Friday, January 11, 2008

Our Post-Apocolyptic Empy Lot Aesthetic

The City of New Orleans, HUD, and HANO have made a commitment. They are going to redevelop public housing in this city. They are going to demolish public housing units and replace them with "mixed income" communities. This is about revitalization. This is about putting this city on the right track. Right? Right?

I think I remember...

From the New York Times sometime in December:

Stacy S. Head, a City Council member whose district includes two of the complexes, said she had heard from many who welcomed the new plan.

“The vast majority do not want to go back to the way it was,” Ms. Head said, adding that the old projects were run-down and dangerous, and that the new buildings would help the working poor.

As for the protesters, she said, “I wish that all these people, particularly from out of town, would just leave us alone and let us improve our city.”


I remember something about 12,000 homeless people in New Orleans. (oh.) I remember reading something about upcoming FEMA trailer evictions. I remember something about a rental shortage. There was something else about housing I was reading at approximately the same time I was reading those ones. What was it? What was it? What was it?

There had to have been some other news about housing around. Hmm.

Now, I remember.

If you weren't able to wade through the unfortunate street theater of the public housing advocates that got the most attention, you might not have really made all the way to the other side.

Why were we in such a hurry to knock those buildings down? Why were we in such a hurry to give public property and public money so that a group of private developers could then turn around and resell that property on the open market? Why was it such an outrage to come up with a strategic game plan for our long term housing situation BEFORE demolition approval occurred? Why approve $31 million in demolition contracts and then hastily issue demolition permits without actually contractually guaranteeing the redevelopment projects pledged by the private developers benefiting from the city's money and land?

Listen to longtime civic activist, Reverend Marshall Truehill point out that HANO and HUD already has plenty of vacant lots around town from public housing projects they've already demolished but have been unable to redevelop:

Audio posted by Matt Olson to NOLA Indymedia (1.0 mebibytes)

Why has the city also been so content to demolish our ex-neighbors' private homes? Why do they continue to permit these types of demolitions? Why do we need so many vacant lots?


We must make C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, Lafitte, and St. Bernard into something else like we turned St. Thomas into River Garden. We must. It will make the city better. Councilwoman Stacey Head was adamant. It's about moving forward...

Today Jeffrey linked to this article in City Business:

National homebuilder KB Home has scrapped 35 planned market-rate homes in River Garden, the mixed-income development that replaced the St. Thomas housing project in New Orleans.

The decision raises questions about the future of a planned community HRI Properties owner Pres Kabacoff touted as a redevelopment model for city housing projects.
“It is not wise to flood the market with a number of homes that are not selling and we will not make a decision on what to do with the (remainder of the lots) until our homes sell,” said Clint Szubinski, president of the Gulf Coast Division for KB Home, a Los Angeles-based builder.

KB has sold 11 homes in River Garden since the 2006 unveiling of a first model two-story shotgun home and plans to sell the 12 now under construction before stopping work on the candy-colored subdivision, where 58 market-rate homes were to have been built.

In November, the national tract home giant decided to curtail investment in the state until market conditions changed. Slow sales and sinking prices at River Garden, which was developed by HRI and remains under its management, factored into the KB decision to leave the state, Szubinski said.

“Our lack of success contributed to our decision to not make any future investments here,” he said.


From the same City Business article, Councilwoman Stacey Head:

“I have received calls from both affordable housing advocates and homeowners who see a need to insure that the (promised) number of subsidized units are built as well as the market-rate units. (Residents and potential buyers) are concerned that the balance has tipped and will continue to tip in a way that won’t be healthy,” said Head. “The success of (River Garden) is critical for the success of mixed-income developments that we hope to see in the very near future. We need people to want to live in these developments and want to build them also.”

Stacey Head very clearly took a side in the public housing demolition debate. I think she took the wrong one. She screwed this city, I fear. Ashley Morris isn't surprised. River Garden, the crown jewel of District B., will be comprised primarily of a giant vacant lot owned by private developer.

As the public housing demolition decisions were about to go in front of City Council this past December, I remember something I wrote after a trip to B.W. Cooper with Alan Gutierrez, Katharine Cecil, and Marshall Truehill:

Wait. Just wait.

Doesn't it make sense to reexamine all of this?

You know what might be an eyesore, a cesspool, and an unsustainable community? The entire city of New Orleans once its reduced to empty lots and blighted homes once the demolition committee is finished tearing down salvageable properties and leaving behind ones that are not.

I give you Gadbois:

So here we are letting market forces do the job, and right now the market force is demolition. Let’s face it, it is easy..not cheap, so a fair number of folks are making a nice profit off it. And it sounds like progress to our Mayor. But it sounds like, looks like and feels like despair to those of us who do not live on Park Island.

Market forces. The economic buffet. Who can eat? Is it the outside agitators coming down here and living out of cars to defend public housing residents? Or is the outside agitators coming down here and showing Ray Nagin power point at the Yacht Club?

We need a plan for this city not just for the projects. Have any of you been to B.W. Cooper recently? What kind of "mixed-income community" do we expect that to look like?

Do they have gates in the budget? Because I don't know many white collar people who will be willing to buy a home or a condo in a neighborhood that looks like what surrounds B.W. Cooper. Not because of the people that live in that neighborhood, but because there really aren't a whole lot of people in that neighborhood. I did see stray dogs having sex and making more stray dogs.

So what are we talking about? Are we really talking about a sustainable urban community when we redevelop this land?

Or are we talking about a subdivision?

Well City Council obviously didn't want to wait. They're in a hurry. They're reinventing this city. Except, now, after reading about the struggles at the reinvented River Garden, I don't know that we're talking about subdivisions anymore. Are we talking about world-class empty lots?


Nah. They probably know what they're doing.


Leigh C. said...

Yep, this is what happens when all there is in writing are demolition contracts. This is how the downsizing of cities happens. If anybody wants to see what's next, just take a flight up to Detroit.

God, I'm disgusted.

jeffrey said...

Detroit. That's about right. I used to be fond of comparing New Orleans to Detroit... before the flood.

Too many of our current coterie of civic cheerleaders don't realize just how far this city has fallen as a banking and industrial center over the past half-century.

As a result, we get this short-sighted enthusiasm for redeveloping what used to be a real city around vacation/condo facilities and phony tourist bullshit.

In healthy cities, tourism exists because the city itself has a long and interesting history of varied economic activity. In other words, things happen and have happened there.

We are currently demolishing the place where things happened and replacing it with a cheap museum-resort dedicated to America's false impressions of the memory of that place.

Meanwhile what remains of the city we used to have is demolished or left to rot and this is held up as a good thing by the cheerleaders.

beka said...

just for giggles,

Karen said...

This is the new Post Modern New Orleans.

Concepts and billboards.

Contracts and ideas.

Meetings and messages.

Planning with more planning and then subsets of planning.

School Master Plan meetings..more planning.

A new CZO contract..more planning.