Planners Need to Treat New Orleans Like Beijing and Dubai

This article from The New York Times contrasts the rapid development of cities like Beijing and Dubai, while New Orleans continues to struggle in its Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.

"However one feels about its other policies, the Chinese government is clearly not afraid to invest in the future of its cities. The array of architecture it created for the Beijing Olympics was only part of a mosaic of roads, bridges, tunnels, canals, subway lines and other projects that have transformed a medieval city of wood and brick into a modern metropolis overnight.

Meanwhile, three full years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, much of the city remains a wasteland. As Hurricane Gustav raced toward the Gulf Coast, it became clear that the city's patchwork levee system could not guarantee the safety of its citizens. The evacuation of tens of thousands of residents was cheered as some sort of victory.

But for those with a sense of urban history, the tragedy of New Orleans is not just about governmental disregard for the welfare of the city's inhabitants. It is about a lost opportunity. All of the great challenges that confront the 21st-century city - from class, race and environmental issues to the continuing duel between history and modernity - are crystallized in New Orleans.

Yet the kind of visionary urban plan that could address these issues in a bold and thoughtful way has yet to materialize. Instead, some of the country's greatest architectural minds are inventing the future in cities like Beijing, Shenzhen and Dubai, where their talents are more appreciated."

Full Story: Reflections: New Orleans and China

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NYT New Orleans

Post-Katrina New Orleans also became the perfect storm for every faction of the planning industry to try out their pet approach to community redevelopment. Unfortunately, virtually all of those models were/are very communitarian, consultative and consensus driven and have no incentive and often focus on small rather than large scale development. While these qualities may be good values they make redevelopment slow and place ultimate responsibility for getting something done on individuals and small, often inexperienced organizations, which both further slows and increases the cost of redevelopment.

Alternatively, one could have encouraged the major industries in the community, oil and gas, tourism, health care, education, government and others, to take the lead in developing housing plans for the employees they would need,and then build communities around these needs. These entities could have led neighborhood based wholesale rebuilding efforts rather than the retail strategies were ultimatety adopted. Perhaps it would have been a little less democratic, but development would have happened, the economy would have been better supported and there is no reason to believe that good quality planning could not have taken place. There were many at fault regarding the slow pace of redevelopment in NO, but the planning profession also needs to do some soul searching regarding how its ways of working didn't serve this community.

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