Thursday, September 28, 2006

A River Of Inspiration

The New Orleans City Planning Commission has issued request for qualifications (RFQ) to redevelop the Mississippi riverfront.


Some of the world's best-known architects, from Frank Gehry and Rafael Viñoly to Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster, could have been forgiven a look of puzzlement when they opened their mail one day last week.

There before them was a large black box containing pralines, a can of French Market coffee and chicory, an Emeril Lagasse cookbook, a history of New Orleans' "urban landscape," an iPod full of New Orleans songs and -- of all things -- "Da Mayor in Your Pocket," a device that plays recordings of six of Mayor Ray Nagin's more memorably colorful comments.

The collection was intended to help get the architects into a New Orleans frame of mind as they looked over the city's invitation to get involved in planning a major redevelopment of parts of the riverfront.

Nagin has chosen the New Orleans Building Corp. to oversee the redevelopment planning, and a note to each architect from Sean Cummings, the agency's executive director, said, "We come bearing gifts and an uncommon invitation, one infused with excellence and high aspiration. . . . We welcome you to this city, and we invite you to help reinvent our riverfront."

What might the reinvention involve? Cruise ship terminals, hotels, parking garages, museums, maybe an amphitheater or an opera house or a planetarium, according to the terms under which the port and city agreed to open the area up for redevelopment. Perhaps the plan's highest aspiration is to allow for a riverfront park or green space that would facilitate pedestrian access to the waterway that was responsible for New Orleans' birth and growth, but that for much of the city's history has been almost invisible to many residents.

While the redevelopment has been talked about for many years I hope this effort actually results in the citizens having more access to the most valuable real-estate in the city.

The final draft of Riverfront Vision 2005 can be accessed here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Good, The Bad, The Indifferent

The good news: Phase I of the New Orleans Heart and Surgery Institute reopening is up and running.

The bad news: Phase IV of the Morial Convention Center has been put on-hold.

And the indifferent: Quin Hillyer of the American Spectator pens his opinion of the Saints victory over the Falcons and its meaning for the city at large.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pipe Dreams

A local engineer has an idea, and a pump, to eliminate the use of outfall canals to divert water out of the city but the Corps of Engineers and S&WB are still sleepwalking.

The former outfall canals would be filled in and the land turned into parks, used to build housing or other uses.

With no canals to pump rainwater into, water would be channeled from city pump stations to the Mississippi River, or the Gulf of Mexico, through a network of underground pipes.

The upside: Storm surge would never again overwhelm the 17th Street, London Avenue and Orleans Avenue canals as happened during Hurricane Katrina.

That’s the dream of mechanical engineer Patrick Rousset.

Should Congress be convinced of the advantages of this system, the landscape of the city could be greatly enhanced. Instead of open canals that are subject to overflowing (re: Katrina) and act as barriers between one part of the city and another, the land above the drainage pipes could be converted to linear parks that can not only increase the amount of green space, but also reconnect neighborhoods to form a more cohesive city.


The New Orleans Saints grounded the hated Falcons of Atlanta.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Oh Rebuild Me A Home, Where The Walkers Can Roam

The district rebuilding plans have been released and can be viewed via the links below:

I haven't been able to fully digest the impact the plans will have on the city as a whole but I can make a few observations.

First of all, the changes to the city scape are not as dramatic as I would have hoped which makes all the more likely that the rebuilding will happen. The recovery plans mostly focus on the restoration and improvement of the damaged infrastructure. That should be a no-brainer. However what is important is that different utilities and infrastructure are given different priorities reflecting their importance to the residents.

Second, one thing that did stand out is that a district's priorities were somewhat consistant with that of other districts with similar income levels. Fore example. The more affluent districts tended to want less parks and more green space along boulevards, mixed-use commercial developments and better streets and sidewalks. The middle-class neighborhoods are looking for some of the same improvements as the affluent areas in addition to pedestrian and bicycle paths whereas the poorer areas tend to concentrate on parks, neighborhood grocery stores and pharmacies as well as improved mass transit and sometimes an expanded street car line.

What is positive about these plans is that they reflect the priorities of the residents and not the dreams of some far-off planners. In addition, these plans are not entirely inconsistent with the city master plan commissioned by the BNOB last fall and was widely criticized.

The next step will be for the various district plans to be coordinated into an overall master plan for the city. Some might say that the earlier master plan was a waste of time and money. Not necessarily. The plan unveiled by the BNOB can serve as a guidepost for integrating the disparate plans into a single cohesive plan that everyone can be happy with.

Profiles in Design

The AIArchitect does a profile of one of my old college classmates, Trula Remson. I'm glad to see she is doing so well and it doesn't suprise me. She was one of only, I believe, two honors graduates in our class and the first to pass the ARE. All this despite our fifth-year professor saying that women aren't cut out to be architects.

I can also personally attest to her efforts to offer a lifeline to those who lost their homes, their offices, and their firms. A couple of days after Hurricane Katrina struck, I received an email from her suggesting that I contact the local AIA as they were compiling a list of firms willing to hire, either permanently or temporarily, displaced architects. After a handful of phone calls, all made from the mall where I was shopping with my family, I landed a job with a Baton Rouge firm till my current firm was able to establish temporary offices.

Thanks to her efforts and forethought, I never missed a paycheck.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Are You Ready For Some Football?

The Superdome repairs and renovations are complete enough to play football.

A lush green turf carpets the floor. Plush black leather seats fill the club sections. Bright gray and blue paint shines on the walls. Glitzy 42-inch flat-screen televisions hang from the walls of the luxury suites.

While a flurry of work continues around the clock, the first phase of the $185 million renovation of the Superdome is essentially complete. Minor repairs are all that's left before the iconic 31-year-old stadium reopens to an international audience Sept. 25 when the Saints return home to play the Atlanta Falcons on "Monday Night Football."

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the stadium, causing millions of dollars in wind and water damage to the roof and interior. The facility sustained further damage when it served as a shelter for more than 20,000 storm victims in the week after the hurricane.

"We're ready to play football," said Doug Thornton, the regional vice president of SMG, the company that manages the Superdome.

That's not to say the work is finished. But the major jobs in the multiphase project have been completed in recent weeks. All that remains, Thornton said, are "little strokes."

Workers still need to spray sand and rubber fill into the artificial turf playing field. That work is expected to be completed by early next week.

Technicians also need to program the scoreboards and video boards. Italian porcelain tile and temporary carpet needs to be laid in the building's upper-level concourses and lobbies. Menu boards and graphics must be installed in the concession stands. And about 20 percent of the light fixtures still need new lamps.

Otherwise, the Dome is good to go. In fact, Thornton said the construction is farther along than originally anticipated. Workers have already started to install countertops and cabinetry in some of the stadium's 137 luxury suites, a job that originally fell under a later work timeline.

"I am not worried about anything," Thornton said. "A week is a lifetime in the construction business."

Thornton led several members of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District board of commissioners on a tour of the building Wednesday afternoon, and the group left the building impressed

"It looks much better than I expected," Commissioner Craig Saporito said.

"I'm loving this," said Commissioner Sara Roberts.

So far, Thornton said, the six-month project has avoided any major setbacks during final testing of the building's operating systems.

A test performed last week by environmental engineers for the state indicated that air quality inside the facility is excellent.

Tests continue on the video board, scoreboard and message board system, which includes two new 27-by-48-foot video displays in the end zones, four high-tech 8-by-44-foot scoreboards in the corner of each end zone and four new 183-foot-long LED halo boards along the facade of the loge level. All the equipment has been mounted and wired.

Similar tests will be conducted on the lighting and public address systems in the next few days.

One of the final tests will be a "super flush" of the plumbing system. The test, which consists of hundreds of workers simultaneously flushing toilets throughout the building, was scheduled for Wednesday night or this morning.

Thornton said all the work and testing needs to be completed by Wednesday so he and other officials have time to conduct a thorough evaluation of the building.

The Saints are expected to hold their first practice in the Dome on Sept. 21 to familiarize themselves with the building. More than half of the players on the 53-man roster have never played in the stadium.

Complicating matters is the planning for the opening event itself. Dome officials compared the game to a Super Bowl in terms of planning and preparation. For example, leading up to the game, ESPN is expected to broadcast many of its daily shows live from the footbridge between the Superdome and New Orleans Arena.

As part of the NFL game-day events, the Goo Goo Dolls will conduct a live show outside the stadium. Bono, the lead singer for U2, is expected to perform for the Dome crowd before the game.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his successor, Roger Goodell, are expected to be at the game.

"Overall, we're in as good a shape as we can possibly be," Thornton said. "We're very happy with the Dome project."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Looks Great. Less Rent

The City Planning Commission has approved developers plans to convert the long vacant Falstaff Brewery into mixed income apartments.

Plans to convert the long-vacant Falstaff Brewery complex at 2600 Gravier St. into the Falstaff Apartments, a 156-unit mixed-income housing development, won approval Tuesday from the New Orleans City Planning Commission.

No one spoke against the project at a public hearing, and both the commission and representatives of nearby neighborhood associations praised it, saying it would restore a deteriorating and highly visible building and provide much-needed low-income housing.

But the commission voted to require more off-street parking spaces than the developers said they can provide, at least right now, placing the project's future in question. The final decision is up to the City Council, which is likely to take up the issue next month.

Whether or not this type of development will be financially achievable is yet to be seen. The way I see it, for the developers to charge the type of rent they are proposing they will be forced to do a renovation without all the bells and whistles the New Orleaneans would like to see return to the old brewery.
It is best remembered by many New Orleanians for the "weather ball" atop the brewery's towering sign. The ball's changing colors and the direction in which the letters of the name "Falstaff" lit up, whether from top to bottom or vice versa, forecast local weather conditions.
These little "whizbang" features cost money and have little return-on-investment. Furthermore, the Falstaff Brewery is located in a part of town that has little if any attraction to tourists. Probably the best we can expect from this development is a spruced-up building that is occupied and generating income. Both results are far better than the status quo.

However, a second phase to this project promises to further enhance the area:

The two-story Silo building at South Dorgenois and Perdido streets, which is separated from the rest of the complex, is designated for commercial development at a later date.

The developers are seeking to change the site's zoning from HI, heavy industrial, to RM-4, multiple-family residential, and to create a "mixed-use planned community district overlay."

Depending on the types of retail spaces envisioned, this could help sweeten the pot for more upscale residents. But the same old bug-a-boo remains; parking.

The biggest issue in dispute before the commission was how many off-street parking spaces the developers should have to provide. Under the zoning law, they should have 259 spaces for the apartments plus 43 for the retail spaces to be developed later.

The commission's staff recommended requiring only 156 spaces for the apartments, one for each unit, and waiving the commercial spaces for now.

But Miller said the developers can provide only 56 to 115 spaces at a site across Gravier Street that holds a former brewery administration building. If the Historic District Landmarks Commission or the council authorizes demolition of that building, the site could hold 115 vehicles. Otherwise, it can hold only 56.

There is a large parking lot between the brewery and South Broad Street, but that is not part of the rezoning request and Miller said that efforts to lease parking spaces in that lot or other nearby lots have been unsuccessful.

Miller asked the commission to require only 125 off-street spaces, which he said would be enough for a complex where many low-income residents are likely to use public transit, not their own cars. But commissioners said other residents are likely to have more than one vehicle per unit.

In the end, the commission voted to require 142 spaces, giving the developers credit for 14 spaces they could put in an alley behind the Silo building that the commission said should instead remain open recreational space.

Parking has always been a problem that that part of town. Dwight Eisenhower once said "If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it." The Planning Commission needs to understand the real purpose of mass transit. Where large numbers of people are confined to a relatively small space, that space becomes highly valuable and portioning larges parts of it for the sole purpose temporary storage of personal vehicles becomes less economical. This is where mass transit comes in. Since buses and street cars are always in uses and stored "off-site" when not in use, valuable land is not devoted to parking.

This part of New Orleans is much like Downtown in that there is large number of persons in the area during working hours mainly due to the location of the city courthouse down the street at the corner of Tulane and S. Broad St. Renovating the Falstaff Brewery will only that many people to the area.

The solution: the RTA should devise routes to include people coming to the courthouse and leaving the Brewery in the morning and vice versa in the evening. An even more ambitious plan would be to include a street car line down Tulane.

But then again, maybe I've had a few too many.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I'll Explain This So Even You Can Understand It

Sen. David Vitter apparently has straightened out the Corps confusion with regard to the status of the MR-GO.

Vitter straightens out Corps confusion
By CityBusiness staff report

METAIRIE — Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, today reaffirmed his position on Mississippi River Gulf Outlet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After the conference call, Vitter made the following statement:

“I really think we’ve gotten the Corps back on track. They assured me today that deepdraft navigation through MRGO is off the table and they are focused on the important restoration work needed to replenish the wetlands MRGO has destroyed. That’s essential to protect St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans East in particular.�

The Corps also promised to include business relocation costs in its recommendations and consult extensively with state and local officials.•

Now on to more important matters.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

My City Is Smarter Than Your City

New Orleans finally ranks high in something positive.

The brainiest cities in the United States
Top 25 cities with more than 250,000 population, ranked by percentage of bachelor's degrees among residents 25 and older
City State Percent
Seattle WA 52.7
San Francisco CA 50.1
Raleigh NC 50.1
Washington DC 45.3
Austin TX 44.1
Minneapolis MN 43.2
Atlanta GA 42.4
Boston MA 40.9
San Diego CA 40.4
Lexington-Fayette KY 39.5
Denver CO 39.0
Charlotte NC 38.8
Portland OR 38.8
St. Paul MN 36.5
San Jose CA 36.1
Colorado Springs CO 34.9
Honolulu HI 34.7
Oakland CA 33.8
Pittsburgh PA 32.3
New York NY 32.2
Albuquerque NM 32.2
Anchorage AK 32.2
Omaha NE 31.9
Nashville-Davidson TN 31.7
Columbus OH 31.4
New Orleans LA 31.4

Keeping On Top Of Things

The Times Picayune's website has an interactive map documenting the progress of reconstruction.


The Katrina Cottage now has a first cousin and its name is the NOLA Bungalow.

The 455-square-foot NOLA Bungalow is modular, which means its parts are made in a factory and assembled at its destination. The home is also reusable and does not use natural gas or propane as a heating source.
Let's hope that the Katrina Cottage and the NOLA Bungalow will come from a large family.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

You Are Here

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has issued a report on the status of the rebuilding of New Orleans.

The Aug. 24 report says that citizens who return to New Orleans face problems like crime, inadequate city services, vacant buildings that attract vandals, and demolitions that degrade neighborhoods that are fighting to rebuild themselves.
Well I didn't need a report to tell me that. Though the article provides a link to the study which is a series of articles on the recovery effort that are listed below:
Rather that me provide a synopsis of the articles, read the whole thing.