Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Columbia Citi Residencies at Bayou District...

Katy Reckdahl is one of my favorite reporters in town, she wrote as balanced a ground-breaking piece as you'll find anywhere. Normally, a writeup of an event like the first day of construction at the new St. Bernard redevelopment, is pure fluff. Reckdahl's mixes the enthusiasm of elected officials with the regret and skepticism of some residents.

Here's a taste:

Former residents alternately spoke lovingly of the bricks that had sheltered them and decried a woeful lack of maintenance in the past by the Housing Authority of New Orleans, of mildew, inoperable plumbing and hunks of peeling paint that left many children with heightened lead levels in their bloodstreams.

Longtime St. Bernard resident leader Naomi Minor sent many letters about the buildings' poor conditions before Hurricane Katrina hit, and she supported the idea of a rebuilt complex that would be a safer place to live, she said.

Kowana Lyons, 34, who had lived her entire life at the St. Bernard complex, agreed that the decades-old buildings had deteriorated. But she was too fond of what she called "our bricks" -- the solid concrete and brick structures -- to embrace the new development's side-by-side townhome designs, which struck her as flimsy by comparison.

One of the real failures of the public housing demolition debate was the inability to connect the deteriorated conditions of the Big Four to the decades of incompetence and intentional neglect by HANO. It's interesting to juxtapose residents' complaints about official inattentiveness to the old solid brick structures with the new construction of flimsy suburban style townhomes. It's not exactly much of a stretch to imagine yet another iteration of the same construct - neglect - demolish - construct spin cycle.

But Reckdahl does leave out some important context. In a separate Monday piece, she goes into some detail about residential enthusiasm for the redevelopment of Lafitte, which is preserving more historic structures and providing real one-for-one replacement of units. It was kind of ironic that the complex I most wished to keep also happens to have the most just and comprehensive redevelopment plan. (Of course Mary Landrieu and the entire Louisiana Congressional delegation tried to mandate one-for-one unit replacement in the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act but this effort failed. The only opposition to that bill from local officials came from David Vitter and Stacy Head.)

That article did go into the stats, in terms of how many of each type of unit would be built at each of the redevelopment sites. But today's piece, which focused solely on St. Bernard didn't go into the details in terms of what's expected at the end of construction. If there's one redevelopment project that demands extra scrutiny and context, it's St. Bernard, er excuse me, The Columbia Citi Residences at Bayou District. If Reckdahl had gone into more detail, she would have been more or less obligated to mention the real controversy hanging over Columbia Residential and the Bayou District Foundation.

The reasons to be skeptical of Columbia Residential's redevelopment plans were enumerated by the Times-Picayune sometime in 2007 but were subsequently ignored throughout the rest of the public housing debate. Anybody remember a man by the name of Alphonso Jackson?

No article about the redevelopment of St. Bernard should exclude at least a couple of contextualizing sentences about the controversy dogging how the contract was awarded to Columbia Residential and about the larger plans of the Bayou District Foundation to link the whole project to the redevelopment of golf courses in City Park.

1 comment:

The Duke, Griff, and Ducky said...

The Bayou District courses and public housing. This should be very interesting.