Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Don't Know Much About Hydrology

The Corps of Engineers is still engaging in ass-covering by proposing that most of New Orleans flooded due to overtopping and not levee breaches.

While the Corps of Engineers contends that most of the damage from floods in the New Orleans area resulted from water topping levees, an analyst at Louisiana State University says that 87 percent of the flooding in the area was because of levee breaches and only 13 percent was from water flowing over the tops of the levees.
This excuse will hold water about as much as Corps of Engineers levees. It doesn't take a hydrologist to figure out that levee breaches flooded parts of the city that would not have flooded had the breaches not occured. The fact of the matter is that some of worst flooded areas of the city, such as Lakeview and Gentilly, were flooded by levees that were breached and NOT overtopped. Even Congress was take aback.
His remarks stunned some members of the committee who have attributed much of the flooding, particularly in Lakeview, Gentilly, Old Metairie and many areas in Orleans Parish and downtown, to breaches in the 17th Street and London Avenue outfall canals, which were not overtopped.


Ivor van Heerden, assistant director of the LSU Hurricane Center and a member of the Team Louisiana group that has been probing levee failures independent of the corps, said the corps' presentation is wrong.

"The corps seems to have taken a step backward and seems to have taken the approach of denial, once again," van Heerden said.

Breaches caused by overtopping must be counted as breaches and as faulty design by the corps, Van Heerden said.

"It's design, design, design," he said.

Van Heerden said storm surge models show 16 percent of the volume of water in the Orleans metro bowl, basically the area west of the Industrial Canal, was from overtopping, and the rest from breaches. Breaches were responsible for 92 percent of the flood water volume in St. Bernard Parish and 65 percent in eastern New Orleans, he said.

Overtopping would have occurred for up to three hours the day of the storm, totaling nowhere near the amount of sustained water flowing in because of breaches, he said.


Rogers said the corps' focus on overtopping and levee height misses the point.

"When you build something to a certain level, and not the maximum level, then it has to be Category 3 survivable," Rogers said. "It's not just about Category 3 height, it's about Category 3 survivable."

To sum up the Corps response; sure we screwed up but our big screw-up didn't do as much damage as our little screw-up.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bottoms Up

Brooks’ Seahorse Saloon has been open in Mid-City since November and business is looking up according to CityBusiness.

“Business has never been better,� Brooks said. “We’re getting a lot of the workers in town and most of the crime and trouble in the area is gone. If Mardi Gras was any indication, Jazz Fest should be huge.�
Let's hope this trend continues.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Is MR-GO Here To Stay?

Many residents of New Orleans East and St. Bernard would like to see the MR-GO go away, however:

Almost all proposals to close the MR-GO -- and there are many -- actually would keep the channel open in some fashion. Several proposals would add gates to control storm surges. Others involve restoration projects to shore up the waterway's banks, and the reduction of the channel's 40-foot depth to anywhere from 12 to 28 feet. But the MR-GO, originally 650 feet across and now as wide as 2,000 feet in some stretches, still would be there. Filling it in and turning the clock back to 1957 is not considered a viable option.
According to the article, the closing and filling in of the MR-GO appears unlikely. Most of the proposals are for letting Mother Nature take its course and allow it to silt-in or maintain channel depth adequate for shallow-draft vessles to navigate.

For now, the corps, which built and maintains the channel, has requested $350 million for a pair of navigable floodgates that could be closed when major storms threaten the region. One would be at the Paris Road bridge along Interstate 510 north of Chalmette, the other at the Seabrook Bridge near Lakefront Airport, at the back end of the Industrial Canal where water flowing through the MR-GO enters Lake Pontchartrain.

The floodgate at the Paris Road Bridge would be at least 36 feet deep, said the corps' Al Naomi, leaving unsettled the question of whether the channel should be shallower. Naomi said that depth is needed to accommodate operations to the east of the bridge along the Michoud Canal, but would not preclude a shallower MR-GO in the future.

The corps has said levees near the floodgates will be raised to handle any added stress caused if storm surges get bottled up against the gates. No particulars have been offered, and St. Bernard officials fear their parish could get swamped again if the floodgates are built and the levees don't hold.

Gates may be adequate as a temporary solution to the risk of storm surge but New Orleans and St. Bernard need a much longer solution for the problem of salt-water intrusion into the surrounding marshes.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Raise Me Up Before You Go Go

In response to FEMA's new elevation guidlines, the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans is opposing the measure.

The Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans is criticizing a federal recommendation that badly damaged homes be raised at least 3 extra feet above the ground, saying it’ll add 10 percent to 15 percent to the cost of building a new home.

The new elevation recommendations were made last week as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s preliminary flood map advisory. Though preliminary — the final guidelines take effect in 2007 — the recommendations give homeowners an early indication of the elevation requirements they will likely be forced to meet when rebuilding houses that require repairs costing more than 50 percent of the home’s value. The guidelines also apply to new residential construction.

But the home builders group says the cost of elevating three feet could prohibit some owners from repairing their homes and price some buyers out of the market.

“This one-size-fits-all approach arbitrarily raises the flood elevations in areas that are already well above flood levels,� said Toni Wendel, president of the group. “It may also unnecessarily increase the costs of rebuilding homes that may not need to be elevated to the levels suggested by the maps.�
The home builders do have a point. But before they commit fully to the battle, they should see if homeowners can have all or some of the added cost offset by savings in insurance rates. FEMA should also consider providing grants to homeowners who rais their homes elevation. After all, FEMA has a dog in this fight too.

We find out later in the article that the 3-foot rule is only temporary.
Homeowners and home builders who don’t want to bear the cost of the 3-foot elevation do have an option: wait until 2010, said FEMA spokesman Ross Fredenburg.

Once the levees are repaired — a process that is expected to be complete by 2010 — the 3-foot elevation requirement will be suspended, Fredenburg said.

FEMA believes that “the 3-foot minimum is a reasonable level of standard, given the current level of protection, temporary nature of the risk and commitments of the (Bush) administration to restore the (levee) system,� Fredenburg said.
Furthermore, it's not FEMA that has the final word on home elevations.
Some municipalities and parishes may allow owners of homes built after 1984 to rely on the 1984 flood plain maps until the new advisory maps are made official in 2007. But Jon Luther, executive vice president of the New Orleans home builders group, said many parishes probably will adopt the new elevation recommendations in an effort to give builders the guidelines they need to move forward.
So once again, homeowners are left in limbo. We've been waiting for seven months for the flood maps to be issued and all we get is an advisory. Even then, it is up to the local jurisdictions to decide which advisories to adopt. Leaving the homeowner, once again, in a waiting game for someone to decide what needs to be done with their house.

Open Up, In The Name Of Medicine

The City of New Orleans is looking to taking over some of the currently shuttered hospitals and open the up on their own.

A bill designed to speed the reopening of Methodist Hospital and Lindy Boggs Medical Center in New Orleans by making them public entities sailed through a House committee late Thursday.

House Bill 515 by Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, D-New Orleans, would set up a hospital service district in Orleans Parish similar to the quasi-government structures that oversee West Jefferson General Hospital in Marrero and similar public hospitals.
I wonder if Rep. Jefferson-Bullock has any idea the amount of work that has to go into a flooded hospital to open it up again. Just to mention a few things that needs to happen:
  1. Damage assesment. This could take a few weeks at best.
  2. Programming. Determining what will compromise the new facility.
  3. RFQ - requesting qualifications from design professionals.
  4. Award the project to professionals.
  5. Design - Schematic, Design Development and Construction Documents. The whole process could take three months.
  6. Bidding. This would take several weeks.
  7. Pre-Constructon. The winning contractor would need a couple of weeks to mobilize.
  8. Construction. This is hard to say without a damage assesment but at best is would be about six months to over a year.
  9. Owner move-in. Give the hospitals a couple of weeks to move-in and then maybe two more weeks to get ready to accept patients.
If Rep. Jefferson-Bullock thinks that the only problem with the hospitals is that it needs a good cleaning, she belongs in one, preferably one with padded walls.

She may not be aware, but Lindy Boggs was built with a basement which contained the mechanical equipment and the kitchen. It's kinda hard for a hospital to function without these. The mechanical equipment will have to be completely replaced and constructed in a location above the first floor. This would be a big job and will not happen overnight.

The other problem with this proposal is that the issue of Charity Hospital is not yet resolved. Some camps suggest that it should be rebuilt. Others believe that the state of Lousiana should get out of the Charity hospital buisiness altoghether. If Charity is rebuilt, I'm not sure there will be a need for a city owned hospital system.

Bridging The Gap

Contractors doing repairs on the Chef Menteur Pass bridge additional damage than previous known.

Workers from Coastal Bridge, the Baton Rouge-based contractor working on the repairs, discovered a tension crack on the bridge’s east bank in early March. A Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development investigation found tidewaters had caused deep scouring, washing away soil from the shore and bridge supports.
The fact that problems are being identified and corrected are a departure from the way things used to be done in south Lousiana. Let's keep it up.

I Got That Empty Feeling In The Pitt Of My City

Actor Brad Pitt has played many roles in his short career. But never an architect; untill now. Only this time it wont be on the big screen.

On April 19th Brad Pitt and Global Green USA announced the Sustainable Design Competition for New Orleans Neighborhoods. The competition launched to act as a catalyst for sustainable design in the rebuilding process.
If Hurricane Katrina wasn't bad enough, New Orleans is now being victimized by any number of activists looking to advance their own persona on the backs of storm victims.

My advice to Mr. Pitt, keep following Anjolina around like a lost puppy and leave the rebuilding to locals and professionals who actually care about New Orleans.

Gentilly, My Lilly

The Times-Picayune finally has an article about the Gentilly Charette.

The media-savvy, 56-year-old Duany, who long ago gathered accolades and a measure of scorn after his design of the quaint Florida town Seaside, is tackling myriad planning questions in Gentilly. He is presiding over hearings, including one Thursday night, and work by dozens of volunteer architects and planners from around the country -- adherents of a New Urbanist movement that favors traditional city patterns friendly to pedestrians.

Duany wasn't asked by the LRA or Mayor Ray Nagin's recovery commission to lavish advice on Gentilly, still largely devoid of population. But he and a bevy of associates were pleased to be invited in by the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, a key player in a grass-roots New Orleans planning movement.

Finally, local residents are taking the tiger by the tail in revitalizing the neighborhoods.

So what are Duany's goals?

  • "Try to salvage the dysfunctional and abandoned St. Bernard HUD housing project and, failing that, demolish and redesign it so that it works for people."
  • "Study the master plans for the universities of UNO, Dillard, Southern, improve them, and embed them into a functioning urban fabric." His references are to the University of New Orleans, Dillard University and Southern University at New Orleans.
  • "Consider the redesign of the existing, damaged, suburban houses which are in the majority in Gentilly in order to move them successfully toward a more urban condition."
The final presentation by Duany is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at St. Leo the Great Church on Paris Avenue.

As soon as the results are posted on the internet I'll provide a link.

Gut(ter) Politics

The New Orleans City Council has passed a law that sets August 29, 2006 for homeowners to gut their flooded houses.

The ordinance was introduced by Councilman Jay Batt, who said ravaged, mold-infested houses, especially if not boarded up, can become "environmental biohazards" that will slow the recovery of whole neighborhoods by discouraging nearby owners from moving back or making repairs.

The ordinance, approved 7-0, says "every owner of a dwelling or dwelling unit shall be responsible for mold remediation, cleaning, gutting and properly securing the premises of all properties" damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita "in a manner so as to render the premises environmentally sound and not open to the public."

The owner "shall take appropriate measures to complete this work as soon as possible, but no later than Aug. 29, 2006," the measure says.

If an owner does not take action, the building will be declared a public nuisance "and shall be abated by repair, rehabilitation, demolition or removal," the ordinance says.

Some critics might think it unfair to place a deadline on people given the circumstances many are in. But gutting a house is not impossible for most people. Nor is it expensive. No skills are required. Just a few people willing to get dirty.

A provision in the law should quiet the critics:

Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt said many homeowners want to return to New Orleans but have yet to receive insurance settlements or other needed aid. At her suggestion, Batt's ordinance was amended to provide a process for reviewing hardship cases.

Chief Deputy City Attorney Evelyn Pugh said that when a notice is sent out telling an owner that his property is being considered for designation as a public nuisance, information on the review process will be included.

The real purpose of this measure is to ensure that neighborhoods don't become large swaths of blighted property.

But then, what happens to the condemned property is another matter.

If an owner does not take action, the building will be declared a public nuisance "and shall be abated by repair, rehabilitation, demolition or removal," the ordinance says.

Well that answers that question, but what then?

  • Who will repair the property and what becomes of the property once repaired?
  • Who will rehabilitate the property and what becomes of the property once repaired?
  • If demolished, what becomes of the land the property sits on?
  • If removed, where will it be moved to?
I think the city council is making this process more complicated than it needs to be. There are already laws on the books that allows the city to confiscate blighted property and place it on the auction block. The new owner has a certain amount of time to rehabilitate their new property. The new law really only needs to place a deadline in which the old law comes into play.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Shrinking City On A Hill

Youngstown, Ohio has a similar to problem to New Orleans - no, 80% of Youngstown didn't flood - in that it has a shinking population and therefore the city must shrink in size. There the similarities end.

For one, Youngstown decline has occured over time with people choosing to live elsewhere. In New Orleans, people were forced to move away overnight and most still wish to return. That doesn't mean that we can't learn from Youngstown's study of how to deal with it's steady decline.

Last year Youngstown 2010--a partnership between the city's planning department and Youngstown State University--unveiled a comprehensive plan to reduce nonessential infrastructure, attract new businesses, and rehab deteriorated and abandoned spaces. In fact Youngstown is the first city in the United States to adopt this disarming approach to the problems of population decline. "It's politically and professionally uncomfortable to face the shrinkage of a city or region, even though it may be staring you in the face," says Frank Popper, an urban-planning professor at Rutgers and Princeton universities. "I think it's enormously brave and creative and innovative of Youngstown to be taking on this task."
One of the city's conclusions was to recast itself.
But if Youngstown's residents don't need housing, people from neighboring regions do. Ultimately the city may have to surrender to its location and become a bedroom community for Cleveland and Pittsburgh, each about 70 miles away. So in the end growing smaller may transform Youngstown into something else, says Charles Waldheim, a University of Toronto architecture professor who participated in the most recent Shrinking Cities conference. "To the extent that northeastern Ohio has a market for housing," he says, "it seems that Youngstown's future is making itself available for the garden living of the suburb."
New Orleans problem is the opposite. A majority of the city's housing was rendered uninhabitable overnight and a large portion of that housing will not return anytime soon but many are trying.

During the mayoral campaign, a number of candidates hinted at shrinking the size of the city but none, with the exception of Rob Couhig, has proposed how this might be accomplished. Mr. must have been reading blog because he recommends stopping the city limits at the Industrial Canal. Unfourtunately some of the other candidates accuse him of wanting to deny some citizend of their civil rights.

Enough of the Bluster.

The city has within its means to simply unincorporate that portion of the city deemed not viable. Essential services would then be provided by the parish. The Sheriff would take on a more traditional role of law-enforcement, rather than just being the jail keeper. The education system is already parishwide. Fire protection could be provided by numerous volunteer fire departments. Sewer and water could also be provided by the parish as well as other functions such as the court system, garbage collection, street maintenence, permits and inspections.

Some might say this cenario is wasteful and redundent. Maybe, but Jefferson Parish operates this way and is quite prosperous. The real advantage of shrinking the city limits is that it will reduce the demands on city government allowing an already bloated government to shrink to better fit the size of the city.

This more efficient government could allow for lower taxes and create a more friendly enviroment for new businesses, better schools, more crime prevention and less corruption. These are all ingredients for a growing city, not a shrinking city.

So you see, in order to grow the city, we must first shrink the city.

Pomp And Circumstance

Local universities are outpacing, no lapping, the city when it comes to recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

Tyler Cowen and Daniel M. Rothschild report in on their recent visit to the Big Easy and come away with the following conclusions.

In the realm of higher education, the cultural renewal of New Orleans is well under way. Unlike the city itself, New Orleans' universities are almost back to normal, with some creative adjustment. Dillard University, the worst hit, is teaching out of the Hilton on Poydras Street. Tulane will be running a second spring term starting in mid-May (dubbed, in local parlance, a "Lagniappe Semester") to keep students on track for graduation. Some Loyola faculty members are living in trailers on a university-owned lot in nearby Kenner. But classes are up and running, professors are researching and teaching, and a sense of normalcy dominates.
They also conclude the reasons why.
First, the universities were never wracked by extreme corruption and bad governance. They have continued to pursue success and avoided getting snarled up in questions about who is really in charge. New Orleans must deal with politically divided federal, state, and local governments, but the universities have clear administrative chains of command, starting with their boards and presidents.

The more definite lines of accountability and authority lead to clearer priorities. The universities are focusing on what economists call their comparative advantages—the things they do better than other institutions. Xavier, which produces more African-American pharmacists and med students than any other American university, is redirecting resources to the life sciences and pharmacology. Tulane is eliminating some engineering and doctoral programs and some NCAA sports, and refocusing on teaching. The Tulane administration called in outside experts for an evaluation and then made the necessary spending cuts. Few levels of government in the United States—much less the notoriously inefficient city government of New Orleans—can operate in such a fashion.

Despite these cuts, the universities are doing well by most measures of success. At Tulane, student applications for the 2006-07 freshman class have rebounded to roughly pre-Katrina levels, and most of the pre-Katrina students have returned. Donations are robust and growing. There have been student complaints about the cuts, but it is generally accepted that the school is back on its feet again and did well in a difficult situation.

The city, by contrast, has no sense of what must go and no vision of success. No leaders have articulated a vision for the city that balances the myriad competing local interests. The buck stops nowhere and many officials and citizens seem to wait for Washington to solve every problem. For any specific difficulty, the mayor blames Michael Brown, who blames Secretary Chertoff, who blames Gov. Blanco, who blames President Bush. Nobody is held accountable for failure to lead or failure to enforce the law and protect property rights. And as in any patronage system, a suggestion to cut failing programs is usually dead on arrival. The city sees spending money and delivering contracts to constituents (read: interest groups) as an end in itself.

Universities have also outpaced the city in using canny publicity to generate positive momentum for rebuilding. Xavier sent out surveys to see how many students were coming back and then announced the number, a very respectable 76 percent. In contrast, the city government has done little to help communities generate collective agreement to repopulate and rebuild neighborhoods. It is harder to court these returnees because the government cannot tell people, among other things, what building and insurance regulations they will be returning to, or where infrastructure will be rebuilt and to what extent.

Most importantly, the universities are cohesive communities in a way that New Orleans as a whole is not. The bonds between students, staff, faculty, former students, and the institution are palpable. As one Xavier student said, students would have come back this spring to "rebuild [the school] ourselves if we had to." Alumni have voluntarily contributed millions of dollars to the universities for rebuilding. In contrast, attitudes toward the New Orleans city government are usually those of extreme cynicism—attitudes that have only been amplified by the city's disarray during and after the hurricane.

But the City of New Orleans is not all doom an gloom. We are currently near the end of a mayoral election. If there is one consistent theme the the campaigns is that the old way of doing things has to be a thing of the past. Determining who is sincere and who is not is another matter. The fact that candidates are saying it is significant because they all know that most voter want to hear it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Day A The Snail Race

The housing boom that most people are waiting for is off to a slow start. Some are supprised but they shouldn't.

The new home construction plans announced so far target wealthy buyers, even out-of-towners who might want a "weekend place" in downtown New Orleans. They're being built in the "high and dry" land near the unflooded French Quarter or in a suburb miles away.

When built, they'd replace a fraction of the nearly 250,000 homes in the metro area that were damaged when Hurricane Katrina ripped through in late August and the levees failed, flooding some areas of town with 14 feet of water.

People need to understand that rebuilding over 200,000 homes is like starting a locomitive from a dead stop. It takes a while to get moving.

The holdup for New Orleans is that for that much construction to take place, the contractors need a place to stay nearby. The problem is that there are few places for them to stay. The work being done now is mostly by local contractors and out-of-towners who have found a place to stay for a few weeks. But as more housing units become available, more contractors will be available for hire.

I noticed that in New Orleans East, major work is being done on a large apartment complex near the interstate. Once completed it will be home for construction workers and locals who lost their homes or apartments. Many will be low-income workers that are in high demand in the area.

But we're finally starting to see the wheels turning even if it is at a snails pace.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Brokeback Medicine

A study of Louisiana's healthcare system concluded that the state is woefully out of date and terribly inefficient.

The way Louisiana provides health care is inefficient and outmoded, and the state should move away from its unique two-tiered system and reduce Louisiana State University's management role in the charity hospitals, a draft report commissioned by an arm of the Louisiana Recovery Authority says.

Louisiana's way of paying for health care has created an "overfed and obese" system of private and nonprofit hospitals for those who have insurance, while the 19 percent of residents without coverage are left in the financially strapped system of charity hospitals with long waits to receive basic care, according to the report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
I've always known that the way in the state provides healthcare is antiquated but I just didn't know in what way. Now that the system has been studied, we should have a guide in which to fix, or better yet, recreate it. But some people think that the only thing we need to do is rearrange the bedpans.

Donald Smithburg, who heads LSU's Health Care Services Division, strongly disagreed with the report's contention that Hurricane Katrina had "right-sized" the number of hospital beds in the New Orleans area. University officials are currently in negotiations with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to build a new teaching hospital that would replace Charity and University hospitals.

"(For) the PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm to have thought, let alone write, the notion that we don't need more beds in the New Orleans region is unconscionable to me, and indicates that they really have not absorbed the impact of Katrina and her floods on that area," Smithburg said.

Well, according to the article, the charity system of hospitals were operating at only 54% capacity of their patients, but I'll bet they were staffed at 100%.

What the study was probably referring to is the charity system was right sized, not the entire healthcare system. However, there are shortages in the New Orleans area with certain aspects of healthcare, but not the system as a whole. For example, there are now emergency rooms in New Orleans with the exception of University Hospital which reopened part of its ER at a cost of $91 million. On the other hand, the maternaty ward at Ochsner is no where near capacity.

The real problem that hospitals are having is the influx of indigent and uninsured patients at priviate hospitals. This is creating a financial burden on many organizations.

But the problems are deeper and more broad that that.

Louisiana has the nation's only statewide system of public hospitals, and is also unique in how it pays for health-care services to the poor and uninsured. In other states the burden of caring for the uninsured is shared among the private and public hospitals, and federal dollars that reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care to the uninsured are spread out as well.

In Louisiana, the charity system gets virtually all of the federal "disproportionate share" dollars that compensate hospitals for the free care they provide for the uninsured. But the charities are limited in what they can collect from patients who are insured through Medicaid, and have a poor track record of attracting Medicare and private-pay patients whose care brings the highest reimbursement.

Thus, the poor have not place to go with Charity closed and the private hospitals are not being reimbursed adequately for providing care. As usual, the state government takes care of its own problems and leaves everyone else to fend for themselves.

Fortunately, the study provides some solutions:

-- Permanently assigning post-graduate medical residents to private and nonprofit hospitals, where many have trained since Katrina. Before the storms, the charity system was the training ground for the vast majority of post-graduate residents.

-- Spending $20 million over the next three to five years to create a "digital backbone" of electronic medical records so that people who are displaced in future catastrophes will have easier access to prescription drug information and other key information.

-- Taking "immediate action" to beef up the availability of long-term care beds in southeast Louisiana, so patients can be discharged sooner from hospitals.

-- Developing, financing and implementing a plan within 90 days to deal with an expected rise in mental-health disorders after Katrina. The report estimates that 260,000 adults and 120,000 children will need treatment, triple the pre-storm number, while the availability of care has shrunk dramatically.

Hopefully officials in Baton Rouge will listen and try to figure out what needs to be done to bring Louisiana's healthcare system into the 21st century. But don't hold your breath.

Mod Bod

Because labor and materials are in such short supply in the area, modular homes are becoming the way to go for many flooded homeowners with money but not time.

It can take up to six months to build a home, roughly twice the time it took before Hurricane Katrina, due largely to demand and difficulty in finding materials and labor, said Brown, general manager of L.A. Homes Inc. of Harvey.

Karen Fontana, who has been living in an apartment since her Lakeview home took on 6 feet of water, is not waiting around for busy homebuilders to find time for her.

Fontana is considering a faster and typically cheaper option for rebuilding in her old Lakeview neighborhood — a modular home built in a factory and pieced together onsite in about three months.

But these new builders are not without their critics.

Some traditional homebuilders are worried about the “cookie-cutter� effect they say factory-built housing will have on New Orleans, a city known for its neighborhood charm.

“If people want a quick fix, a quick fix is not what we should be doing right now. New Orleans has been built on neighborhoods. I don’t think the general public wants to change that,� said Toni Wendel, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans.

The critics do have a point, but their not mentioning that many of the neighborhoods in New Orleans that had severe flooding are not what most people would cinsider historic. Gentilly and Lakeview, while they do contain their fair share of "quant" neighborhoods, not all are what might be called "picturesque". Often what is found is block after block of the typical ranch house. So putting modular housing, while maybe changing the character of the neighborhood, may not degredate it such an extent that no one would want to live there.

What I think we will find in the coming decades is that there will be a shift in income levels among New Orleans neighborhoods.

  • The checherboard effect found in much of Uptown will slowly erode due to the price of elevation becoming more pronounced and people begin purchasing houses in poorer areas causing property values in these areas to rise.
  • Lower and more recently developed areas (with the exception of Lakeview due to it's proximity to West-End) will become more middle class as they will not be able to afford the high price of elevation.
  • Lower but earlier developed neighborhoods such as Broadmoor will be the domain of the middle and upper-middle class. Although it received as much as seven feet of water, many of these home were raised on piers and still maintain much of the craftsmanship found in many pre-war homes that so many find attractive.
So the fact that many neighborhoods that flooded and may have an abundance of modular homes probably will not the the "charm" that so many like. But it may bring back the charm in older areas that have seen the ravages of time and neglect.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Political Engineering 101

The LRA's housing program was heavily criticized by the BGR for its plan for revitalizing homes in south Louisiana.

The Road Home program allocates disaster recovery funds for southeast Louisiana under two scenarios.

The baseline scenario assumes federal funding is limited to the $6.2 billion community development block grants already authorized by Congress. A more optimistic scenario adds the additional $4.2 billion of funding under consideration in Congress.

The $4.6 billion of the initial allocation would be dedicated to various housing initiatives, BGR reports, with the balance available for infrastructure and economic development. All supplemental authorization would be devoted to housing.

Unlike Mississippi’s recovery program, which focused on compensating homeowners for their losses, Louisiana’s program directs the lion’s share of recovery resources to low-income housing, BGR claims. Under the baseline scenario, most of the middle class is excluded from participation in the disaster recovery program.
This begs the question, what did the middle-class do to be left out of the rebuilding process? Their sin should be obvious. Polls show little support among the white middle class in this state to re-elect our current governor, Kathleen "Drew a" Blanco, while support among blacks remains strong.

Is this a way of punishing opponents and rewarding supporters? Given the way politics in this state works, don't be supprised if it is.

The BGR's summary may back me up on this.
"The LRA should go back to the drawing board to create a program that uses the federal disaster relief funds for the intended purpose: providing those who have suffered major damage with the means to rebuild their property and lives. Leaving out the middle class, while transferring scarce funds to developers, is unfair and poor public policy."

Puttin' On The Ritz

In December, the New Orleans Ritz-Carlton will reopen its doors to the public.

NEW ORLEANS The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans will reopen in December as a premier luxury hotel.

We are very pleased The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans will be ready to welcome guests once again by year's end," said Simon Cooper, president and CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. LLC. "The road back from Hurricane Katrina has been challenging but the hotel will return better than ever to reclaim its reputation as the finest in the city.

The the hotel, in a national historic landmark building more than 100 years old, will be fully restored with enhancements. Since opening Oct. 6, 2000, The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans has ranked annually as one of the 500 Best Hotels in the World by Travel + Leisure and remained on Conde Nast Traveler Hot List, Gold List and Top North American Hotels lists.

This hotel, situated on the edge of the French Quarter, will have more than 8,000 square feet of meeting space on the first floor in what had been the Gallery of Shops. The hotel has more than 34,000 square feet of meeting space for everything from intimate gatherings to plated dinners for 500.

The hotel sustained extensive basement flooding post-Katrina but new custom-built machinery including air conditioning, laundry and cafeteria equipment will be installed.

Throughout 452 rooms at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans and its hotel-within-a-hotel, The 75-room Maison Orleans, each room will feature in-room gourmet coffee and tea, wireless internet access, 400-thread count linens made of 100 percent Egyptian cotton, enhanced showerheads by Kohler, flat-panel high definition television and luxurious branded amenities from Bulgaria's White Tea line.

The Iberville Suites are expected to reopen in February 2007.

Now if only I had any FEMA money left I'd try to make a reservation.

Even Keel

Cruise ships are beginning to book new cruises for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

Eight months later, the New Orleans Port is ready for cruise ships again and most cruise lines are expected to return by October. Norwegian Cruise Lines is first to return with its Norwegian Sun Oct. 15 to sail seven-day western Caribbean cruises. Carnival has scheduled the Sensation to return to operate year-round four- and five-day cruises this fall while the Carnival Fantasy will return Oct. 26. Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas will return Dec. 2 with seven-night sailings. Michael Sheehan, spokesman for the Royal Caribbean cruise lines, said the company decided to return to New Orleans last October.

Just one more sign that tourism is beginning to return to the Big Easy.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Film At Eleven

John Massengale of Veritas et Venustas has more about the Gentilly Charette here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Oh Raise Me A Home Where The Floodwaters Roam

FEMA has finally released their long awaited flood maps.

How will the revised maps effect the architectural landscape of the region? The following paragraph gives us a glimpse:

In general, the advisories will require homes inside the levee system to be built three feet above the local grade, or at the current required elevation, whichever is higher. The ruling effects new construction and renovation paid for by flood insurance or federal aid when a home suffered more than 50 percent damage.
What we will probably see is that the slab on grade home will become an endangered species and flourishing raised cottages at least in middle-class to lower middle-class neighborhoods. In areas where lot sizes are larger, we'll probably see houses built on three to five or more feet of fill where the homeowner has more resources to spend.

The reason that we see so many slab on grade homes and so few raised cottages is cost. Building a house on piers is more costly than pouring concrete on the ground. For the new FEMA map requirements to not put an undue burden on the middle-class homeowner, contractors, building material manufacturers, engineers and architects need to investigate ways in which the costs of building raised houses could be reduced. If we can do that, people may not be forced to decide between building a home and building a home that will flood.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Culinary Architecture

The New Orleans City Council is hiring its own consulting group to help neighborhoods rebuild.

The council announced Friday that Paul Lambert and Shelia Danzey, its housing and neighborhood planning consultants, have begun working with neighborhoods that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

"Our goal is to respect the planning that has already gone on in the city and engage in recovery planning for the 49 neighborhoods that flooded," Lambert said.

"Our firms will serve as technical consultants to the neighborhood residents, building consensus from the ground up, in order to design true neighborhood plans," Danzey said.

The council passed a motion in December to engage Lambert and Danzey for these services, and it voted recently to spend nearly $3 million in Community Development Block Grant money on the process.

"We are going to insure that the city has a coordinated and community-supported plan to submit to Baton Rouge and Washington for funding," Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt said.

This is something that should have been set in motion long ago. But although the scope of devestation is immense, so is the size of the team.

Working with Lambert and Danzey will be Miami architects and planners Alfredo Sanchez and Deborah Tackett, of Bermello-Ajamil & Partners, and New Orleans architect Lonnie Hewitt.

Sanchez led a neighborhood recovery planning effort for Miami-Dade County after Hurricane Andrew. Hewitt is the lead architect on the Pontchartrain Park and Gentilly Woods neighborhood planning process that began in December.

Other local architects and planners working with the group include Clifton James, Gerald Billes, Byron Stewart, James Washington, Joseph St. Martin, Deron Brown and James Baker. Also on the local team are consultants Silas Lee, who will conduct resident research and surveys; Greg Rigamer, who will provide data, mapping and geographic information systems analysis; and planner Steve Villavaso.

Also involved are Boston designer and planner M. David Lee, a professor of architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design; and city planners Bernardo Zyscovich and Suria Yaffar of Zyscovich Inc. of New York and Miami. Zyscovich Inc. has developed master plans for many cities.

If there is one thing that I know about architects, is that they have egos. And with so many chefs stiring the pot, the kitchen is sure to get hot.

Don't Step On My Blue-Tarp Roof

The U.S. Senate held hearings yesterday looking into the costs associated with relief and recovery efforts by the federal government in response to Hurricane Katrina. Some of the revelations are shocking.

Here are some excerpts:

There were a number of ways, testimony showed, in which costs ballooned. For example, it showed that large companies, already familiar players with federal bureaucracies, who landed gigantic federal contracts in the storm's immediate aftermath, subcontracted from 70 percent to 99 percent of their work. That led to a curious and costly arrangement: overhead and profit margins for the big companies of up to 47 percent, and multiple tiers of subcontractors that sometimes stretched five or six companies deep, said Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Army's auditor general.


"Although it awarded . . . fixed-price contracts, corps contracting officials negotiated higher prices for most task orders issued under three of the four contracts," Fitzgerald said, noting that in some cases the price per cubic yard rose by $4.86 during negotiations.


"Contract files didn't include explanations of how the government estimate was reconciled with the final agreed-to price," Fitzgerald testified.

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock with the Army Corps of Engineers agreed the documentary omission must be rectified, but while Coburn praised Strock's dedication for cutting short a vacation to appear, the senator was clearly irked by the lack of answers Strock and the others provided.


The corps came under fire in other ways, too. St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis opened his remarks by reminding the senators and Jindal, "I have to continue my dealings with the corps and FEMA." He then proceeded to depict them as near-gangsters who force local officials to let the corps handle matters even if the parish already had the issue in hand.

"At one point the corps was in my office, urging me to cancel the (debris-removal) contract and go with them," Davis said. "It was a very uncomfortable situation. I wanted my legal teams there. I finally told them, 'I think we're getting into an area that's very gray and I don't want to be there.' "

As it happened, St. Tammany's in-place contracts when Katrina hit carried prices of between $7 and $14 per cubic yard, at least 50 percent lower than prices paid by the corps, according to most estimates. Davis estimated the savings to taxpayers in St. Tammany alone at $42 million by forgoing the corps' demand to help.


In particular, the senators wanted to know why FEMA hired both the corps, which takes a percentage of the total contract in what amounts to a management fee, and then paid one of the mega-contractors to perform essentially the same role. In effect, testimony showed, FEMA built a thick layer of bureaucracy at the top that skimmed some money before the relief funds entered into the maze of layers below.

Burnette said she was intrigued by the idea. Neither she nor Strock could say what percentage the corps received on the blue roof and debris-removal tasks it handled. Spending to date on those contracts has topped $1.6 billion.


The senators appeared even angrier when FEMA simply blew off the second round of testimony, the one that featured local officials. A stunned Coburn stopped that portion of the hearing after a few minutes and asked whether any representative from FEMA had stayed to listen or take notes. For a moment no one spoke, and then Strock raised his hand.

"No, general, you're with the corps, not FEMA," Coburn said. "No one from FEMA stayed around to listen to this and hear what's going on? That's part of the problem right there."

The last paragraph is quite illuminating.

What this hearing is shaping up to show is that the government, that is empowered by the people, instead of using taxpayer money for the purpose of providing relief to its citizens that are suffering, is, for the most part, just moving money around from agency to agency and claiming that the money is going to help us. Well its not.

In the meantime, the Gulf Coast continues to pull itself up by its own blue-suede boot straps.

More here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

View Carre'

The City of New Orleans agreed to allow development of four miles of riverfront property that the city currently owns.

At the first quarterly board meeting of the New Orleans Building Corp., the agency that acts as landlord for city-owned property, the board unanimously authorized Mayor C. Ray Nagin to sign an agreement to open 4 miles of property from Jackson to Polland avenues to developers.

The agreement calls for the city and Port to share revenues generated by development. All proceeds from nonmaritime uses will be split between the city and the Port, 75 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

In late February, the Port of New Orleans Dock Board adopted a resolution to encourage nonmaritime riverfront development.

The move encourages developers who frequently say New Orleans' riverfront is one of its greatest yet most underused assets.

This is a great move and long overdue.

For anyone familiar with the city, the Mississippi River can only be easily viewed from a few locations:
  • Woldenberg Park
  • Riverwalk Mall (still closed due to extensive looting and damage)
  • Audubon Zoo
  • Algiers Point (which affords the best view of the CBD and Vieux Carre')
But for this development to be successful for both the developers and the city, two things need to be assured.
  1. Public access to the riverfront
  2. Height restrictions imposed to prevent "walling-off" the rest of the city from the river.
The second concern has already been addressed.

"We want to make sure they're no turf wars," Cummings said, adding that building hieght concerns will be addressed by CPC.

Chapman said height of buildings will be a major concern for areas such as Bywater.

Now if only Jefferson Parish will follow their lead.

I Got The Blue-Roof Blues

Jindal to hold FEMA fraud hearing Monday in N.O.

By CityBusiness staff report

2006-04-08 1:25 PM CST

NEW ORLEANS Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Metairie, will participate in the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee field hearing on "Katrina and Contracting: Blue Roof, Debris Removal, Travel Trailers Case Studies."

The hearing, headed by the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security Chairman Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will open at 11:30 a.m. Monday at the Louisiana Supreme Court Building in New Orleans.

The hearing will focus on reports of waste, fraud and abuse during Louisiana's recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Jindal wants tighter accounting of the recovery efforts at all levels of government. He sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on this issue.

To attend the hearing contact the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee at (202) 224-4751.•
I'll post more later as additional information becomes available.

Gentilly Lace

Veritas et Venustas reports that New Orleans will finally get a design charette.

Some people don't understand. New Orleans had a disaster from which it may never recover. Its citizens are still scattered across the country. Helping New Orleans is not about urbanism versus Starchitecture, New Urbanism versus the avant garde, or style wars.

At long last, a little more than six months after Katrina, there will be a charrette in New Orleans. It won't fix New Orleans by itself, but it will help provide a better future for the city and its residents.

The team will assemble in New Orleans on April 17th 18th, and leave on the 26th 27th: I'm happy to say I'll be there. Presumably t There will be a public presentations at 7 pm on the 20th and the 22nd 18th, and the final presentation will be on the 25th 26th. Details to follow as available.

Film at eleven.

Friday, April 07, 2006

All Aboard

Just because a city has to be rebuilt, doesn't mean that it has to be rebuilt exactly as before. And this is precisely the time to upgrage.

Planning professionals on the local, regional and state level say now's the time to consider options that may have been placed on the back burner in the past. While admitting some of their ideas are pie-in-the-sky thinking, they point to post-Katrina traffic gridlock and a tightening housing market as clear signals for the need to improve infrastructure.
So what pieces of infrastructure should we build anew?

CityBusiness has some suggestions.
  1. Commuter rail: The slow crawl of traffic heading into the city each day, and again westbound every afternoon, is fueling a drive among planning professionals for commuter train service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
  2. Housing concerns: [Ed] Durabb said the commuter rail proposal fits in with his vision for housing in Jefferson Parish and the metro area.

    While still offering traditional detached single-family homes, Durabb said he would like to see residential development emphasize urban living with easy access to transit.

  3. Hitting the streets: Durabb says the main problem contributing to traffic on the East Bank is the lack of connector streets. The construction of West Napoleon Avenue absorbed some of the overflow from other east-west routes, but similar projects are unlikely because of the lack of right of way.
Regarding the need for a commuter rail system, the solution is more complex than connecting New Orleans with Baton Rouge. While the I-10 between BR and NO is constantly busy, except for mass evacuations, traffic typically moves above the posted speed limit.

What the city really needs is a combination of a commuter rail connecting nearby suburbs such as Metairie/Kenner and Slidell with the CBD. This will alleviate interstate congestion, which is very heavy at peak hours, and the parking shortage downtown. Fewer parking garages downtown could also mean more space for office and residential blocks.

Also, the CBD should also be connected to the airport with its own rail line. This will not only take many taxis off the Interstate, but will make the commute from the airport cheaper for your average traveler.

Instead of paying tens of millions of dollars to build a rail line between BR and NO, why not use the existing Amtrak lines to connect New Orleans with the rest of the Gulf Coast. It doesn't make sense to buy a train ticket to travel to Chicago or Atlanta with airline tickets being a cheap as they are now. But buying a train ticket to spend a long weekend in Pensacola, Destin or Mobile may not make the trip shorter, but I would make it more relaxing. The passenger rail insustry needs to realize it is not the 1880's any more.

The last piece of the rail puzzle for New Orleans needs to be expanded streetcar lines. Not only does the street car add charm to an already charming city, it is much more pleasant way to get from one part of town to another if you are not in a hurry. When the St. Charles line still ran, the cars were always full during morning and evening drive time with people going to and from their work downtown and homes uptown. Conntecting other destinations with streetcar lines could help get some cars off the streets and help relieve congestion. Streetcars could also help raise property values. It's not hard to imagine someone paying more for a house if it is located within walking distance to streetcars. And the city could use the money.

Mr. Durabb's idea that we emphasize urban living with easy access to transit is already underway. As we speak, once vacant condos in the Warehouse District now have waiting lists and plans for high-rise developments are already on the boards.

My conclusion; planners are guilty of focussing on either the big-picture or the little-picture. When planning the rebuilding of the city and the gulf south we need to plan from the block level, the neighborhood level, community level, city level, metro-area level and regional level and back down again. What we do at the block level can have repercussions on the city level and actions taken at the regional level can effect the neighborhood.

Planners have to be aware that their actions have unintended consequences and not get caught up in the pie-in-the-sky dreams believing all will be well and make sure that the bullet train doesn't derail.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


The Gulf Coast is still trying to pull itself out of the mud and rebuild their lives while Ivory Tower designers engage in pissing matches over which approach is best for rebuilding. And catfights between politicians aren't going over very well with their constituents and the architects are going to find themselves being ridden out of state on a pole also.

I wasn't at some do-gooder Harvard symposium when I realized that housing was back on the architectural radar screen--and generating enough heat to prompt catfights. I was at, of all places, the Isle of Capri hotel-casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, the absolute antithesis of tasteful Boston redbrick, its gaudy green and purple walls redolent of the Redneck Riviera. There last October, John Norquist--the former three-term mayor of Milwaukee, and president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism--started waving the bloody shirt.

In this case the shirt didn't have real blood on it. It was a Washington Post story, gleaned from the Internet, about the New Urbanists' charrette for the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi coastline. Here were the poor New Urbanists staying up all hours of the night, gulping all the coffee and Red Bull they could take, and planning an entire region in seven days. And what did they get in response? They got a kick in the keister from Eric Owen Moss, director of SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture). He told the Post's Linda Hales that the New Urbanists' traditional town planning "would appeal to a kind of anachronistic Mississippi that yearns for the good old days of the Old South as slow and balanced and pleasing and breezy, and each person knew his or her role." Moss didn't say that Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk wanted to bring back the Jim Crow laws, but he might as well have.
OK, so now we have uppity, elitists architects calling Southerners racists. But I've already given Eric more attention than he deserves. On to more important issues.
For decades--reflecting the narrow formalistic worldview of architecture's late godfather Philip Johnson--housing and community-building issues have been shoved off center stage. Architects were barely debating them, pretty much leaving the field to the New Urbanists. But now it's impossible to ignore housing, and not just because of the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast. In city after city across America tall towers are being proposed or built, and they are not office buildings, but places to live. Santiago Calatrava's planned 2,000-foot Fordham Spire on Chicago's lakefront is the most visible example of the trend, and prompted this wry Los Angeles Times headline: "Home Is Where the Height Is." There's also the Dwell magazine phenomenon to reckon with, but that's boutique Modernism. I mean something more widespread.

Here's my question: Now that architects are taking shots at one another over housing, can we do better than we did in the last century, which gave us sprawl for the middle class and Cabrini-Green for the poorest of the poor? Can we close the great divide between fetishistic formalism and social responsibility? Or are we doomed to a world in which architecture's leading practitioners use their work merely to comment on social tumult rather than actually trying to do something about it?
This is why I applaud the work of Andreas Duany and his firm's involvement in the design charettes to rebuild small communities devestated by storm. His designs may not conform to the heterodoxy of the "Church of Modernism", and they don't address "social justice" issues, they do help to solve the pragmatic problems of flooded communities in a workmanlike and attractive manner. More improtantly, the people who live there approve.

In the meantime, Reed Kroloff and Eric Owen Moss can hiss from their offices with a view while the rest of the world get our hands dirty building mud huts.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Blackened Crow With A Side Of Humble Pie

The Corps of Engineers has finally acknowledged that it is responsible for the failure of the 17th Street Canal floodwall during Hurricane Katrina.

Lt. General Carl Strock told a Senate committee that the corps neglected to consider the possibility that floodwalls atop the 17th Street Canal levee would lurch away from their footings under significant water pressure and eat away at the earthen barriers below.

“We did not account for that occurring, Strock said in an interview after the Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “It could be called a design failure.

A botched design has long been suspected by independent forensic engineers looking into the levee failures. A panel of engineering experts confirmed it last month in a report saying that the I-wall design could not withstand the force of the rising water in the canal and triggered the breach.

But until Wednesday the corps, which designed and oversaw the construction of the levees, had not explicitly taken responsibility for the mistake.

“We have now concluded we had problems with the design of the structure, Strock told members of the subcommittee that finances Corps operations. We had hoped that wasn't the case, but we recognize it is the reality.
It's good to see the Corps realizing, if belatedly, that there was a design failure at all.

We further find out in this article that there is a class-action law suit over the levee failures.
A lawyer who has filed a class-action suit over the levee failures said Strock's statement may mean little for his case because the corps is generally immune from legal liability by virtue of a 1928 law that put the agency in the levee-building business.

"The words are heavy and important," Joseph Bruno said. “The problem is legal impediment called immunity. It was tort reform that began in 1928."

However, lawyer Mitchell Hoffman said it could help his case, which seeks to sidestep the corps' immunity by alleging the levee failure amounted to a massive government seizure of peoples’ homes and land.

"It simplifies the case significantly because we don't have to have a battle of experts" Hoffman said. "Now the judge can say because of the enormity, it was a taking and the government needs to pay these people for their property."
So I'm not sure who the lawyer is suing but I hope he is successfull and is not engaging in the type of law suit that has made so many lawyers filthy rich while giving a pitence to the victims.

I also hope that this admission sheds light on the government's role in this disaster that public pressure can be put to bear on the government to make ammends for its failure.

What was also mentioned in the hearing is that the additional costs associated with rebuilding the levee system will further delay the the ability for residents to rebuild their homes.
Strock also told the committee that the stunning $6 billion increase in the price of levee protection announced last week was prompted by a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to certify the levees to national flood insurance standards.
It looks like the Corps of Engineers had originally planned to rebuild the levees to their pre-storm levels, which was inadequate to begin with, and that is what Congress is currently funding. When they realized that a higher level of protection is needed, they upped the price.

But why wasn't the Corps planning to adequately rebuild the levees in the first place? Bureacratic inertia is to blame is guess.

It gives new meaning to the phrase "Good enough for government work."

Port Snort

Despite the financial problems of the City of New Orleans, the Port of New Orleans is moving forward.

The Port of New Orleans will open bids Thursday for a $5-million renovation to the 4.8-acre Nashville Avenue Marshaling Yard.

Previous bids were scuttled due to Hurricane Katrina. The original bid had been awarded to Southern Industrial Contractors based in Rayville for $2.6 million, according to Port of New Orleans spokesman Matt Gresham.

At that time, the port received bids ranging from $2.6 million to $3.3 million.

"We are now budgeting for a worst-case scenario due to post-Katrina labor shortages and construction costs," he said.

Gresham said bids will be awarded at the next port Board of Commissioners meeting at 10:30 a.m. April 27 at the Port Administration Building. Once awarded, a 210-day or seven-month construction period is anticipated. Gresham is hopeful that it could begin in May and be finished in December.

Work will consist primarily of reinforcing the marshaling yard to better handle massive equipment being used at the adjacent Napoleon Avenue container complex.

The $101-million Napolean Avenue Container Terminal complex, operated by P&O Ports on the Mississippi River, has a capacity of 366,000 20-foot equivalent container units.

So, in contrast to the pundits who've written about New Orleans demise, as long as there is a Port of New Orleans, there will be a New Orleans.

The Check's In The Mail

The City of New Orleans is one month from going bankrupt.

The "Municipal Bankruptcy in Perspective" report concludes New Orleans is one month away from running out of cash and there is no plan in place for dealing with the cash flow problem.
No word yet on if anyone would notice.

Home Is A Man's Castle, Even If It Sinks

From Ponty Python's Holy Grail:

Listen, lad. I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So, I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, THEN sank into the swamp, but the fourth one stayed up! And that's what you're gonna get, lad. The strongest castle in these islands.
That will be the attitude of New Orleans residents for the coming years.

Let's look at the indignities that we have been made to suffer through in the last seven months.
  • Hurricane Katrina.
  • Flooding from Hurricane Katrina excacerbated by faulty levees built by the federal government.
  • Having to continually go to the federal government with hat-in-hand for help to recover due to incompetent government engineers.
  • The Corps of Engineers saying it wasn't their fault that the levees were substandard.
  • Not knowing if or how to rebuild because FEMA can't even meet its own deadline in issuing flood maps.
  • Government engineers underestimating by one-third the estimated cost of rebuilding the levee system after groveling for months just to get the funding for the original estimate.
  • FEMA bureacrats pushing around citizens who object to their location of trailer parks.
  • An incompetant Governor who seems more interested in protecting her base of power than rebuilding the state's largest city.
  • An incompetant Legislature more interested in petty legislation, like the proper use of the term "Cajun", than rebuilding the state's largest city.
  • FEMA taking months to place a trailer in front of someone's flooded home and several more months to hook-up electricity.
  • The Corps of Engineers paying $2000 per square to contractors to install blue-roofs that actually cost $2 per square.
  • People's flooded homes being looted almost with impunity.
  • NOPD officers looting stores almost with impunity.
  • Corrupt local politicians shaking down contractors.
  • Local politicians crying on national television.
  • FEMA sending the state of Louisiana a bill for the federal government's disaster response.
  • The state's Governor not willing to give control of the disaster response which resulted in a bill from the federal government.
  • The state's Governor postponing indefinately the date for the city's mayoral election.
  • Needing a federal judge to order the state to schedule the election ASAP.
  • Jesse Jackson, et al, protesting that we are having an election.
  • The state's Governor attempting to take over the state's flagship university by trying to put her own cronies in charge.
  • Having the city's Mayor being the laughing stock of the rest of the world.
  • The owner of the New Orleans Saints trying to move the franchise to San Antonio and then lying about after the league forced him to move back to the city.
  • The city's pro basketball team hinting that they may not return.
  • Attempts at consolidating New Orleans government failing time after time in the legislature.
  • We can't even get decent candidates to run for mayor.
After all this, residents are still trying their damndest to return.

The result may be a transformation from a city of partiers and freeloaders to one of go-getters decision makers. Because we are getting so little help from the federal government, who is larglely responsible for the flooding, and our state government being of little help either, tolerance for the business as usual attitude will probably go by the wayside.

Then ,we can build that castle we can all call our home.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Play Ball!

The New Orleans Zephyrs will begin the 2006 season Thursday at 7 PM.

City Business has more.

Finally, a team that didn't forsake us.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Don't Mess With Mother Nature

The Los Angeles Times architectural critic, Christopher Hawthorne, pens a column about the growth of New Orleans and the propensity of recent builders to turn their backs on the lessons of earlier builders and their adaptations to New Orleans natural environment.

It's no coincidence that the most distinctive neighborhoods in New Orleans date from the decades when residents, architects and planners were most keenly aware of the city's vulnerability. Repairing that close connection between the natural and the built environments” which was replaced in the 20th century by a blind, ultimately catastrophic faith in modern infrastructure” may be the most direct way to recapture the vitality that once made residential neighborhoods in New Orleans among the most admired in the world. It also may help change how Americans in other cities threatened by natural disasters, Los Angeles chief among them, think about the relationship between architecture and risk.
Putting aside his ingorance of simple architectural detailing, the basic premise is correct. By putting too much faith man's ability to beat back the elements, homeowners resorted to simple and inexpensive building techniques that doomed many dwellings when the big one came.

But after reading the column through, I'm not sure the author has a point. He starts off writing about building on high ground with houses perched on piers two to three feet above grade. Then segways into the invention of pumps that allowed development of swampland allowing the city to expand followed by the popularity of the "ranchburger" which are vulnerable to even minor flooding.

Well duh.

So where do we go from here?

As an architect and homeowner, I'm quite aware of the drawbacks of the "slab-on-grade" home: I live in one. And for good reason. I couldn't afford to build a raised cottage. And therein lies the problem. Most people in this area would probably prefer to live in a raised house. Building techniques need to be investigated that would reduce the costs incured by building above ground.

Until then, people will continue to seek affordable housing and calculate the risk involved as the price of putting a roof over one's head.

Friends In High Places

It seems the Katrina Cottage has at least one fan in the US Senate.

The Senate is considering an unprecedented step: allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide inexpensive, permanent housing to Americans who have lost their homes to a natural disaster.

Next week, the Senate Appropriations Committee, headed by GOP Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, will consider adding money to President Bush's $19 billion request aimed at helping the Gulf Coast recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Mississippi officials hope the panel approves funding to build 20,000 Katrina Cottages — tiny homes born of a new architectural movement that look like traditional Gulf Coast cottages.

"(Cochran) hopes to include in his bill new ways to provide comfortable, safe and efficient housing for the victims of Hurricane Katrina," said Jenny Manley, Cochran's press secretary.

When an all powerful government agency takes over the rebuilding of a devestated community, reconstruction will proceed with blinders because a community is like a living creature. It wasn't built in a laboratory, but evolved over many generations and with the involvement of thousands of individuals. And usually, when an agency tries to build a community, it does so in a way that is convient to that agency, not the people that will live in it.

History shows us the results of government housing. From Soviet era residential blocks to HUD housing projects. Sterile inhumanity for the warehousing of people as if they were nothing more than commodities.

Hopefully Sen. Cochran's bill will bring a little humanity to communities that so desperately need it.

Hat tip: Veritas et Venustas.

Witold Rybczynski puts his two cents worth in at

Shake & Bake

If the upcomming 2006 hurricane season doesn't have south Louisianans nervous enough, geologists are saying that a geologic fault runs through New Orleans East.

The study, published in the April edition of the Geological Society of America's Geology journal, charts a major fault it says runs through eastern New Orleans.

It also argues that the fault's downward movement "set the stage for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina by lowering elevations of the land and surrounding levee defenses."

I have a first-hand professional experience with subsidence in NO East. While doing construction documents on a small building in the east, I called the city to establish the required base flood elevation so that the proper slab elevation could be determined.

During the process of construction, the surveyor calculated that the site was four inches lower than what was shown on the survey the team had been working on. Fortunately the cost of an additional four inches of fill was minimal.

Unfortunately I don't think that a little more dirt will solve this problem.


Karl "The Mailman" Malone tried to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi with debris removal. Then FEMA got involved. Read the rest of the story.

When former Utah Jazz all-star Karl Malone brought his logging company in Arkansas into Pascagoula, Miss. to clear out debris left behind by Hurricane Katrina, his team was met by a brick wall named Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and orange cones nicknamed the Army Corps of Engineers. Both said Malone wasn't authorized to bring his machinery into the area to clear private property.

Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said FEMA and the corps by law could only allow approved contractors to clear debris and that only government agencies could work on ''public rights of way.''

The Mailman wasn't trying to hear it.

''There was a lot of red tape, and I ain't got time for that,'' he told AP. ''I found out that if you're going to do something good, just go ahead and do it. Once I get in my machine, no one is going to get me out. We just said 'the hell with it.' FEMA didn't approve, but we did it for the people.''
The federal government is here to help. God help us all.


In a related story, well sort of in that it involves mailmen of another sort, the main New Orleans mail processing and distribution center opens today.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Makin' Groceries

Seymour D. Fair at The Third Battle of New Orleans has a post about the reopening of the Sav-a-Center Fresh Market in Mid-City and its significance for the rebuilding of the rest of the city.

Since the early 1990's I have preached (nearly literally) that I believed the adaptive reuse within the Warehouse District coupled with the re-development of the Lower Garden District/former-MICO Railyard site/St. Thomas held the key to the future of New Orleans over the next twenty years leading up to the city's 300th anniversary in 2018. I still maintain the revitalization of the expanse from the Pontchartrain Expressway to Jackson Avenue is a fundamental puzzle-piece to the city's future, but the MANMADE-induced flooding post-KTMB has forced a re-examination and re-definition of this stance. Post-KTMB I now feel the rebirth of Mid-City has a greater importance for New Orleans for both symbolic and practical reasons. I honestly believe the fate specifically of Mid-City will determine the post-KTMB destiny of the City of New Orleans. Mid-City's central location, it's wide-variety of housing stock, it's historically-significant architecture, it's location on the Canal Street Streetcar Line, and its proximity to recreational and cultural assets such as City Park, Bayou St. John, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), and The Fairgrounds led to its resurgence in the years pre-KTMB and will again spur it's rebirth. Because of Mid-City's location at the convergence of the Metairie, Bayou St. John, and Esplanade Ridges and that most of it's houses were constructed in the traditional New Orleans vernacular (thus being raised off the ground), not every structure in Mid-City was catastrophically impacted by the flooding similar to homes in nearly all of Lakeview, most of Gentilly, and the majority of New Orleans East. Thus, Mid-City has the opportunity to rebound relatively quickly compared to these other parts of the city.
Read the whole thing.