Nice session from last fall's CityAge conference in Kansas City: featuring Jean Quan, Mayor of Oakland, BNIM's Bob Berkebile, Tim Duggan of Make it Right Foundation, and Simon O'Byrne, Vice President, Urban Planning, Stantec.
For those of us who still claim an allegiance to the nonprofit sector qua nonprofits as opposed to alternative visions of nonprofits as sort of second-rate for-profit wannabes or as arms and outposts of government, Joe Nocera’s op-ed in the New York Times is so welcome. Relying on a clearly generative conversation he had with urban redevelopment author Roberta Gratz, Nocera looks at the rebuilding of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and, after the more recent Superstorm Sandy devastation, the Rockaways in the New York City borough of Queens.
Nocera reminds us that after Katrina, city leaders—and we should note, though he didn’t, foundation leaders who participated in their planning efforts—concluded that the Lower Ninth Ward should not be rebuilt, but set aside as green space. Given that much of New Orleans is below sea level, that conclusion could have been slapped down on much of the city, but it was aimed at the very low income Lower Ninth Ward. Katrina had accomplished the desired urban redevelopment—or “urban renewal by removal”—that some politicians had long wanted.
The green space plan didn’t go through, but, as Gratz told Nocera, the big money for redevelopment went to the tourist areas, not neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth. Nonetheless, people trickled back into the neighborhood, despite admonitions that the neighborhood should never be rebuilt. People worked together through neighborhood organizations and other nonprofits, such as Brad Pitt’s Make It Right, to restore the neighborhood in environmentally sensitive and pragmatic ways. Government is now responding to the Lower Ninth, not because it was in the grand plan, but because the presence and activism of neighborhood residents are making it impossible not to do so. READ MORE >>
I bought my first car two weeks ago from an old Cajun mechanic named Dub. For $2500 I got a gigantic white 1997 Lincoln Towncar with a plush burgundy interior, a cassette player, and the phrase ‘Executive Series’ written in cursive on the side. This thing turns heads, particularly when I attempt to parallel park. On Mardi Gras day, I foolishly attempted to drive across town. As drums and horns boomed from all directions, I ran into closed road after closed road. Some were officially barricaded or blocked by a patrol car with flashing lights, others were filled with people, lawn chairs, and barbecue grills. Soon I was trapped in my ridiculous piece of Detroit metal on a side street in the Treme, swal-lowed up by feathers, umbrellas, and cheers as the Zulu parade began to roll.
At its heart, Mardi Gras is a citywide pedestrian revolt against the car. READ MORE >>
The headquarters of the solar-energy company Sustainable Environmental Enterprises is a green oddity in this rough part of New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood. The butterfly-winged roof and lopsided, Lego building design, complete with a money green paint job, fits anything but neatly in this residential neighborhood where run-down shotgun-style houses are strewn amidst blighted properties.
Economic development and political power may have overlooked this community in favor of tourist magnets like the French Quarter, but SEE CEO Lea Keal, 32, and board chairman Stacey Danner, 37, see only opportunity in helping develop this community and others like it by providing access to solar power.
SEE provides financing to low-income residents to lease and eventually purchase solar energy equipment that is otherwise cost-prohibitive. Though they're getting cheaper, solar panels and mounts can still cost as much as $25,000, and that’s before you get to installation and maintenance. For that price, you’re not going to find too many solar customers in a city like New Orleans, where there are almost as many households with incomes below $75,000 (76 percent, according to 2010 Census figures) as homes that were submerged below floodlines after Katrina (80 percent).
Only a small percentage of wealthy families can afford to buy or get a loan for solar. “Before this, people needed either equity in their homes or sparkling credit to get solar,” says Darren Davis, 53, SEE's executive director of business development. Thanks in part to a $1 million loan from California-based Adam Capital this past fall, SEE is changing that equation.
Homeowners using solar power reap huge savings from cheap, clean energy—savings that poor families desperately need. “It’s expensive to be poor, and nowhere is that truer than in energy,” says John Moore, a former energy policy analyst under Mayor Ray Nagin who now does consulting work for SEE. “[If you are poor], you likely live in an energy-inefficient home, and your energy bills are higher than normal.” READ MORE >>
Congrats to landscape architect Tim Duggan, one of this year's Metropolis Game Changers!
By Martin C. Pedersen
OCCUPATION: Landscape architect AFFILIATION: Make It Right LOCATION: New Orleans
Tim Duggan stands in the middle of North Prieur Street, in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward. Although it certainly doesn’t look like it to the untrained eye, Duggan is here to demonstrate a Make It Right initiative every bit as radical as the Brad Pitt–sponsored starchitect houses dotting the landscape. This experimental street—built in collaboration with the city’s Department of Public Works and the University of New Orleans—dead-ends at the foot of the Industrial Canal levee, site of the infamous breach that inundated the neighborhood during Hurricane Katrina. Duggan, a bearded landscape architect built like the high school baseball catcher he once was, uncaps a water bottle, extends an arm, and pours. “The city spends almost fifty million dollars a year on electricity to pump excess storm water over the levees,” he says. “But the pervious concrete you see here is still forbidden in the city of New Orleans.” He lets that sink in, literally, as the water quickly becomes a moist blotch on the pavement. “Everything we’ve done, we’ve had to get a variance for.”
His official title at Make It Right is “landscape architect,” but the unique nature of the project, the complicated planning issues, and the emphatic personality of the man made a larger, more expansive role almost preordained. “Tim is tenacious,” says Duggan’s mentor and former boss, Bob Berkebile, one of the fathers of the green building movement and a founding partner of BNIM. “He sees the links and acts on them. I would clone him if I knew how.” READ MORE >>
A new model for museum design, the project locates a children’s museum with social, educational and medical services for children and their families while forging a strong connection to the Louisiana landscape.
Seattle-based Mithun is collaborating with New Orleans-based Waggonner & Ball Architects on the design of the Louisiana Children’s Museum’s Early Learning Village, New Orleans, LA. The 92,000-square-foot facility will feature three buildings set among existing oaks on 11-acres in historic City Park. The project co-locates centers for early childhood research, parenting, childcare, literacy and social services with a museum to better serve children and their families.
Plans were underway in 2005 for a major rehabilitation and upgrade of the 25-year old museum when Hurricane Katrina struck. Following the devastation, the museum adapted its mission to respond to the changing needs of the recovering community.
The design team built upon the innovative concept of co-mingling multiple partners within a new, non-profit institution created by the Louisiana Children’s Museum. On-site partners include the Tulane Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Tulane Medical School, Tulane Hospital for Children, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the John Besh Foundation.
“Helping children to visualize a positive future in New Orleans is an important part of our mission,” says Julia Bland, Executive Director, Louisiana Children’s Museum: Early Learning Village. “In a place that has experienced so much in the way of natural disasters – from Katrina to the recent oil spill to Mississippi River flooding – this offers hope for children and a way to understand the deep connection we have to the water and the land. It also demonstrates how we can participate in the process to restore, rebuild and revitalize our community.”
When the facility opens in 2014, it will feature three, glass-and-zinc-clad buildings linked by a series of courtyards that correspond to three different Louisianan landscapes: chenier’s (natural sand levies), batture lands (Mississippi tidal flats) and canebrakes (dense bamboo groves). Children will explore along outdoor bridges that pass though the tree canopy and over water to a classroom floating on the lagoon.
Mithun employs the energy, water and bio-climatic strategies for the Early Learning Village that won them a spot at the top of Architect Magazine’s Top Ten List of Sustainable Firms in 2011. As designed, the project will achieve LEED Platinum, Sustainable Sites Initiative and Net-Zero Energy goals. Sustainable strategies include photovoltaic panels on the roof, skylights for naturally lit interior circulation and a ground source heat-pump. Elevating the structures allows periodic immersion of portions of the site, and along with the restoration of the lagoon habitat, increases floodwater storage capacity.
“The Children's Museum is about connections: connecting knowledge with experiences, the indoors with outdoors and the urban environment with nature," says Richard Franko AIA, Partner, Mithun. "Making these connections through an immersive and experiential environment results in a deeper educational experience. Our goal is to create an experience that is fun and engaging for children, makes a connection to the pre-development Louisiana landscapes and is true to the spirit of New Orleans."
The design weaves land, water and buildings into an experiential sequence that moves through groves of mature live oaks across water and into three courtyards that evoke three vanishing landscape ecologies of Louisiana.
The three building volumes are sited to protect existing live oaks, creating “shaded” facades and courtyards.
The children’s path crosses water onto porches, under canopies, through dense native bamboo, and up into outdoor bridges−engaging the upper canopy of the Live Oaks with changing views of the neighboring lagoon.
Building structure is elevated for flood resistance and supported by an exterior wall “super truss”, reducing piles, with a 60’ width for daylighting.
The sectional parti is inspired by the dappled light and views of the under-canopy experience of the Live Oaks, with low continuous clear vision glass and a “canopy” of contrapuntally punctured zinc walls and roof.
The project is designed to achieve LEED Platinum, Sustainable SITES pilot project and net zero energy goals.
The conventional wisdom about New Orleans these days is for the most part positive: an engaged mayor (with the obligatory “60 Minutes” profile under his belt), rebounding neighborhoods, improving schools, young people flocking in. All of this is true, as far as it goes, but it’s an incomplete accounting. What has gone largely unreported in the mainstream press is the condition of the neighborhood hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. Much of the Lower Ninth Ward—despite the heroic efforts of Brad Pitt and Make It Right—remains desolate.
This past weekend I went on a bus tour of the Lower Ninth, sponsored by the local chapter of the AIA and hosted by John Williams, who in addition to his work as executive architect for Make It Right has taken on the role of unofficial master planner for the embattled neighborhood. While there are pockets of hope in the Lower Ninth—the Holy Cross section has seen about half of its residents return—the overall picture is troubling.
Photo: Alex Pedersen.
“Before Katrina, seventy-two percent of the residents owned their homes,” Williams says. “It was the highest rate of home ownership in the state of Louisiana. It was a dense neighborhood. There were blighted properties, but virtually no empty lots. Eighteen thousand people lived here. Today I’d put that number at thirty-two hundred.” Prior to Katrina, there were eighty businesses on St. Claude Avenue, a main drag running through the neighborhood; there are now five. There were once 72 churches; about 20 survived. There is one school, but it largely serves students from outside the neighborhood. The children of the Lower Ninth live mostly elsewhere: Dallas, Houston, Baton Rouge.
For the past couple of years Williams has been fighting to get a school in the Lower Ninth. But it’s been a kind of chicken and egg game: the neighborhood asks for a school; the city says they don’t have the kids to support it (which is true); and the community responds, we would if they had a school to go to. According to Williams, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his sister, Senator Mary Landrieu, have expressed support for a high school in the Lower Ninth. To her credit, the senator appears to be showing an interest in the neighborhood, conducting regular meetings with community activists there. READ MORE >>
The third and final day of Reinvention 2010 began with a panel of New Orleanians discussing the city’s rebuilding efforts. Byron Mouton, AIA, noted that “since the storm, there’s been more willingness to try things in a different way.” He showed two residences by his firm, Bild Design, as well as projects by the student design/build program he directs, Tulane URBANbuild. A main local concern, he said, is figuring out “how we move away from the earth while maintaining some connection with the neighborhood.”
Wayne Troyer, AIA, presented several projects that aim to improve local communities and work within the city’s built context. These included a 3-acre mixed-use project, an adaptive reuse of an old mill building, and the rebuilding of a fraternity house in the Uptown neighborhood. A net-zero, mixed-use project that provides job training and a small housing component will be ready for the American Institute of Architects’ national convention in spring 2011. Architect and developer Marcel Wisznia, AIA, showed a series of the multifamily, mixed-use projects he’s been able to put together by navigating the byzantine systems of federal and state tax credits for historic preservation and alternative energy. “The common thread here is pre-Katrina and post-Katrina, and that’s really how we live our lives,” he told the audience.
Steve Dumez, FAIA, of Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, said his firm was beginning to “rethink a way in which we can develop a more significant connection back to the water … more like the Dutch model of connectivity to the water’s edge.” He pointed out that “Katrina, for us, has been transformative. Katrina was not a natural disaster. It really was a failure of imagination and a failure of design, and it’s our responsibility as locals to do everything we can to get it right this time.” READ MORE >>