Thursday, June 22, 2006

You Bet Your Ass(ets)

Builders and homeowners are looking at making their new homes hurricane proof.

Until now, few buyers have been interested in superstrong houses. Those houses have usually cost far more and often looked more like ugly ducklings than cozy havens. Nor did officials along the Southern coasts generally require builders to fortify their construction. Florida began toughening building codes after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but it has been the exception. Until recently, building requirements were minimal in Mississippi and Louisiana.

But many of the new homes are proving more appealing. Demand has jumped sharply, and insurance companies are even offering policies at a discount in coastal areas where they are otherwise cutting back on coverage.

"People have seen what has happened in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi and they know that what has happened can happen again," said Gopal Ahluwalia, the vice president for research for the National Association of Home Builders.

The new homes are several notches stronger than even the toughest building codes require. And many are being offered at surprisingly low prices. While the villas going up in the Florida Panhandle are selling for up to $5 million, Kristin Beall is offering her three-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot homes near Orlando for as little as $200,000. In Texas, Mr. Hayes is selling some of his stilt houses for $199,000, but his tiny studio model goes for as little as $99,000. He plans to build 140 of those houses and is clearing ground for 300 more equally strong houses that will start at $300,000.

It's all well and good that people want to exceed the building codes. But if they're expecting their new fortress to withstand the storm surge, I hope they are not betting their lives on it.

Architects and engineers can design structures to withstand 200 mph winds but not a 20 foot wall of water. The only reasonable reason to construct such homes is to protect the property against wind and rain damage. However, the cost of building such a dwelling has to be weighed against the value of what you're trying to protect.

Does it make since to build a two-million dollar house if the contents are worth only $150,000. It would be a better value to spend far less in order to reduce your insurance premiums yet make sure your covered adequately.

Material effects can be replaced, loved ones cannot. When the big one comes, bring the family and wedding photos, leave the stereo.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mr. Roger's Neighborhood

Hattiesburg American.

Most new housing developments today are not neighborhoods; they are simply a collection of storage buildings for people. In the typical American routine, you leave the house in the morning, drive miles and miles to work, chauffer kids to far-away schools or daycare then to farther-away recreational activities. In the evening, after spending much of your day in the car, you go back home, click the garage door up, and all the while you never come in contact with your neighbors.

Think of a village when you think of a healthy neighborhood. A neighborhood is a place where you can choose to walk to work or stroll down to the grocery store or library or coffee shop. In a neighborhood, children walk to school and back home, freeing up parents' time and resources while offering the child a sense of independence. Safety is inherently built in because you know your neighbors and there are friendly eyes and ears on the street.

I think Mr. Polk is correct in his definition of a neighborhood but what is missing in his analysis is why urban sprawl so common these days. If one wishes to recreate that old time neighborhood atmosphere, one must ask why people are moving out of the cities in the first place.

My own opinion is that urban sprawl is simply a population's reaction to the misguided policies of utopians and public policy wonks. People began to move out of the cities and into new developments in the suburbs. The problem with this scenario is that developers can build streets, provide utilites and construct houses, they can't create schools, mass transit, and develop zoning regulations to ensure that commercial properties be located in close proximity to residential. What we ended up with is mass residential pods with little or no support mechanisms to foster the close knit atmosphere so desired by the New Urbanists.

What we have here is a failure to govern.

If we are to bring back the neighborhood, we need to look not at building cottages and picket fences with sidewalks. We need to look at public policy so that the right environment is created whereby the desired neighborhoods are a byproduct. After all, neighborhoods described by Mr. Polk are not built like Walt Disney Word's Main Street but evolve over time as a response to the environment.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Have It Your Way

Burger King will be the first fast-food franchise to reopen in Gentilly.

Nearly 10 months after Hurricane Katrina, Burger King franchisee Eugene Brooks will open the first fast food restaurant at 8 a.m. Thursday in the Gentilly section of New Orleans.

Renovations cost more than $700,000, which includes certified mold remediation and all new dining room and kitchen equipment at 6332 Elysian Fields Ave near the UNO Lakefront Campus.

“I am looking forward to opening our doors and serving our customers once again," Brooks said. "We are committed to the New Orleans community and we hope to also have our other Elysian Fields Avenue location reopen soon. We will continue to support New Orleans by being a good corporate citizen and providing employment opportunities in the community.�

Burger King is accepting applications and offering up to $10 per hour based on experience. Apply in person.

Burger King operates more than 11,100 restaurants in all 50 states and in more than 65 countries and U.S. territories worldwide. Approximately 90 percent of the restaurants are owned and operated by independent franchisees.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Water Under The Bridge, Err Street

New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board is losing about 15 million gallons of water a day to leaks in the distrubution system.

The article give us an idea of the scope of the problem.

Even after plugging a major water main fissure this week, the city’s water system is leaking enough water every day to fill 129 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Altogether, it is pumping out 135 million gallons of water per day, compared with 120 million gallons per day before Katrina.
But the problem goes much deeper than the city having to treat more water than is needed. The fire department is having to fight low water pressure in addition to house fires. This has led, I'm sure, to much more property loss than would have occured if the city had seen fit to repair a utility with the same priority as other utilities.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bridge Over Stormy Water

A contract has been awarded to construct a new "Twin Span" from New Orleans to Slidell.

The new bridge is to be built an estimated 300 feet to the east of the existing spans. Officials expect the westbound portion of the new bridge to be open for motorists by 2009, while work on the eastbound lanes should be completed by 2011, he said.

To guard against tidal surges, the new concrete and steel structure will stand some 30 feet above the lake's surface, providing stark contrast to the existing spans, which are 8 to 10 feet above the lake, depending on the fluctuating water level, Lambert said.

This is how it should have been built decades ago. Unfortunately, the new structure will not incorporate gates to keep storm surge from entering Lake Ponchartrain as was suggested by one engineer. Hopefully the Corps of Engineers is reevaluating its plans to build flood gates across the Rigolets (the narrow body of water that connect Lake Ponchartrain with Lake Borne and the Gulf of Mexico) which would be a far less costly option and probably more effective.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Robbing Us Blinds

If New Orleanians haven't gone through enough lately, now our architectural heritage is being stolen from under our noses.

With looters having stolen what they can from in and around the houses, residents say thieves are now picking apart the houses themselves, making off with architectural detail work.
Rumors have making the rounds the U.S. Military took care of the city's gangs, now if they can only do the same for these dickweeds.