Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Unified New Orlean$ Plan

The Unified New Orleans Plan has been released to the public. The Times-Picayune give some background information.

Architects of the Unified New Orleans Plan said Tuesday that their agenda for citywide recovery will cost $14 billion during the next decade, requiring large infusions of government and private money to pay for homeowner incentives, major infrastructure repairs and economic development projects.

"At the end of the day, we're going to have a much better city than we had pre-Katrina, should this plan be implemented," said Troy Henry, a coordinator of the citywide planning effort, the outgrowth of months of public hearings.

It remains to be seen how city leaders, who are giving tentative backing to the unified plan, will fare as they try to persuade Congress, foundations and private investors to put money into the varied rebuilding ideas. Some of the $14 billion -- the exact amount isn't known -- is already available to the city through storm recovery programs, such as the FEMA program that pays to repair or replace public infrastructure damaged by the disaster.

Core features of the broad plan include incentive grant programs that would help city residents elevate their homes, rebuild slab homes using more traditional building styles and help residents relocate from flood-prone, mostly abandoned neighborhoods to more viable ones on higher ground. Those programs alone would cost more than $4 billion in coming years and would supplement any grants already available through the state's Road Home program.

Among dozens of other projects, the plan calls for spending more than $800 million to renovate or build schools and nearly $10 million to add a network of police substations. It also says $2.2 billion should be spent during the next decade on "ongoing replacement of all major and minor city streets."

In its budgetary scale, the recovery plan nearly doubles the amount of federal grant money reserved for the Road Home program, much-criticized because of processing delays.

What is striking about the basics of this plan is practicality of its proposals.

  1. Initiatives for people to raise their homes. ($1.2 billion over five years)
  2. Repair, renovate and rebuild schools. ($831 million over five years)
  3. Rehab and rebuild 5.000 low-income housing units. ($650 million over five years)
  4. Develop network of police stations. ($9.7 million over five years)
  5. Streamline blighted housing and "lot next door" programs. ($1.1 million over five years)
That adds up to $14 billion my friends. That means, in order to make this happen, additional grants from the Congress will be needed. And this does not count the money needed to implement the individual neighborhood plans which promise to be more of the things we expect from city planning such as bicycle/walking paths (sidewalks), parks, neighborhoods schools, more street lighting, zoning modifications and improved infrastructure. None of these plans involve anything that can be superfluous or trivial. Most of them involve infrastructure and services that taxpayers pay for anyway.

But what is striking about this plan is the lack of grandiosity of other plans. This is what will make the plan much more feasible. Lets hope so.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Planning Status

Mayor Ray Nagin comments on the status of the Unified New Orleans Plan. Click on the link to listen in.

Keeping Track

The Brookings Institution has been keeping track of the status of the recovery of New Orleans.

This months summary has been released with some somewhat positive stats.

• Housing construction continues to increase, indicated by the fact that new residential housing
permits exceeded pre-Katrina levels in both October and November for the first time since the storm.
• Home demolitions continue to trend upward: 649 additional homes were torn down over the last
month, bringing the total number of demolitions in the metropolitan area to over 4,200 houses.
• The number of residential properties for sale dropped slighted over the holidays, particularly in the
hurricane-affected parishes. This tightening of the market could signal strengthening of real estate prices.


• One more hotel reopened in New Orleans this past month. Now fully 90% of all hotels in the city are
back in business.
• Traffic at the Louis Armstrong International Airport continued to tick upward in October and
November as nearly 300,000 passengers both arrived and departed in each of those two months.
• Louisiana unemployment claims trended slightly upward in the last four weeks of 2006.
• Recently released figures for the first quarter of 2006 substantiate what is well known locally – that
average weekly wages have increased since the storm in many sectors. Average weekly wages have
jumped across almost all sectors including accommodations & food services, construction, educational
services, finance and insurance, utilities, and public administration. But wages have remained stagnant or
fallen in a few categories such as agriculture, and arts & entertainment.
Thats the good news. Now the bad:

• Infrastructure recovery is largely at a standstill with only one new school opened in December, no new
hospitals, no new libraries, and only one new child-care center in New Orleans.
• The level of public transit service has remained unchanged for the last twelve months. Just 49% of all
public transportation routes and 17 percent of buses are in operation.
What can we conclude from this? By the looks of things, the private sector is out pacing the public sector. As for the ramifications, I'll leave that to the reader.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Screw-Up, Move Up.

As the old saying in government goes, "screw-up, move up". New Orleans is want to prove that old maxim true.

If you've ever asked yourself, as you've watched the post-Katrina morass of incompetence and violence that has engulfed New Orleans, whether that city has suffered enough, you have your answer. And that answer is "no."

N'awlins, get ready for...the magical world of Lee P. Brown!

Brown, who was Atlanta's public-safety commissioner during a famously inept serial-murder investigation, who was New York's police commissioner during the ineptly handled Crown Heights riots, who was Houston mayor while the HPD crime lab was run...eptly? Guess again!...has been hired to solve New Orleans' massive violent-crime problem.

If his time here is any indication, Brown will implement a two-pronged attack. He will a) bore everyone to death, using content-less, cliché-filled, charisma-free speeches to put criminals into a stupor; and b) take a lot of taxpayer-funded out-of-town trips. We're sure Rome and London need to be studied closely for tips on how to stop Ninth Ward gangbangers.

Brown told the Louisiana Weekly that "there is no silver bullet that is going to say that this is going to be done tomorrow...Working together, you can get the job done."

We're kind of surprised Brown didn't mention making New Orleans "a world-class city," but it's still early.

New Orleans seems to be slightly underwhelmed by the announcement.

"I haven't a clue if this guy is going to do any good. I hope he does," said Spud McConnell, popular talk-show host at the city's WWL-AM. "Lord knows we've had enough people come over here, get a big paycheck for giving their opinion and then walking away."

CB Forgotston, a blogger who closely follows the crime wave at, also is skeptical. "In Louisiana, [it's not] that we lack plans...We don't need any more plans, frankly. I think what we lack in New Orleans is implementation and common sense," he says.

Forgotston, a lawyer and community activist, doesn't seem blown away by the dynamism that is Lee P. Brown: "He's going to take six months to study it, 'maximum.' And, you know, maximum always becomes a minimum. So my point is: How many people are going to die between now and the next six months, while we're waiting on a plan?"

We don't know, CB. But we do know that now when it happens, Lee Brown will be there with a platitude to make everything seem better.

Too bad The Three Stooges are deceased, I think I found a job for them. Just forget about the Governor's office. That job is taken.

D'day Mate

Australia wants more trade with the U.S. and has plans for New Orleans to be one of its hubs.

NEW ORLEANS — The Australian Trade Commission, the Australian Government’s export facilitation agency, is opening a trade center in New Orleans.

The center will help Australian exporters enter foreign markets, including the United States.

The center is looking for a district manager to run the office in the World Trade Center. The manager would report to the Australian consul-general and trade commissioner based in Atlanta. The district manager would work the region of Louisiana and Mississippi with emphasis on the Gulf Coast.

Marketing expertise, contacts and trade information is required along with a working knowledge of market conditions, customer relationships and import and distributor contacts with emphasis on projects related to the reconstruction and revitalization in the areas of modular housing, infrastructure and industrial products.

Thats Beaut! I'd like to start with some dinki di amber fluid.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Your Heart Says Yes, Yes, Yes. But Your Mind Says No, No, No.

New Orleanians seem to be in favor of the Unified N.O. Plan but have reservations about how to implement it.

The responses that audience members provided by way of computerized keypads suggested that most have little faith in traditional government bureaucracies' ability to carry out the behemoth task of rebuilding.

For instance, residents were asked whether the final UNOP plan ought to give high priority to creating a program of voluntary incentives to encourage residents to live near one another, along with a separate program to strengthen enforcement of blighted-property laws.

Though they generally supported the ideas, the residents also questioned the "integrity of the political process" needed to bring the plans to fruition and noted that the city did not have a good system to eradicate blight before Hurricane Katrina.

"There's billions of dollars coming into this city, and there's nobody to hold them accountable. We need to hold them to the fire," said Robert Dees, whose Algiers home was ruined by Katrina's winds. "On paper, everything looks good, but what about implementing it? And what about accountability?"

Given the atrocious track record of the LRA's Road Home Program, people down here are rightfully skeptical of local and state government implementing any kind of plan. Maybe this is a wake-up call for residents finally take control of their state and city and put people in charge who will do something about their community and not their cronies.


There is friction between two groups for which I have sympathy for both, the homeowners and the preservationists.

The often-contentious relationship between historic preservationists and private homeowners has flared up here in recent weeks, as activists determined to save the city's distinct architecture face off against Hurricane Katrina victims who can't afford to repair architecturally significant homes — and need a place to live.

On one side are Laureen Lentz and Karen Gadbois, who say it is their "duty" to safeguard the architecture that distinguishes New Orleans: The eclectic mix of ground-hugging Creole cottages with steeply pitched roofs; low-slung, horizontal Arts and Crafts bungalows; ornately trimmed narrow, rectangular "shotgun" houses.

On the other side are homeowners like Rosilyn Anderson and Linda Ireland, who want to demolish their Katrina-ravaged homes and replace them with new modular structures.

In the middle is the city government, which decides what is saved and what can go. The decisions could lead to a lingering landscape of blight.

It's a question of preservation for the long-term good versus immediate need in the short term, said Richard Campanella, a geographer at Tulane University who has been studying building trends in the city since Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 123,000 properties here.

"I fully understand and appreciate the predicament," Campanella said, but his support is fully behind preservation. "Our incredible inventory of distinctive, historic, well-built structures … form integral parts of expansive neighborhoods.

"This is an extremely valuable resource that should be preserved. This is money in the bank for New Orleans. When you tear down, it's like a gap in a smile, a tear in a fabric."
Both parties have an important role to play in the rebuilding of New Orleans and both are correct in their stance.

The homeowners, often with finite resources, are stuck between the cost of renovation versus the cost of building anew. Often they find that new construction is cheaper than renovation. Any architect will tell them the same thing.

The preservationists have charged themselves with protecting an architectural legacy that has largely made New Orleans what it is and hopefully will continue to be.

Rather than spending their time at loggerheads, the preservations might better spend their resources exploring ways to mitigate homeowners cost of renovation. I'm no tax attorney but I do know there are tax credits available for renovating historic homes. If that is not enough, they should look to lobbying Congress grants/credits/rebates etc... the help sweeten the pot for renovation to be much more fiscally viable for homeowners.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Beware What You Ask For...

The city of Vancouver's city planners wanted more people living downtown. The problem is, more people are living downtown.

When Simon Lim, president of the Holborn Group, bought a one-block building site in downtown Vancouver last summer, he had plans for a hotel and a commercial and condominium complex. But a few months later, city planners proposed rezoning the site, which is known as the Bay Parkade. The change would require Mr. Lim to double the amount of commercial space, with priority given to a new office tower.

“I have to admit when I first caught wind of this policy change, I wasn’t exactly a happy puppy,” said Mr. Lim, who is developing another downtown hotel-condo project, called Vancouver’s Turn. “I suspect there is some profit in developing commercial, but it is significantly more profitable to build residential.”

Over the last 15 years, downtown Vancouver has become a leader in North America’s urban housing renaissance. Under Vancouver’s “living first” policy, which was adopted 20 years ago, the downtown population has increased to 80,000 from 40,000, out of a total city population of 600,000. By 2030, planners expect 120,000 people to live in the city’s shimmering glass skyscrapers, which overlook the snowcapped North Shore mountains, English Bay and Coal Harbour.

But now, city officials and businesses are concerned that downtown Vancouver may become a victim of its own success, and that residential development will encroach on jobs and office space. Officials put a moratorium on new housing near the business district two years ago, after allowing two condo towers — one called Living Shangri-La — in what was supposed to be a commercial-only zone.

New Orleans is currently seeing a similar trend with more residents moving away from lower, flooded neighborhoods to the high ground, specifically downtown, the Warehouse District and parts of Uptown.

While people moving Uptown is not a problem as it is primarily residential. However, New Orleans' city planners need to beware not to push this too hard. Downtown and the Warehouse District have been historically businesses. Residential condos are a recent phenomenon. The goal of many of these city planners is to create mixed use developments so that people don't have to go very for for work or shopping. That is part of the appeal of living downtown. Otherwise we will end up with suburbia in the middle of downtown.

Red Handed

John Blutarsky at The Third Battle of New Orleans relates the story of an architectural thief getting away with his crimes and names names.

Murder is one thing, but this is unaccetptable.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I wonder if this story is related to my previous post.

Clean As A Whistling Dixie Beer

Last month I posted about the City Council pending rejection of the city's contract for trash collection in the French Quarter, CBD and Warehouse District. Well the contract has been approved and implemented and so far, if this article is accurate, most people appear to be happy with the results.

Just last month, French Quarter denizen Louis Sahuc was among the most vocal critics of the city's new trash-collection contract for the Quarter and the Central Business District, one of three new garbage deals that riled up residents across town for their hefty price tags and newfangled service enhancements that many derided as over the top.

But days into the contract's seven-year term, Sahuc is so impressed with the result that he has agreed to appear in a TV commercial for SDT Waste & Debris, the Chalmette-based contractor whose work in four downtown neighborhoods has left them tidier than many residents recall ever seeing.

That is not to say that the current arrangement does not have its critics, mainly with the requirement that residents us large refuse containers provided free by SDT.

Meanwhile, residents of the French Quarter and Central Business District have won a key concession from City Hall: After weeks of objections, at least some of them will not have to use the plastic trash bins that are designed to be lifted by mechanized arms on new garbage trucks.

Residents of those neighborhoods who say that the wheeled bins would be too big to store on their small lots or inside their apartments will be able to ask City Hall for an exemption from the cart requirement. Those who get excused will be allowed to put out trash in three-ply black garbage bags without facing fines.

Residents who don't get the dispensation will have to use the 32-gallon trash bins designated for downtown areas. Residents of most other neighborhoods will have to use 96-gallon bins.

Sanitation Director Veronica White said requests should be submitted by mail and will be evaluated on a "case-by-case basis." In a letter to French Quarter residents, she said exemptions will be approved for "residents who are disabled" or in cases where "the infrastructure does not allow for the storage of the roll cart."

Whatever the merit of the critics, I'm sure these issues will get ironed out over time. The time for trash talk is over and the time for picking it up is upon us.

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!"

The National WWII Museum (formally National D-Day Museum) is moving forward with its plans for a $300 million expansion.

After Hurricane Katrina, many people expected the National World War II Museum to abandon the ambitious expansion program it announced three years ago, its president said last week.

The museum's board of trustees felt differently, museum President Gordon "Nick" Mueller told the New Orleans City Planning Commission.

"This museum is about the American spirit, and we thought we had to display a little bit of that spirit," Mueller said.

"Things were tough during World War II, too," he added.

As a result, even before fundraising is complete, the museum is ready to begin demolishing several buildings in the 1000 block of Magazine Street and constructing the first phase of an expansion that, once complete, will quadruple its size and help attract as many as 750,000 to 1 million visitors a year, three to four times as many as it was drawing before Katrina.

Officials hope to put the work out to bid by March or April.

From the WWII Museum website:
Voorsanger Architects, PC of New York City was chosen as the architectural design firm and Gallagher & Associates of Bethesda, Maryland, as the exhibition design firm in a design competition for the Museum’s capital expansion. Bart Voorsanger has gained wide recognition for projects in Europe, Japan and the United States on museums, universities and airport architecture. Recent projects include the Asia Society Museum, the master plan for the University of Virginia and the renovation of Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport. Gallagher is a full-service design firm with expertise in museum planning and exhibition design. The firm has worked with the Smithsonian Institution, the International Spy Museum and the Newark Museum. The firm is currently designing the Visitors Center for the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy. Mathes Brierre of New Orleans has been selected by Voorsanger as the local architect of record for the project. The firm has been involved with many New Orleans projects such as the Aquarium of the Americas, the Place St. Charles office building and New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.

Images courtesy Voorsanger Architects
The location of the WWII Museum is ripe for development as it stands between the heart of the Arts District and the CBD which is a popular viewing location for Mardi Gras parades. As is typical for so many of the neighborhoods of New Orleans, there lies seams between neighborhoods that often get neglected by commerce and development.

The D-Day Museum brought a little life to an area that was dominated by empty buildings and machine shops. While much of that area still remains so, the expansion will hopefully be the kick-in-the-can that will spur further revitalization in a long dormant part of the city.

With that said, there are some preservation issues that must be addressed.

The museum's expansion plans have come before city agencies recently in two phases. First was a request for permission to demolish most of the buildings in the 1000 block of Magazine, plus two buildings on Andrew Higgins and two on Poeyfarre Street.

Although the expansion site is just outside the officially designated Warehouse Local Historic District, the staff of the city's Historic District Landmarks Commission evaluated all the buildings in question, rating three of "major architectural importance" and others of "architectural or historical significance," though in some cases compromised by later alterations.

Museum officials plan to retain or reconstruct all or parts of four buildings, at 1031, 1037, 1041 and 1043 Magazine, but to demolish a large building at 1005-11 Magazine that the Landmarks Commission rated of major importance. The Department of Safety and Permits said that building is "in a dangerous and hazardous condition," and the Landmarks Commission staff agreed that it is in such bad shape that demolition is warranted.

Neither the commission nor local preservation groups objected to any of the other proposed demolitions, and the requests sailed through the City Planning Commission and the City Council with no debate.
While I'm not intimately familiar with the building slated for demolition, my impression of those buildings as a whole, is that there is not much character inherent in them to warrant their preservation in lieu of the overall need for revitalization of the city.

Preservation in New Orleans is necessary for us to maintain the old world atmosphere as it exists, but sometimes that atmosphere needs to be sacrificed in order to move forward.

On The Air, er, Internet is now broadcasting its own internet radio featuring local artists and music.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Constrained By Reality

Some are criticizing Hurricane Katrina victims for rebuilding their homes without raising their homes above potential flood waters.

After Katrina, teams of planners recommended that broad swaths of vulnerable neighborhoods be abandoned. Yet all areas of the city have at least some residents beginning to rebuild. With billions of dollars in federal relief for homeowners trickling in, more people are expected to follow.

Moreover, while new federal guidelines call for raising houses to reduce the damage of future floods, most returning homeowners do not have to comply or are finding ways around the costly requirement, according to city officials.

"It's terrifying: We're doing the same things we have in the past but expecting different results," said Robert G. Bea, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and a former New Orleans resident who served as a member of the National Science Foundation panel that studied the city's levees.

"There are areas where it doesn't make any sense to rebuild -- they got 20 feet of water in Katrina," said Tom Murphy, a former Pittsburgh mayor who served on an Urban Land Institute panel for post-Katrina planning. "In those places, nature is talking to us, and we ought to be listening. I don't think we are."

But someone injects a little bit of reality into this debate.
Mike Centineo, the city's building chief, said, "Legally and morally, we're doing the right thing," but he acknowledged that most returning homeowners are not raising their houses to meet the new flood guidelines. "You wouldn't want to put people through more than they can endure. It's a catastrophe that happened. No one wants it to happen again. But they're just rebuilding as best they can."
People need to realize that we live in a world of constraints. Architects have to live with the force of gravity, building and zoning codes and pain-in-the-arse owners. All of which are hindrances to what we may actually want to do. Rebuilding a city is no different. Many have been critical of Mayor Ray Nagin for having a hands-off approach to the planning process. What they don't consider is that Mayor Nagin is a politician. And as such, he is limited in his power by the City Council who in turn are accountable to their constituents. Thus, none are prone to make decisions that will anger their voters. And telling some voters that they can't rebuild a home that they own is simply political suicide. Ergo, it won't happen.

So where do we go from here? Since most homes and businesses will not be built above the flood level, the government will have to provide the levee protection that we as taxpayers paid for already and are paying for again. For if the levees had been built properly, I wouldn't be doing the blog.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Swap Meet

An aide to Mayor Nagin is floating a trial balloon that program could be instituted that would allow people or groups of people can swap their property in blighted areas of the city with properties in non blighted areas.

One possibility, said Ed Blakely, the city's new recovery czar: Let the city assemble vacant or blighted properties and offer them in swaps to homeowners -- preferably groups of neighbors -- who want to move out of sparsely populated neighborhoods and be closer to schools, shopping centers or other vital areas, while staying near their friends.

"What I'm suggesting here is not wide-eyed radicalism. It's been done before," Blakely said. "It works."

One idea among many: using the city's public land bank, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, to allow neighbors along a nearly dead street to swap their properties for city-held lots in a more vital neighborhood of their own choosing.
I don't know how well this idea will go over with residents but at least it is a novel idea that avoids the heavy-hand of government compelling people to do or not do things they are unwilling to do.

The one hindrance the idea may face is that people have strong emotional ties to their neighborhoods. But, in many cases, it is because it is where their friends and family live. So this plan may not be totally without merit.

Ultimately the success or failure of this proposal will be determined by the residents of New Orleans, not some faceless bureaucrats in some far-away place. And that is how it should be.