Notes From the AIA: New Orleans Master Plan

Land use map for one of New Orleans' neighborhoods.

While our recent feature on New Orleans highlights some of the more high-profile architectural and development projects in the city, yesterday we were introduced to the other half of the rebuilding equation: the New Orleans Master Plan, which is being developed by Boston firm Goody Clancy and New Orleans-based Manning Architects.

At an afternoon panel, Goody Clancy principal David Dixon and Manning principal W. Raymond Manning shared their experiences creating a document that sets a new course for the city, from land use and transportation planning to environmental protection. “I haven’t had a single boring day here,” said Dixon, who dove head first into the city’s labyrinth of bureaucracy, inefficiency, and even racial divisions to create the gargantuan still-evolving document.

The plan includes creative elements like landscaped open canals and urban wetlands; practical ideas like making the building code more rehab-friendly,  promoting adaptive reuse and focusing on new creative districts; and tried-and-true principles such as promoting walkable, urban neighborhoods, planning for innovative new industries  and improving infrastructure.

While some inside and outside New Orleans have  called for abandoning certain badly hit and vulnerable neighborhoods, the plan wholeheartedly endorses “accelerating the resettlement of under-populated neighborhoods.” In some cases, said Dixon, that could mean major federal investments, which “could be repaid by most neighborhoods.”

Outside of implementing an overall planning culture in the city (which, for instance, had lacked a transportation planner until this year, Dixon said), perhaps the biggest issue that the plan addresses is the lack of communication between various rebuilding players. Dixon bemoaned one state-funded project that “removes the neighborhood” with a giant blank wall along the street. “It takes a real dialogue to get great urban renewal,” said Dixon. “The plan is more about turning the switch across all types of government.”

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