who really count; the buyer.

However, one advantage of the prefab home is that 90%+ of the labor force required to build one is that it is not tied to the local labor market.

Also, because modular housing be built outside the area, it can be insulated from local cost pressures cost on materials and labor.
But I have one warning about this method. Because homes are usually designed and built by persons familiar with the local traditions and climate, site-built homes are typically better suited for their context and adaptation to the climate.

For prefab housing to work on the Gulf Coast, developers need to incorporate local architects and builders in the design process. Otherwise they might as well sell mud-buggies in Arizona.

Going Once. Going Twice...Sold!

In order to raise funds for the decimated school district, the City of New Orleans will auction flooded buses on

Starved for cash, the New Orleans school district is taking a long shot and hoping to sell its flooded, unsalvageable school buses on eBay.

Some submerged to their roofs in the black flood waters, the yellow school buses were widely photographed in the days after Hurricane Katrina and have become an icon of the city's devastated school system.

School officials acknowledge the sale of the buses on the Internet auction site may puzzle some people used to more traditional school fundraisers like bake sales.

Unorthodox yes, but if that's what it takes.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sharp Dressed Man

Retail sales in the New Orleans area are making a brisk comeback according this New Orleans CityBusiness article that focuses on a couple of New Orleans' men's clothiers.

The city of New Orleans collected $36.7 million in sales taxes during the last quarter of 2004 compared with $24.3 million during the last quarter of 2005. Retailers say the 34 percent drop isn’t bad considering less than half of city residents had returned.

Perlis Inc., a clothing company with stores on Magazine Street and in Mandeville, earned $7.8 million in 2005, an 8 percent increase over $7.2 million in 2004.

“There was a whole ‘buy locally’ theme at Christmas time,� said President David Perlis. “People told us that they saved their money and spent it here. Sales were very, very good, and we’re extremely pleased. We wonder if this will continue for a year or two or is it just a temporary thing?�

Although I don't have a link to any article, the City of Gretna is seeing an increase in sales-tax revenue over 2005 due mostly to a single retailer, Home Depot.

Son Of Katrina Cottage

The Katrina Cottage is gaining even more popularity among the higher-ups in the Louisiana and Mississippi. It is even causing more people to question FEMA and its interpretation of the Stafford Act which supposedly prevents the federal government from providing "permanent housing".

But the cottage is gaining notoriety not just among building/design and government circles. Friday evening while waiting outside a furniture warehouse to pick-up and chest of drawers from my son's room, the security guard asked me if I had ever heard of the Katrina Cottage. For a moment I thought my annonymity had been blown.

Furthermore, this new rendiditon of the cottage built in Chalmette is not only larger, but apparently more flood resistant in addition to other advantages over the FEMA trailer.

The Katrina Cottage concept has generated much attention since it was originally previewed at the International Builders’ Show in Orlando in January. The cottages pose some clear advantages over FEMA trailers:

• The homes are built to hurricane-resistance standards and can weather future storms. With their cement-plank siding and tightly, they can be placed in a flood plain, if necessary. “It can get wet,� Andres Duany told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “It has no sheetrock.�

• FEMA is spending about $75,000 to deliver and install each of the 23- to 28-foot trailers for storm victims, while a Katrina Cottage can be set up for under $60,000, according to manufacturers such as Home Front, Cavalier Homes, and Southern Energy Homes, Inc.

• Construction of the cottages would be fast, since the cottages can be either stick-built or built of panelized walls manufactured in an assembly-line fashion. Unlike FEMA trailers, Katrina Cottages are emergency structures with permanent value, real homes that can eventually be expanded if owners choose to do so.
My only criticism at this point is that if FEMA did adopt the current prototypes as the new "temporary" residence, the areas getting these cottages as permenent replacement for damaged/destroyed homes, neighborhoods could be transmormed into the proverbial "cookie-cutter" development and not a neighborhood. What is needed is variety. The way to get that is very simple. More architects need to get involved and come up with. More architects with even more ideas of what the Katrina Cottage could look like will give the storm victims more choices and neighborhoods more uniqueness.

Read more about Katrina Cottage II here.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Raise, And Be Healed!

The flooding of New Orleans and the revised FEMA flood maps may well bring an age-old constrctuction method back to life.

Slab-on-grade construction only became fashionable in the city during the post-World War II years, when builders and residents decided the city's defenses -- which by then included levees, screw pumps and drainage canals -- could hold back the forces of nature. Slab homes were cheaper to build and less drafty along the floors, among other advantages.

Yet in post-Katrina New Orleans, amajor question facing the city as it struggles to rebuild is: Whither the slab house?
I posted my thoughts on this back in December.
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.
But as usual, the federal government, namely FEMA, is dragging its feet to the detriment of the citizens and itself.

FEMA rules allow the appeal process, and in many cases, the inspection process -- which was conducted mainly by private contractors working for the city -- has been flawed. That said, some former FEMA managers, as well as members of the LRA, have been sharply critical of the city's willingness to haggle.

Critics of the city say that it creates several problems: One, it may encourage the rebuilding of homes that are below the recommended elevation and may be prone to future flooding. And two, it jeopardizes the city's participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, and establishes a bad precedent for FEMA nationwide.

"It destroys the integrity of the program," said Bob Hunter, former administrator of the program and now director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. "When the next flood happens in Minnesota, how do you tell people there that they can't rebuild where they are? They ought to err on the side of safety, especially with all the questions raised about the levees."

George Bernstein, the original administrator of the flood program, notes that flood insurance is highly subsidized, with the understanding that homes susceptible to flooding will be taken out of harm's way once a certain threshold of claims has been reached.

"It's not really an insurance program; it's a tradeoff for subsidized rates," Bernstein said. "If you get the benefits, you have to pay a price. If they start playing games with the 50 percent rule, they're ensuring that future construction will never catch up with the subsidized side of the program."

Sean Reilly of the LRA echoed some of those concerns, warning that people should think long and hard about what's truly in their own interest. With future new homes all built higher off the ground, older repaired slab homes still at street level are unlikely to be hot commodities.

"What we hope is that people choose safety over expediency," Reilly said. "At the end of the day, that may be a penny-wise and pound-foolish decision. We don't want you to do something that may cause your home to lose sale value, something that makes it difficult to insure, difficult to mortgage, difficult to sell.

"Gaming the damage estimates to get a permit should be avoided by everybody. We're trusting people to exercise good judgment on the less-than-50-percent damage. People need to keep in mind the long-term value of their homes could be damaged to a greater degree by doing the unsafe thing."

OK, that's the FEMA side of the story. When you throw the homeowner into the mix, things get more complicated.

Drew Sachs of James Lee Witt and Associates, the firm founded by the former FEMA director that was hired by the LRA, said officials have been considering ways to try to discourage rebuilding homes that may not be safe or wise to rebuild.

One possibility, Sachs said, would be to deny renovation grants to owners of homes that were worth less -- based on pre-Katrina values -- than the repairs are slated to cost.

For instance, if a home was worth $70,000 before the storm, and it will cost $90,000 to fix, then the LRA would not approve a renovation grant. Instead, the owner could have his home demolished by the Army Corps of Engineers, and then use up to $150,000 in grant money to construct a new house at an elevation that complies with the new maps.

No such provision now exists in the state's plan. And in the end, Kopplin said it's unlikely that the agency will impose new and tougher rules. While higher elevations may be the best long-term solution, he said, there are other factors at play, including the limited pot of money the state has at its disposal and the need to get people in homes quickly.

As an example, Kopplin cited relatively inexpensive slab homes in Kenner that he saw on a recent visit. Renovating the homes might cost, say, $35,000 apiece, he said, compared with $100,000 or more for building new houses. Even if the houses are below flood elevations, renovation might be the most sensible option, he said, given the limited pool of cash available to the state.

So what we have here is conflicting interests between the parties involved.

  • The federal government, FEMA, wants homes built below BFE to be raised if the amount of the damage is above 50% of the estimated pre-Katrina value and is willing to grant up to $30,000 toward raising the home.
  • The city is interested in rebuilding the damaged neighborhoods as quickly as possible so that taxes can be paid and re-establish the labor market but has to be wary of FEMA looking over their shoulder so that the permit process is not abused, circumventing FEMA's 50% rule.
  • The state's rebuilding committee wants New Orleans rebuilt also to re-establish the tax base but is limited in what it can do due to a finite pot of cash to do it with.
  • Banks are desparate to settle the mortagages so that mortagage holders will not be forclosing on concrete slabs but can't wait forever for settlements.
  • The average homeowner, as usual, is caught in the middle of a Catch-22.

    "You take a house that's badly damaged, but still probably salvageable, with a roof, foundation and framing," he said. "If you do the math, and it's 52 percent damaged, that means there's 48 percent left. If it's a $100,000 house, if you require bulldozing, that person has lost $48,000 of structure. Why take this guy and deprive him of that?"

    Miller further argues that encouraging or allowing renovation provides the best hope for neighborhoods to recover.

    "If the house is demolished, the owner has no particular incentive to rebuild at that site," he said. "He may very well take any insurance proceeds or other funds he has and rebuild elsewhere. This leaves the stores, churches, schools and universities without their usual customers and can lead neighbors not to return, knowing their own neighbors will not be returning. The social compact in which I rebuild . . . is destroyed."

The real dilema for the homeowner is that the raised house typically cost much more to build than the slab-on-grade as I noted above. Although many people have been interested in the raised-cottage, rising construction costs may again put the needed house type out of reach for the average Joe and he may be forced back into the cheap "ranch house". And as usual, the federal goverment is playing the part of the roadside faith healer.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


The Lady Tigers advanced to the Elite Eight today and the LSU men are the Atlanta Regional Champions. Congratulations to both.


Friday, March 24, 2006

The Early Bird... Oh, Never Mind

My earlier post about the flooded automobiles gets a new twist. Now that the firm initially awarded the contract has pulled out and the mayor went on the radio yesterday to explain the process, we find out today that the city's hesitation in awarding the contract will cost the city even more money.

Months of wrangling by New Orleans and state officials about contracts for the removal of flood-wrecked cars could prove costly for local taxpayers, federal officials said Thursday, because it will likely push the job past the expiration date for full federal reimbursement.

All requests submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency after June 30 will be subject to a 90 percent reimbursement rather than the 100 percent standard in place until then, FEMA spokeswoman Elizabeth Childs said. That could prove problematic for New Orleans, where officials estimate the work to remove the cars could take six months. In addition, city officials concede they lack sufficient funds to pay for the work.
Yesterday Mayor Nagin stated that FEMA would not allow the city to make a profit from the clean-up. But it seems the actual requirement is a bit more nuanced.
Even then, Nagin said, the city wouldn't make money because FEMA would demand payment for its earlier coverage of the towing costs. That plan for reimbursement also reduced concerns about how much the work would cost.
So, did the city think that reimbursing FEMA could simply be considered a cost of doing business? For example, if the city were to profit $5 million from and had to reimburse FEMA say $3 million, then the city would have cleared at cool $2 million. Even if it owed FEMA $7 million, the cost to the city would have $2 million. A whole lot less than the $23 million it would have paid CH2M.

Ray Nagin's campaign four-years ago was that he was a businessman and would run the city as such. At first he did, now that really could use a businessman, he's acting like your run-of-the-mill Louisiana politician.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Caveat Emptor

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has released his plan for the rebuilding of the city based on the BNOB Commission recommendations. Two of the commission's ideas were dimissed by the mayor. The proposals to condem properties that would be used for green space and the requirement that neighborhoods proved their viability by having a 50% return of its residents.

The most dramatic break from the commission is that the mayor would allow all residents to return and rebuild, regardless of the status of its condition or safety.

[H]e said anyone could rebuild anywhere in the city but "at their own risk." In the neighborhoods most devastated, residents wishing to return would be warned that city services could be limited, although he offered little detail on what that meant.
Although it is not well publicized, Ray Nagin was a Republican businessman before he switched to Democrat in order to run for mayor. He even donated money to Ronald Reagan's campaign in the '80s. Given those facts, Nagin's recommendations make sense. Reading between the lines one can see a strong streak of libertarianism.

Look at Nagin's ideas:

• No moratorium on building permits.

• Build a light-rail transit system connecting the airport to eastern New Orleans.

• Fortify the city in the short term by installing temporary locks, pumps, and floodgates and, in the long term, by restoring coastal wetlands.

• Create a new city-run school system led by a seven-member board appointed by the mayor and state officials.

• Consolidate the city's seven assessor's offices into one.

• Merge the civil and criminal sheriffs' offices into one.

• Consolidate some police districts.

Libertarian ideas are abundant here. Smaller, more efficient government and a laissez-faire approach to private property.

Some have criticized the mayor for avoiding a plan on how devestated are to be rebuilt.

Taking out the most radical and controversial portions of the urban- development plan may please many residents who jeered such ideas in public meetings, but it also leaves them in limbo.

"I don't think the urban-development side has been addressed at all. There was just a big punt on that issue," says Janet Howard, president and CEO of the Bureau of Governmental Research in New Orleans.

She believes the mayor's plan will not be well received given the high level of frustration among residents - "and rightfully so, when you think about people putting their lives on hold and then not getting the direction they need to plan. It looks like it will be up to FEMA to put us out of our misery when it comes out with the maps."

Ms. Howard seems to miss the point in her own statement. FEMA, it turns out is the linchpin in this whole ordeal. Everyone is looking for answers to what needs to be done in order to rebuild because without the flood maps, homeowners will have now idea if their hose needs to be raised and to what elevation and what kind of flood insurance premiums they would be looking at. If the cost of one or both of these is exorbatant, rebuilding may be out of the question.

What many people don't understand when they ask the Mayor if they will be able to rebuild, he has no choice but to "punt" since the one piece of information people need is out of his hands.


On a related subject, my own opinion of how the city should deal with the "jack-o-lantern" problem is to simply use laws already on the books, Several years ago, an amendment to the state constitution was passed that give the city more authority in siezing blighted property and auctioning it off for redevelopment. This way, eminent domain will not have to be invoked and individual property owners will have the ability to do with their property as they please (within zoning requirements of course). That way, should blighted property appear, city action could either put affordable "fixer-uppers" on the market for redevelopment or blocks of blighted property could be converted into green space as many critics want.

The first idea is not my own, I must confess. It has been used in the pass but unfortunately, corruption within the program managing the allocation of blighted property frightened many homeowners away from participating, and with good reason. Consequently, blighted property still dots much of the city.

Mail Call

The USPS will for the time being at least will not be delivering the mail at the home mail box. Instead is in the process of installing "cluster box units", like the one shown left, serving a number of residences.

The U.S. Postal Service calls them cluster box units: curbside stands set into concrete bases with six, eight or 12 thin mailboxes as well as larger boxes for packages, and an outgoing mail slot.

Although more common in fast-growing cities such as Dallas, Houston and Phoenix, there were about 50 such stands in New Orleans before Katrina, mostly at apartment complexes and strip malls, said Alan J. Cousin, New Orleans postmaster. Residents use a key to remove mail from one of the units a short walk from their homes.

In an effort to end the trek for about 50,000 New Orleans residents who must drive to post offices to retrieve their mail, the U.S. Postal Service has set up about 60 cluster box units in neighborhoods throughout the city. Another 200 will be installed in the next 30 days, Cousin said.

My only question is, if the mail carrier can deliver the mail to these boxes, why can't they deliver them to the individual homes? I can't see this being a cost saving measure. If the USPS installs 200 units at $1,100 each, this will add up to $220,000 for the entire project. If that money were used to employ additional mail carriers, and assuming each employee cost $50,000 anually, the Post Office could hire four more carriers. But I don't see where more mail carriers are needed compaired to pre-Katrina. Since the population of New Orleans is less than 40% of the the pre-Katrina population, fewer mail-carriers are needed, one would think.

The only logical reason for installing these mail boxes is that the Post Office simply want's to deliver the mail with less effort.

Party On, Wayne

Standard & Poors did a study of the economic aftermath of the 2006 Mardi Gras season and concluded that the anual celebration had a positive financial impact on the city.

Although New Orleans is eager for cash in a revenue stream severely reduced by storm damage, Wall Street responded favorably when thousands of local float riders literally threw away their money during Carnival.

"The turnout for the pre-Lenten street bash -- sparse by historical standards but otherwise successful -- showed that the city, even in its shrunken state, can at least provide minimal support to its important tourist, visitor and convention sector as hotels, restaurants and police services seemed to be in place and working well," the Standard & Poor's review said.
But the report is not all rose-colored glasses.

The need for housing is "stark," future government revenue is uncertain, the number of hotel rooms is recovering but still down 26 percent since Katrina and the number of restaurants is 63 percent fewer, the report said. Only about one-fourth the number of pre-Katrina conventions are expected this year. Any expansion in business will be constrained by labor shortages.

The work force for the New Orleans area has declined 32 percent, and the jobless rate, though down since November, is at 8.2 percent, well above the 5.8 percent before the storm. Still, a "dearth of community resources," such as schools and hospital beds, is a concern, the report said.

"Over the next six to 10 weeks, we believe that the Gulf region, and New Orleans in particular, will face critical choices in deciding how to rebuild infrastructure, restore the tax base, and whether to refinance some troubled public sector debt," said Alexander Fraser, Standard & Poor's public finance analyst.

I don't believe anyone living in the area underestimates the difficulty of the road ahead, save for our politicians in Baton Rouge, and are braced for the effort.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Red-Headed Step-Levee

When it comes to flood protection, levees are the red-headed stepsons of the Corps of Engineers when compared to dams.

Representatives of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Science Foundation said Monday that some of the problems they think played key roles in the disaster -- low engineering safety standards, lack of rigorous peer review and shoddy maintenance -- are simply not tolerated by the corps when building dams, but are commonplace in levee projects.
I can understand the importance of the due diligence in designing and building dams. Failure of a dam is usualy catastrophic and sudden because they are always under duress. That is, they're always holding back the water.

Levees on the other hand, typically hold back the water only during times of high-water, not all the time. Unfortunately, if a levee fails at a time when the water level is high, the results are the same as a dam break.

Why the Corps of Engineers didn't understand this is beyond me.

Monday, March 20, 2006

101 Chalmettians

Andreas Duany made DPZ's final presentation for the rebuilding of St. Bernard Parish on Friday. The reactions from St. Bernard residents were positive and optimistic about the future of their home.

The crowd of more than 1,000 people packed into the Parish Courthouse in Chalmette applauded Duany's plan during a presentation Wednesday night during which he also unveiled other options to raise homes and create more visually pleasing retail centers.

The exercise that included colorful renderings of what a picturesque St. Bernard could look like -- including raised Victorian-style homes with porches and lush landscaping built around town centers and lakes -- was the result of a nine-day planning process that incorporated input from citizens and leaders from across the devastated parish.

The Parish Council also gave partial approval of the plan.

St. Bernard Parish officials say they will implement parts of a plan presented by town planner Andres Duany that would shrink the footprint of the parish in certain heavily damaged neighborhoods -- but only if the government is able to give residents enough incentive to move from those areas.
And several parish council members said they won't follow a more drastic recommendation that most areas north of West Judge Perez Drive not be redeveloped.

"It's all about money," Council Vice Chairman Joey DiFatta said Thursday. "It's a Utopian plan that is grandiose and beautiful."

It will all depend on the funding, and Parish Council members said they will meet next week to review the plan and see what projects they support that might be eligible for grants.

But as usual, FEMA requirements will become a major sticking-point in the rebuilding process.

Duany's analysis also focused on the parish's housing stock. He said the older homes, such as those built up to the 1940s, are sturdy and well-built and would be worthwhile to elevate and renovate. But the post-war cottages and ranch-style homes built on slabs are not worth saving and should be demolished, he said.

While it would cost about $20,000 to $30,000 to elevate a cottage built on piers, raising a slab home would cost about $80,000 to $100,000, Duany told the audience Wednesday. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency is willing to give homeowners grants of up to $30,000 to raise homes in flood-prone areas, that won't cover the costs of slab homes, which comprise the majority of homes in St. Bernard.

Duany said the more recently built larger slab homes, which he said are sometimes referred to as "McMansions," will hold their value if owners spend the big dollars to elevate them.

All of these questions about elevation assume that FEMA will require homeowners in St. Bernard to raise their homes, but that is not definite. FEMA has yet to release even advisory levels.

What the federal government doesn't understand is that for ordinary citizens, cash-flow is finite. Your average homeowner who lived in a slab-on-grade home, in many cases is stuck with a mortgage on a house that is uninhabitable. FEMA says, just raise your house, we'll even give you $30,000 to do. That leaves the homeowner stuck with the bill for the remaining $50,ooo to $70,000 on top of the mortgage payments.

Now there are some plans in the works to have their mortgages paid, but only up to $150,000. For some larger homes, that money may not cover all the mortgage. Even if it does, the homeowner will have to borrow more money for renovation costs added onto the cost of raising the house.

And to add insult to injury, FEMA can't give a straight answer as to when the updated flood maps will be finalized. Untill then, homeowners are stuck in limbo not knowing how high their homes will need to be raised.

I am in favor, though, of Duany's recommendation that ranch-houses be rebuilt as raised cottages. Modernists out there may accuse me of heresy but there is a logical reason that raised cottages were originally built in this area.

  1. Before WWII, concrete was not that widely used in residential construction. Lumber was much readily available as was the labor to frame the floor platform as well as to build the masonry piers.
  2. Having the house built two to three feet above grade made it less susceptible to frequent flooding.
  3. Although homeowners and contractors were probably not aware of it at the time, but raising houses on piers helped alleviate flooding by allowing floodwaters to flow under the homes instead of being channeled down the streets. And it allowed for some of the floodwaters to be absorbed into the ground under the home. This can't happen with the ranch house.
  4. The crawl space under the house is much cooler than the surrounding air. This helps moderate the temperature in the house during the summer months. Although it can get cold and drafty during the winter.
Though the sketches done by DPZ reflect a south Flordida influence in their individual building, given the fact the south Florida and south Louisiana have a lot in common - a hot-humid climate, Spainish colonialization - makes their proposals a reasonable sense of reality and gives the residents optimism about what their community might become.

Andreas Duany cited St. Bernard's problems that existed prior to Katrina:

"Almost the entire (parish) of St. Bernard is within 12 miles of downtown," he said. "This is the best located real estate outside of New Orleans providing you do a good job."

Citing the parish's stagnant population over the past decade, he added, "Despite your perfect location, your good schools, all these other virtues, you have to admit, people would rather have driven 30 miles (to the north shore) rather than 3½ miles because you were doing essentially such a lousy job of (planning)."

Now that Clamettians have a vision, we'll see if they have the patience to carry it out.

DPZ's charette presentations can be found here and here.

Also, WWL-TV has a video of the story here.

Cajun Bitch Slapped

An editorial in yesterday's Times-Picayune tears the Corps of Engineers a new one. Read on.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ought to be held accountable for deadly mistakes the agency made in constructing the flood protection system for greater New Orleans.

The corps has evaded responsibility so far, despite mounting evidence that the agency ignored its own rules and disregarded sound engineering practices in the construction of canal floodwalls that failed during Hurricane Katrina.

An interim report issued last week by the corps-sponsored task force investigating canal breaches that swamped New Orleans Aug. 29 included language that seemed to be an attempt to exonerate the corps. Task force members say that was not their intent, and they blame the media for blowing the reference out of proportion.

But the task force is the one that said designers of the 17th Street Canal couldn't have anticipated the series of events that led to the failure of the canal's floodwall. If members didn't want to absolve the corps, they shouldn't have included such language -- and shouldn't have highlighted it in the report's executive summary.

And if they were trying to highlight significant findings, they should have pointed to another section. Tucked away in the voluminous report was the finding that one of the main factors in the failure of the 17th Street floodwall -- the weakness of soil under the toe of the levee -- could have been detected. That is a crucial misstep and one that the corps should have detected when floodwall designs were being drawn up. A few basic tests back then could have made a huge difference on Aug. 29.

. . . . . . .

If the design team had done soil borings along the toe of the levee -- as should have been done -- it likely would have discovered the weakness in the layer of clay that the task force says gave way under pressure from Katrina's floodwaters. Had the weakness been found, the threat to safety would have prompted the corps to "have changed the design" of the floodwall, a corps researcher said Thursday.

The acting chief of engineering at the corps' New Orleans office acknowledged that soil borings are normally required to be done at both the center line and the toe of a levee. If soil tests aren't done at the toe of a levee -- where soils typically are weaker -- a formula exists for engineers to estimate the strength of those soils based on borings taken on the center line.

Apparently neither method was used at the spot where the 17th Street Canal was breached, and the dangerously weak soils at the toe of the levee went undiscovered.

Everyone in New Orleans knows what happened because of weaknesses in the floodwall: Lakeview and vast stretches of the rest of the city were submerged when Katrina hit and part of the wall collapsed. The loss of property was almost unfathomable, and the loss of life was all the more heartbreaking because many people who drowned should never have been threatened by floodwaters.

For the task force to characterize the combination of events that led to the destruction of so many New Orleans neighborhoods as unforeseeable is an affront. The missteps on the soil analysis were a major flaw in the construction of the 17th Street Canal. The weakness in the design not only could have been anticipated, it should have been anticipated. Even if other factors that led to the breach were unforeseen, this one certainly should have been.

. . . . . . .

Task force leaders say they are not trying to protect the corps and do not intend to make a value judgment on how the canals were built.

If the task force is determined to maintain an objective stance, though, it should not insert language in its reports that gives the corps an out. If the task force wants New Orleanians to be able to trust its findings, it should not appear to be minimizing or covering up missteps by the corps.

The task force may not be concerned with determining who is at fault in the failure of our flood protection system, but it is vital to the recovery of this region for the corps to acknowledge its mistakes. If the corps is not willing to accept responsibility and change bad practices, it will be difficult for anyone to trust the agency's work. As has been painfully evident with NASA, one deadly disaster does not necessarily lead to a safer program in the future.

Task force members say that their findings are already leading to changes as the corps oversees the rebuilding of our damaged levee system. Soil borings are being done at the toe of the levees, for instance. That is a good step, but it is something that should have been done before.

The corps needs to be shaken up, and anyone who was part of the inferior work that led to the failures of the levee system here should be drummed out of the agency. Congress should make sure that happens.

Floodwalls that were supposed to protect greater New Orleans crumbled when they shouldn't have. Nature didn't do us in. The federal government's Corps of Engineers did.

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Five weeks after Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, K&L Auto Crushers of Tyler, Texas made the City of New Orleans an offer it apparently could refuse but shouldn't have.

Almost seven months after Hurricane Katrina, the Nagin administration still dickers over details of a contract that would gradually rid the cityscape of these vehicular eyesores -- at a cost of $23 million over another six months.

Which makes it of more than passing interest to discover that the largest car crusher east of the Rockies, K&L Auto Crushers of Tyler, Texas, offered in October to do the job in 15 weeks and actually pay the city for the privilege of hauling the junk away. How much? How about $100 per flooded car. With an estimated 50,000 vehicles on the street at that time, the city would have netted $5 million, rather than shelling out four times that sum, as it plans to do now.

K&L's Dan Simpson said he first made his pitch five weeks after Katrina, on a piece of paper that he slipped to Mayor Ray Nagin at one of his boisterous post-flood town hall meetings. Simpson said he'd bring in between five and 10 mobile crushers. Working them six days a week at scattered sites around the city, K&L offered to crumple and haul the vehicles and handle the "remediation," or environmental disposal of gasoline, oil and other hazardous wastes and do all the paperwork.

So instead of making a deal that would have killed two birds with one stone, get rid of abandonded and flooded cars as well as netting a cool million to the cities depleted coffers, the Nagin administration is negotiationg deal to do the the same thing yet cost city coffers upwards of $23 million.

Their initial hesitency was warrented because the ownership of the autos is a legitimate concern. But lawyers made the administration aware of the law that allows the city to sieze abandoned automobiles. Yet the city seems oblivious to its ability to deal with this problem in a way that is fiscally responsible to its taxpayers.

Little Big Picture

Citizens groups in New Orleans are providing the impetus on how the city will be rebuilt. At one end, neighborhood groups are getting together and deciding how their neighborhoods will be rebuilt.

One neighborhood group, Pontilly Civic Association, which combines the neighborhoods of Gentilly Woods and Ponchartrain Park have been organizing charettes "to start creating a grass-roots vision of how Pontchartrain Park and Gentilly Woods should be rebuilt."

Judging from the story, these residents plans could be described as both pragmatic and compassionate to include facilities for the young and the old.

Because Katrina flooded Parkview and Coghill elementary schools, residents agreed it was time to replace the neighborhoods' two aging, flood-damaged facilities with one modern campus. They also said the rebuilding effort should include better social and health services for senior citizens.

Although a new senior citizens center serving the two neighborhoods opened just a few months before Katrina, residents said they want more opportunities for the older residents who founded the neighborhoods.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Bring New Orleans Back (BNOB) Commission appointed by Mayor C. Ray "Willie Wonka" Nagin is looking at the big picture.

As a post-hurricane entity, the commission went far beyond just storm and flood protection.

The committees also have recommended ways to overhaul land-use planning, rebuild neighborhoods, consolidate duplicative elected offices, revive the city's cultural life, reorder its health and public education systems, and modernize the criminal justice system.
Some members went so far as to criticize the moribund political culture of New Orleans.

Michael Cowan, a theology professor at Loyola University who worked on the commission's education and government effectiveness committees, said such a broad approach was necessary because so many problems needed addressing. "A lot of the status quo was a disaster," Cowan said.

Before the Aug. 29 storm, the city's schools were failing, poverty and crime were high, and opportunities for economic advancement and homeownership were low. City government was widely viewed as inefficient, inept and corrupt. The population was declining as young and talented people moved elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Cowan said, "the power structure was so locked in that reform efforts just bounced off it. Good people … gave up."
Fortunately, many of us are not giving up, and like Gen. Custer, we will fight to the last man to save our city.

Old Wives Tales

It has been widely stated and reported that few of south Louisiana and New Orleans residents bother to get flood insurance. However, The Times-Picayune reports that south Louisana has one of the highest rates of participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, public officials and insurance experts predicted that the vast majority of property losses from the most costly flood in U.S. history would be uninsured.

Members of Congress rose up in righteous indignation to scold residents of New Orleans, one of the most vulnerable cities in America, for failing to buy federal flood insurance and then coming hat in hand and asking to be bailed out with federal money.

The irony, now revealed in data painstakingly worked up by aides to Donald Powell, the Bush administration's liaison to the disaster zone, is that Louisiana was a more enthusiastic participant in the National Flood Insurance Program than any other state in the nation.

Even researchers at the Cato Institue have been caught-up in the herd mentality.

"Although flood insurance is heavily subsidized, many -- even most -- property owners in New Orleans do not buy this insurance, expecting the federal government to bail them out whether or not they are insured," said Cato Institute Chairman William Niskanen in testimony to Congress about the disaster in September.

Niskanen was wrong about New Orleans. And like New Orleans, the rest of state also participates heavily in the flood insurance program.

Of the 113,053 single-family homes in Louisiana that sustained hurricane-related flood damage in 2005, at least 72,787 -- 64.4 percent -- were covered by flood insurance, according to Powell's data.

By comparison, just 30 percent of the 28,800 flooded homes in Mississippi had flood insurance.

In fact, neighboring Jefferson Parish has the highest rate in the nation with 84% participation in the flood insurance program.

One of the reasons that those who were not insured were not required to carry flood insurance based on the flood maps developed by FEMA. So the federal government decides which areas are high risk and which areas are not. As far as who lives in a flood plain, unless you live atop a mountain, everyone lives in a flood plain. Its just that some flood plains are at higher risk of flooding than others. And when politicians and bureacrats criticize us for being stupid enough to live in a flood plain that we should be condemned to our fate, we should ask them what flood plain they live in.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

She's A Brick----House

Last month I posted about the popularity (or not) of the "Katrina Cottage. Well now the local paper, The Times-Picayune has a story about it also and it has people wondering why FEMA can't provide them at less cost than the FEMA trailers.

Jake Borrouso of Chalmette lost his home and mother to Hurricane Katrina. He now lives with his girlfriend in a 28-foot trailer in Picayune, Miss.

The quarters are tight, and Borrouso isn't looking forward to spending hurricane season in the trailer.

The trailer "rocks in the slightest wind now. This is ridiculous," Borrouso said.

So after touring one of the small hurricane-proof homes that some are touting as an alternative to trailers, Borrouso left with one question.

"Why not do this in the first place instead of the trailers?" he asked.

State and local officials are wondering the same thing.

Architect Andreas Duany is not happy about the trailers either:

Spending more than $70,000 on a travel trailer is an "absolute scandal and waste of taxpayer money," Duany said. FEMA got "caught with the wrong model and wrong policy."
But FEMA can only offer its usual "hands tied" excuse.

The 1974 Stafford Act, which governs the assistance FEMA offers in the wake of disasters, prevents the agency from spending money on permanent residential construction. Furthermore, the thousands of manufactured mobile homes that FEMA set up in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 remain today as blighted communities, something state and federal officials want to avoid.

Mark Misczak, FEMA's Louisiana human services branch director, who has primary responsibility for housing, said he's asked Washington to make an allowance for permanent structures, but the answer has always been no.

But the aesthetics of the cottages are not the only things that are appealing. The can also be full-fledged permenent houses over time.

The main objective of the Katrina Cottage concept is for it to be a "seed" home that could be expanded into a larger 1,200- or 1,400-square-foot home once the previous structure has been demolished. The expansion would be U-shaped to create a New Orleans-like courtyard.

But on larger lots, the cottages could also be kept in their original small size and used as an apartment or guest house once the main home on the property is repaired.

Although I have to admit that the cottage have one disadvange that the trailer doesn't. In order for the cottages to become permenent, a permenent foundation must be designed and built. And given the soil conditions in SE Louisiana, that means a licensed civil engineer and in many cases, piles which can add several thousands of dollars to cost of the cottage as well as slowing down the delivery process. But even with all that, it still should be cheaper and delivered sooner than the trailers.

Friday, March 17, 2006

No Problem Here, Just Keep Bailing

Last weeks comments by the Corps of Engeneers that the failure of the 17th Street Canal levee could not have been forseen was dealt a blow when yesterday, researchers studying the failures stated that had test borings been done at he toe of the levees would have identified the weak soils in that location.

Lost in the controversy swirling around a government panel's comment last week that the designers of the floodwall could not have anticipated the combination of forces that brought the structure down was its finding that one of the main triggers for that failure -- extremely low soil strengths under the toe of the levee -- would have been detected had the design team done soil borings in that area, an official with the Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday.

Had the weakness at the toe of the levee been included in the analysis system used by the project designers, "The factor of safety would have been (low enough) to where they would have changed the design," said Reed Mosher, a researcher at the corps' Engineering Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., and a member of the corps-sponsored Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force that is investigating the failures. The options considered probably would have included a T-wall, or a much larger levee, he said.

The Corps has repeatedly said through its spokeman that they will accept any determination of the investigation team and report any findings of their own investigation. Neither one of these has taken place. They have engaged in spin, the likes of which would make the Clinton Administration blush, and conducted investigations that amount to little more that a whitewash.

Although the quality of the engineering done by local firms and reviewed by the corps has been the focus of scrutiny since shortly after the walls collapsed, it was pushed from the headlines last week when the task force released an interim report identifying how the walls collapsed and saying the combination of forces responsible could not have been anticipated by the project designers. That provoked criticism from independent investigators.

But this week Ed Link, project director for the task force, said his panel's statements had been misconstrued by the media.

"Our position on this is that, very simply, whoever did the design just did not consider this particular mechanism," said Link, a University of Maryland senior fellow who is head of the corps-sponsored Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force. "We, IPET, made no value judgment whether it should have been considered or could have been considered.

"If that was inferred by our comments, it was inaccurate."


Furthermore, Reed Mosher, a researcher at the corps' Engineering Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., and a member of the corps-sponsored Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, was one of the authors of the paper that described the failure of a floodwall in a 1986 test conducted by the Corps of Engineers.

"We were looking at the design criteria to see if there was a process like this described in the corps' design manuals that (the design team) missed," he said. "We didn't see anything that described this mechanism, that would have alerted (the design team) to look for this when doing their analysis."

Link and Mosher disagreed with Bea and Seed's analysis of the importance of the 1986 study. Mosher, who analyzed the E-99 report, said it was not designed to look at levee stability, but at how much a sheet pile "moved at the top as water increased."

The fact that the test also showed there was evidence of tension cracking and high pressure at the toe of the wall was not given much attention at the time, Mosher said, "because the study was not designed to look at the stability of the levee." He also said the evidence of cracking and increased pressure was minimal.

So let's see if I get this right. The Corps of Engineers conducts a study to investigate not levee stability but movement of the sheet piles. According to the independent study group, movement of the top of the sheet piles caused instability within the levee. Therefore, the results of the 1986 study should have had no impact on the design of the New Orleans floodwalls.

I guess because the Corps of Engineers are a government organization that it's employees get away with saying that it's not their fault that their work is shoddy.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

Bellsouth is in the process of repairing and upgrading its communications infrastructure in New Orleans and is, according to it's estimates, approximately 85% complete.

However, the best news is that once complete, New Orleans communications will be brand new.

About 2 million feet of damaged copper cable and attached network facilities have been removed. Villar said technicians are upgrading the networks with fiber optic cable and accompanying digital electronics. The fiber optic cable, he said, has unlimited bandwidth and is less susceptible to water intrusion. BellSouth has also deployed 26 portable subscriber loop carriers, temporary network facilities that enable service to areas where permanent repairs are still needed.
In addition to Bellsouth's repair work, the city has installed WiFi networks throughout much of the city and plans on expanding citywide in the future.

On a related issue, New Orleans City Business reports that VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocal) is growing in popularty. For those not familiar with VoIP, those TV commercials for Vonage is VoIP.

Darryl d’Aquin, president of New Orleans-based technology services firm CommTech Industries, said VoIP has been popular for some businesses in the New Orleans area because post-Katrina they are looking for that option of allowing employees to work from remote locations.

“They can take their telephone numbers with them and do business literally on the road via laptop computer or handheld device,� d’Aquin said. “There has been a larger interest in that because the technology has matured quite a bit and the most important part with disaster recovery is that Voice Over IP solutions can be designed to be mobile.�

Had our firm been utilizing VoIP prior to Hurricane Katrina, setting up our temporary offices and and communicating with a dispersed staff would have been much easier.

After evacuating on the Saturday after the storm, we had assumed it would have been the usual evacuation. Spend a few days with my parents near Baton Rouge, make a couple trips to the mall and head back home a few days later. Not!

When it became obvious that the evacuation would be for much longer, thoughts quickly turned to work. The only number I had for my bosses were the work numbers. Don't call and expect someone to pick -up. If the firm has utilized VoIP, a simple call to the office number (assuming someone evacuated the equipment) and communications within the office staff would have been quickly established. Instead, someone established a Yahoo Message Group and informed everyone via their personal email.

Again, back to the internet.

Another One Bites The Dust

Newcomb College will be closing its doors effective July 1. According to the Times-Picayune.

Newcomb College will cease to exist July 1, but a report to be presented today to Tulane University's governing body calls for keeping the Newcomb name alive, as well as the programs that the 120-year-old college has devised for enhancing the education of undergraduate women.

The elimination of Newcomb, the nation's oldest degree-granting college for women within an established university, has touched off protests on campus, as well as petition drives and indignant e-mails from alumnae across the country. The change is part of Tulane President Scott Cowen's strategy of layoffs, cuts and departmental consolidations to restructure the university, which sustained about $150 million in Hurricane Katrina-related property damage to its Uptown and downtown campuses and lost about $153 million in tuition and other income because Tulane was closed from late August until mid-January.
I'm not that familiar with Newcomb College but I'm sure its demise will not have as negative affect on New Orleans as the closing of Tulane or UNO would however the closing of any institution of higher learning is always sad to see. On the bright side, Newcomb's closing will probably put Tulane in a better situation financially.

Suprise, Suprise, Suprise

FEMA wasted millions of dollars in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, according to the GAO.

The government wasted millions of dollars in its award of post-Katrina contracts, including at least $3 million for 4,000 beds that were never used, auditors said Thursday.

The five-page briefing paper by the Government Accountability Office, set to be released later Thursday, blamed poor planning and bad communications.

It offers the first preliminary overview of the soundness of contracts — including those awarded without competition — after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast in August.

Waste and mismanagement were widespread due to a lack of staffing and disorganization by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, the report concluded.

"The government's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita depended heavily on contractors to deliver ice, water and food supplies; patch rooftops; and provide housing to displaced residents," the report said. "FEMA did not adequately anticipate needs."

From the Times-Picayune.

Looter Wanted


Representative Jerry Lewis (R) CA is wanted for the looting of federal funds intended for the rebuilding efforts of hurricane ravaged victims in south Louisiana.

Do not attempt to apprehend as his Secret Service detail can be extreemly aggresive.

If you know of his werabouts, please give him as severe tongue-lashing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Put On A Happy Face

Critics of New Urbanism are calling their philosophy "smiley-face architecture". DPZ was scheduled to unveil their charette results for Arabi earlier this evening (more on that later). And, according Andreas Duany, his group wants to do a charette for New Orleans also but has not received an invitation.

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission's (BNOBC) building committee issued its first planning report in January (Record, February 2006, page 26) after a lengthy investigation by Philadelphia-based architects and planners Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT). The plan, still in-development, incorporated environmental assessment of the region and noted prime rebuilding opportunities. Lacking rigid design guidelines, the report focused on a "neighborhood-center model," organized around central green spaces and main streets. The BNOBC will conduct subsequent planning workshops in several New Orleans neighborhoods.

Because its promised FEMA funding recently fell through, the BNOBC planning effort is now being funded largely by the LRA, and its non-profit LRA Support Organization. But Kroloff insists that the state's planning team will not play a role in New Orleans, despite Duany's expressed desire to take part. "We have a plan here that will work. We don't need anybody else coming in to be a part of it," he says. Kroloff says he agrees with many CNU planning ideas, like walkable downtowns and public transportation. But he dislikes the CNU's pattern books, which he says are too proscribed, and too often reference the past. "We can learn from the past to create a new vernacular. New Orleans has done that all along," he says.

Boy, if that doesn't sound like taking your ball and going home. Reed Kroloff and his fellow Modernists need to get over themselves. They need to realize that people choose to live in New Orleans, not because of its modern architecture (which has very little), but because of its Old World charm. For some reason these guys think that they can build an Amsterdam on the Mississippi and people will appreciate it. Don't count it.

That's not to say that Modernism has no place in the rebuilding effort. Several hospitals in New Orleans will need to be torn down due to serious flooding. Perhaps the Modernists can come up with proposals for a slick, new VA or Charity hospital. Maybe the city will want to consider building a new City Hall. Surely Modernists can come up with something that symbolizes New Orleans rebirth.

Instead, Reed Kroloff sits in his position of authority blocking efforts to establish a democratic process all the while jet-setting off to Europe and meeting with various "starchitects" and designing something that looks about as sensitive to its surroundings as Bigfoot in a midget convention. Furthermore, some Modernists have the chutzpah to call the DPZ charettes "undemocratic".

Some critics have complained about the active participation of the Congress for New Urbanism, which Duany helped found, in both Mississippi and Louisiana. In Record's March issue, Michael Sorkin called the CNU's methods "undemocratic," and labeled the group's historicist style "smiley-face architecture." Duany commented that such critiques are often based on lack of understanding. "It's a caricature. They still say New Urbanism is about picket fences," says Duany, who says he proposed some Modern-styled houses at one of the recent charrettes, albeit to a poor response.
So maybe I should play King Soloman here and come up with an acceptable solution. Allow the New Urbanists to participate in charettes with New Orleans residents on how to revitalize their neighborhoods. The Modernists can propose from on-high, a new downtown, medical districts and government center. That way the residents can live in a neighborhood of their own liking, the Modernists can pretend that ordinary really care about what they think and all of south Louisiana dream about a new skyline for New Orleans that will probably never happen.

Quarter-Back, Half-Back, Full-Back?

The RAND Corp. has released a study today that predicts that half of New Orleans approximately 484,000 residents will return by 2008.

The citywide estimates stand in contrast to much more optimistic projections by Nagin, who has repeatedly said New Orleans will hit the 300,000 mark by the end of this year. Nagin said he stands by his projections.
I wonder where Mayor "Willie Wonka" is getting his numbers from since the study quoted above is from a think tank that his own commission hired. One also has to question the usefullness of any of these studies since no one really knows what will happen short-term, much less long-term.

One prediction, though, is well founded in common-sense that is so uncommon in academe.
By contrast, the report's authors believe population in unflooded areas will reach 110 percent of pre-Katrina density by 2008, while areas that had minor flooding of less than 2 feet will reach their full pre-Katrina population levels. However, those two categories comprise less than a third of the city.
The study also points out a couple of impediments to recovery:
But the biggest obstacle to repopulation by far, the study says, is the lack of housing. The report says the city would grow much more quickly if City Hall were able to streamline its permitting process, something city officials say already has been done.
This is where I wonder where RAND is getting its information from. I've posted earlier that Safety & Permits has streamlined it permit process. In many cases, one merely has to submitt an application. The real impediment to recovery is our state and federal government.

So to use a football analogy, the Saints offense is facing an eight-man "D" line and yet insist on running up the middle or or when they do attemp a pass, ends up being an "Aaron Brooks" forward pass. Saints fans will know what I'm talking about.

The only difference is that the Saints will be getting rid of Aaron Brooks and replacing him with Drew Brees. We're stuck with "Drew a" Blanco for the next two years.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Corps Says "D'oh!"

National Science Foundation's Independent Levee Investigation Team pointed to a test done twenty years ago that shows the soil conditions in south Louisiana were inadequate to support floodwalls like the ones built at the 17th Street Canal.

On Friday, the Corps task force set up to investigate the failures reported that the breach at the 17th Street Canal was the result of water working its way in between the floodwall and the earthen levee into which it was set, and of soft subsurface clay. Once the levee split, the force of the high water pushed the floodwall, and the half of the levee behind it, backward on the clay, the corps task force said.

The corps called it an unforeseen combination of events that split the earthen levee and toppled the floodwall.

But Raymond B. Seed and Robert G. Bea, in charge of the National Science Foundation's Independent Levee Investigation Team, said Monday that the results should have been foreseen, given the results of a 1985 test done near Morgan City in south-central Louisiana. The test was done at an Atchafalaya Basin levee and floodwall system built to test whether a design similar to that of the 17th Street Canal levee and floodwall would work.

The test ended when — with water nearly 8 feet high along the test floodwall — sheet piles supporting it inside the levee began tilting backward, "indicating that failure was imminent," the statement said.

"Not only did they have that in their repertoire of information, they failed to use it, as best we can tell," Seed said in a telephone interview from the University of California at Berkeley.

A spokesman for the Corps of Engineers, shown above, gave the Corps response. "D'oh!"

To Stay Or Not To Stay, That Is The Spray-Paint

Its bad enough that the Corps of Engineers don't know how to build sound levees, but according to the Times-Picayune, the Corps doesn't even know what Live Oak trees can remain around the outflow canals.

In marking the trees for removal two weeks ago, contractors working for the Army Corps of Engineers contended "the roots would damage the levee and they'd have to be removed," Harper said.

The intervention was timely. The trees may still be felled, but for the time being, the orders for their elimination have been declared a glitch, the result of a "miscommunication" between the corps and the contractor who sprayed the X's on the trees, said Victor Landry III, liaison between the corps and the city.

The trees should have been sprayed with white dots, "saying the tree was inventoried and should stay," Landry said.
Maybe we should put this guy in charge of flood protection:

Stop! In The Name Of Modernism

Reed Kroloff

John at Veritas et Venustas gives Reed Kroloff a thorough pen-lashing over Kroloff's opposition to New Urbanism's influence in rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

I've never met Kroloff and don't know his motives, but up until now, he's been extremely effective at keeping New Urbanism out of New Orleans, without offering any real planning himself. He has been outspoken, highly visible (NPR, CNN, USA Today) and quite vitriolic towards New Urbanism. As I've said elsewhere, I think his 15 minutes are about up.
Unfourtunately, Reed Kroloff's views are not unusual in academe:
But where his time is not up is in academy. I missed the day he spoke at Columbia, but the next day at Princeton all the professors who spoke expressed the need to keep New Urbanism out of New Orleans (see here). You can imagine what they're saying to the students. I think our best students are often being narrowly and badly educated, and that's a problem.
An old saying goes, "Lead, follow or get out of the way". Reed Kroloff and his avant garde accolites insists on doing the fourth; standing in the way.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

If You Want Something Done Right...

Reed Kroloff's new New Orleans

Neighborhood organizations in New Orleans, frustrated by the slow - or no - progress from the government, are organizing their recovery on their own. According to the Times Picayune;
...Broadmoor residents, like grass-roots community groups all across the city, are moving ahead on their own without waiting for the expert-laced planning exercise promised by Nagin's commission. They are polling residents, creating planning committees and enlisting the help of an unnamed Ivy League university in writing a redevelopment plan.

Fearing they may lose control of what happens to their communities - especially with some areas at risk of being declared no longer viable, and subject to clearing - activists in Lakeview, Gentilly and eastern New Orleans are calling meetings, mulling issues, debating what kinds of changes they will favor or oppose.

Much of the work is brainstorming and data-gathering. In some cases it has taken a sophisticated turn, involving architects or planners who donate their time.

"There has been no direction given (from City Hall), so neighborhoods have to fend for themselves," said Latoya Cantrell, president of the Broadmoor group. "We're on our own."
Although it may slow down the recovery effort a bit, the fact that local residents are planning their own recovery makes it more likely that the revitalized neighborhood will be more to their liking.

But it seems that one of the major impediments may be a fellow architect. Reed Kroloff, dean of Tulane's School of Architecture, has a big-time burr up his ass when it comes to New Urbanism.
Kroloff, an enthusiast of modernist architecture, abhors the "new urbanism" embraced by Duany's team, an architectural style that embraces small-town touches evocative of an earlier era when cars were fewer and urban living less anonymous. Kroloff has made clear that he doesn't want the state consultants to gain a New Orleans beachhead.
Kroloff is well know in architecture circles in New Orleans as one of Modernisms heaviest "Kool-Aide" drinkers. It must drive him to batty when he hears that Andreas Duany recieves standing ovations from small town residents like Erath when he uveils his plan for the rebuilding of their new towns while Reed sits in his Ivory Tower plotting Modernisms next great coup.

Got Snow?

Sen. Bob Bennett (R) Utah suggested that certain parts of New Orleans shouldn't be rebuilt.

Sen. Bob Bennett suggested this week that parts of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans not be rebuilt and that Hurricane Katrina may have been a sign that some neighborhoods - those below sea level - shouldn't exist.
If my high school geography serves me well, certain parts of Utah sit at a pretty high altitude and is subject to frequent snow.

My retort to Sen. Bob; What parts of Salt Lake City should not exist?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Shining Towns On A Hill

Louisiana Speaks has posted DPZ's charettes for south-west Louisiana here.

South Acadiana charette.

Lake Charles charette.

Downtown Lake Charles charette.

Seymour D. Fair attended the Arabi charette and has comments at The Third Battle of New Orleans.

Duh, We Didn't Know It Was Going To Do That

The Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force has released it's report on the cause of the failures of the 17th Street Canal floodwall and the conclusion is that nobody could have known what was going to happen.


Although independent analysts have blamed the 17th Street Canal failure on faulty engineering, including flawed soil investigations by local firms, the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, composed of experts from academia and industry as well as state and federal agencies, said evidence points to forces that came together in a combination unique to the science and thus could not have been anticipated by the system's design teams.
This conclusion could only be reached if the faulty engineering is ignored. After all, how was the Corps of Engineers supposed to know that it's engineers were incompetent.

The draft report can be found here.