Urban Planning not on an island: Project New Orleans

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Fri, 12/01/2006 - 11:29.

Having truly faced environmental and economic crisis, New Orleans has had to attack urban planning in a more real way than any other city in America ever has. Being the largest employer and most important institution in the region, Tulane University has taken on its role and responsibility in the planning process very seriously, looking far beyond the interests of the institution to the needs of all people there and their futures. The latest demonstration of their commitment is found in the "Project New Orleans" initiative and exhibition just opened at the New Orleans African American Museum there. As the less battered but still embattled Northeast Ohio starts looking at the future of this region with greater intelligence, and hopefully collaboration, the advances in planning and process in New Orleans offer excellent models for our improvement. Read on and take a look at the linked website for related insight... and, note, the current "Home House Project" show at the Cleveland Institute of Art is an excellent step in the right directions here.

On Display: Imaginative Urban Planning
Photo from exhibit of house design
A "cell-powered, storm-proof" house design is one of many innovative ideas presented at the "Project New Orleans" exhibit.
Photo of exhibit
"Project New Orleans" could serve as a resource for the Unified New Orleans Plan's district teams as they create a rebuilding plan for the city.
Photo of New Orleans African-American Museum
The exhibit runs through Dec. 18 at the New Orleans African-American Museum, 1418 Governor Nicholls St. (Photos by Paula Burch-Celentano)

A new exhibit invites New Orleanians, no matter where they live, to think imaginatively about the possibilities for renewing the Crescent City.


On view in the exhibition, "Project New Orleans," at the New Orleans African-American Museum, students from various universities propose new libraries, museums, healthcare complexes and performance centers, as well as a re-engineered cityscape permeated by new canals to drain the city more effectively and to water a lush garden in which rebuilding could flourish. Whether speculative or even outlandish, the ideas in "Project New Orleans" encourage residents to dream of a new, improved New Orleans and to commit to building those dreams.

The URBANbuild Project, undertaken by Tulane students with funding from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development in collaboration with the local Neighborhood Housing Services, shows how a low-cost, modern house can be a good neighbor in a historic district. Designed and built by students at 1930 Dumaine St. in the Tremé neighborhood, the house looks sleek and fresh, while also emphasizing the qualities that make Tremé special.

"The garden on the street, the front porch stoop and the narrow, one-story profile respond to the typical New Orleans lot and the overall character of the district," says Carol McMichael Reese, associate professor of architecture and Harvey-Wadsworth Professor of Urban Affairs at Tulane and curator of "Project New Orleans."

Students from the University of Tennessee followed the same design principles when they created prototypical house designs for the lower Ninth Ward -- drawing upon historic house types for new homes to be constructed with modern techniques and materials.

The designs in "Project New Orleans" offer hopeful visions across a broad spectrum of needs, from regional transportation infrastructure and flood mitigation plans to public schools and community centers to multi- and single-family residences.

"A few of the exhibit's designs reflect projects already under way; others may never be realized, but can certainly educate us to be thoughtful, informed planners as we meet week after week to discuss the future of our neighborhoods and our city," Reese says.

The exhibition's organizers and the museum hope the show will be a resource for the Unified New Orleans Plan's 13 planning district teams as they work to create a rebuilding plan before the end of 2006, Reese says. The Unified New Orleans Plan will provide a guide for the investment of public and private development funds as the city rebuilds. Some designs for proposed houses demonstrate that low-cost, prefabricated housing can provide individual, attractive solutions for the varied needs of families. Others show homeowners ways to consider raising and otherwise modifying their slab-on-grade houses for flood safety.

"One element of this project is the 'every yard a wetlands' scheme, which promotes the benefit of linked yards to increase soil permeability and distribute run-off and rising water more efficiently," Reese says. "The desire of many of us to live safely close to the water is met by a number of residential projects in the exhibition. Several of the proposed multi-family complexes occupy high grounds near natural levees along the river, where they offer such amenities as jetties for leisure activities, wetlands and roof gardens. Many of the multi-unit complexes in the exhibition address neighborhood planning issues; schemes propose mixed-use complexes that would incorporate small-scale retail establishments as well as park spaces for communal gatherings, light-rail transportation hubs and even public memorials honoring those who lost their lives after Katrina."

Several planning projects celebrate community landmarks such as the Dixie Brewery in Central City and the St. Roch Market as inspirational catalysts for neighborhood revitalization. Others offer visions of rehabilitated neighborhoods made more easily accessible by revised street plans and hike-and-bike paths. Some of the urban planning schemes are more revolutionary. One proposes re-imagining Jazzfest as a linear street festival that would stretch along Tulane Avenue, enlivening the neighborhoods along its route and culminating at a revitalized Louis Armstrong Park.

"Project New Orleans" will be on display at the New Orleans African-American Museum, 1418 Governor Nicholls St., Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Dec. 18. Through a grant from the Katrina Fund of the Zemurray Foundation (administered by the Greater New Orleans Foundation), the exhibition is open to the public free of charge.