Monday, January 12, 2009

New Orleans

Lower 9th Ward

Lower 9th Ward from the industrial canal levee


Gym in the lower 9th

Unfinished house in the lower 9th

Public housing in upper 9th ward
On my stop back in the US, I headed to the Gulf Coast to see how things were progressing after Hurricane Katrina. My first stop was New Orleans. One of the more telling things about New Orleans is that now, there are some areas of the city where you can’t really tell if it had been flooded or not. Some parts that had been flooded are back and in good shape, and there are neighborhoods that had never been flooded that look worse than those that have been flooded. The word decay was constantly popping up in my mind. Yet, while decay is very present, growth is very present, with the building industry booming, one of the few places in the country. New projects are popping up all over the place.
Part of what makes this time and rebuilding interesting is there are areas which have been completely razed. Driving across the Inner Harbor Canal and dropping into the Lower Ninth Ward, you almost lose your breath by realizing how empty the whole area is. Except for those new modern houses as part of Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation. They are strange and almost foreign forms of a new type of growth sprouting from a devastated neighborhood.

MIR house designed by Graf
But the wide open swaths of land waiting to be redeveloped aren’t only in the Lower Ninth Ward. The Central City feels like a ghosttown, and a good chunk of it was hardly even flooded. It also holds a couple of New Orleans’s largest public housing projects, all of which are in the process are being redeveloped. Each of these offers a wide open land within the city for new projects and possibly new identities to emerge. The timing, context, and redevelopment of each of these projects present a lot of interesting conditions. Many of them were already in the process of demolition even before Katrina. But, after the storm, protests grew into outrage as many people struggled to understand how the city could be destroying so many units of good housing that had been relatively undamaged by the storm. I guess it really doesn’t make much difference whether a neighborhood is now completely bombed out because of Katrina or because of years of social neglect.
Central City
One example is the Make it Right project and since it has been spearheaded by Brad Pitt, it is gaining the most notoriety. Having a blank slate in some areas should offer new ways of thinking about housing. But, the history and context here is strong and established. My initial gut reaction to this project was, “Damnit, here go architects again.” But, for a place like the Lower 9th Ward, getting people into homes is pretty critical, and strong formal moves may not matter that much to people there. They just need to get into well built homes soon. And that is what Habitat for Humanity did with the nearby Musician’s Village. They are all the same. But, they are getting built and people are living in them.

Musician's Village

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