Some of the world's best-known architects, from Frank Gehry and Rafael ViÃ±oly 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.