Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reinventing the Crescent

If you haven't signed the petition at the Riverfront Alliance's website, you should. I don't think it's a knee-jerk "developers are spawn-of-Satan" reaction to say:
We believe the future of our Riverfront is too important to be solely and hastily determined by any single entity or group without critical neighborhood input. As citizens we insist upon an open process and meaningful participation at the planning table.

Whether you're enthusiastic or cynical about NOBC's plans for redeveloping the riverfront, your opinion is almost certainly an uninformed one -- unless you're aware of a TV station, newspaper or radio station I haven't yet stumbled across.

I consider myself to be more informed than most, but I was surprised by an email that I was forwarded by a member of the alliance:
Dear Members and Friends:

There is a very important public presentation this Saturday, about the future of New Orleans ’ Riverfront. Some changes will be improvements for the riverfront, for sure. We hope those will be implemented. But, some proposed changes have us very concerned. That’s why, in an unprecedented move, neighborhood leaders of the Marigny, Bywater and French Quarter formed and have been meeting weekly – an aggressive meeting schedule – but we think the issue of the riverfront will likely become a very big controversy.

The city’s process, known as “Reinventing the Crescent”, has been going on for about 6 months, headed by Sean Cummings, a local developer and head of the city’s New Orleans Building Corporation, and a local architectural team, Eskew, Dumez and Ripple – but, it also involved some famous out-of-town planners and architects. Over the past months, the plans have been evolving, and revealed to the public periodically, with the last update in May. This Saturday is the final plan, except for some aspects related to the funding.

What will it reveal? We don’t know. None of the neighborhood organizations from Jackson Avenue to the Industrial Canal were invited to be on the steering committee.

One likely controversial part: We suspect, based on presentations, that the plan will include a proposal for high-rises and medium-rises in the historic Bywater neighborhood, where the Mississippi River meets the Industrial Canal , where the current military base is to eventually be decommissioned. We have seen drawings with as many as six towers in this one spot – appearing like “Land of the Giants” alongside the historic Bywater neighborhood.

While we have had opportunities in this process to listen to presentations, ask questions or make comments, this is not a plan from the people, like the UNOP plan was. It is not built upon citizens coming together to say what they want. This plan appears to be what certain hired professionals say we should want.

I’d like to now take you back in time – About five years ago, there was another, earlier riverfront planning process here in New Orleans . Participants were told that the riverfront could be “economic development” for New Orleans . Some of us wondered how the parks and bike paths being discussed, while nice, were going to add all that much to the economy. Ah, but, there was more to it…

Most of the neighborhood leaders were surprised when a plan was revealed to build high-rises and medium-rises at the River, much like you might see along the Florida coast. Towers, we were told, would be economic development. The public never said they wanted this! This idea appeared to be a developer-driven proposal!

Then, Katrina came. Now, we’re being told that, post Katrina, the way for us to have a renaissance for New Orleans is to have high-rises and medium-rises at the River! Coincidence? Well, now we don’t have to take our local developers word for it – the hired famous out-of-town planners and architects say so!

But, to be clear, not all architects or planners feel this way: During our UNOP downtown planning, when told of a possible plan to build high-rises along the river, an equally famous architect/planner made an eloquent and thought-provoking presentation about how the intimacy of our small scale historic neighborhoods give New Orleans so much character…and how the downriver neighborhoods are amazing to be so intact – this close to the city’s downtown. This planner praised this as an asset that the city should treasure and market to attract new residents and visitors – comparing our neighborhoods character and scale to great cities in Europe ! It was inspiring to see this fresh through his eyes.

In the darkest days shortly after Katrina, I will never forget meeting in private homes with some of this city’s best and brightest neighborhood leaders. We discussed, then, how some day the city was going to seriously consider throwing out the rules and protections for our historic neighborhoods, either out of desperation or because somebody wanted to make $$$ at the expense of the rest of us, with the hurricane being a great excuse.

Is that day here? I hope not. I trust that you’ll agree that this city is too amazing, too special, to let that happen. Please join us Saturday to see what they have in mind. See below for more details.

Nathan Chapman

A member of the multi-neighborhood coalition,

P.S. If you haven’t signed the petition yet at , please do so now. It asks for neighborhood sensitivity and input! We need your support.

The City Riverfront Plan Unveiled


This Saturday, 9 to 11 a.m.

Please join us for the final public presentation regarding the strategic development plan for the New Orleans Riverfront between Jackson Avenue and the Holy Cross neighborhood. Launched in February by the New Orleans Building Corporation and the Port of New Orleans , this important initiative is led by a team of internationally recognized riverfront planners and architects, who will present their master plan at this meeting.

This Saturday, July 28
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Port Authority Auditorium
( Riverside of floodwall at Henderson Street )

I haven't seen the plans that call for six towers at the site where the river meets the industrial canal, but at the meeting I attended, Alan Eskew did say that the site was large enough to waive height restrictions without affecting the character of the neighborhood. That might be true as a purely aesthetic matter, but he also said that the plan would make the St. Claude Avenue bridge more bike and pedestrian friendly. I'm no architect or urban planner, but it seems to me that bigger apartment/condo towers mean more traffic, which is anything but pedestrian friendly.

I don't want to prejudge the process and frankly I'm not sure whether my misgivings are caused by administration (and NOBC) actions or a lack of interest on the part of the local media. But, a comparison between NORA and NOBC is interesting, as their functions are similar. NORA has a shortage of funding and seems to be stuck in quicksand, yet articles about NORA appear on the front page of the paper at least once a month. NOBC seems to be operating in high gear with plenty of funding, but almost no media attention.

I won't be able to attend the meeting as I'll be out of town, but it is an important one. BTW, one of the articles at the Alliance website sounds very similar to what I've heard from a coworker from Charleston,

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