A recent USA Today article on the Reconstruction of New Orleans provided a great example of what not to do when it comes to urban planning. First of all, New Orleans was overbuilt; it was stuffed over its natural boundaries. It’s no mystery why the French Quarter experienced less flooding than the 9th Ward. Sorry Kanye, it’s not because George Bush hates black people: it’s because the area between Lake Pontchartrain and the heart of New Orleans should have been left alone, undeveloped, as a natural flood barrier. It would have mitigated the damage from the overflow of the lake, and ultimately spared many people’s homes and lives. So Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wasn’t too far off when he suggested that parts of New Orleans could be bulldozed down.
Understandably, many returning residents were unwilling to move; less understandably, Mayor Nagin made no effort to enforce planning changes that could result in a more compact, safer city. It’s been said that New Orleans should only be housing half of its original 400,000 residents, and when the urban planners presented their ideas for reconstruction, all their work was turned down because they suggested that New Orleans downsize. Now that New Orleans tossed out those planners, they are the only parish in Louisiana that has not submitted a master plan for redevelopment; all the while, there is a large portion of the $27 billion of federal aid waiting for them to get their act together.
With all of the complaining people do about how the Bush administration is more worried about people in other countries than our own people, you would think that New Orleans would have a plan by now. But things are just reverting back to the way they were, with no forward progress.including a worsening crime trend, and a bad economy.
Okay, confession: I am not a resident of New Orleans, so maybe I’m not entirely entitled to comment on its situation, but in reading the article I seemed to find striking parallels to Miami. Miami is also a city that is overbuilt. The barrier islands of mangroves that are supposed to be protecting us from hurricanes are covered by high-rise condos (South Beach, our barrier from public decency, is actually supposed to be our natural storm barrier).
The “master-plan” for the city really seems to be nothing more than a jumble of traffic-filled roads in constant repair, and a useless Metro. Miami has its own version of city planning as follows: if you live by the water, you’re rich. If you don’t, you’re poor.
Unfortunately, if you build it, they will come, so what we have now is a metropolitan area of 5 million people, rapidly expanding until it becomes a tropical New York City (with tropical New Yorker attitude?). When will the city realize that we need to put a stopper on rampant growth, and come up with a consistent, sensible plan of action for development? But I suppose if New Orleans didn’t learn its lesson-after 100,000 of its 188,000 homes were swamped by 4 feet of water-than who can?
Charles Hanna is a sophomore majoring in architecture. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.