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".

Quote:
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.

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