Monday, March 23, 2009

Early Reaction to the Zoning Master Plan

That's right! A much-anticipated draft of the zoning master plan from Goody Clancy is available online.

This past November, I was pretty torn about giving any zoning master plan the rule of law given the nasty legacy of past planning efforts (see Back, Bring New Orleans).

But I reflected after the fact that the zoning master plan enshrined in law might be the only way to rebuild the sagging neighborhoods of places like New Orleans East, which has otherwise seen way too little institutional investment since Katrina.

So this is the area that I was most interested in upon the release of the plan.

Check out what's in store for New Orleans East on this pdf map.

The most remarkable decision was to zone for high density mixed use urban development around Read Blvd. This, to me, is precisely the kind of thing that the East needs. Without some sort of urban core, I don't see how the East attracts the kind of population it needs to continue to beat back the resistant footprint shrinkers who still advocate for the razing of that entire section of town. One example of what this kind of new urban development could look like is Atlantic Station in Atlanta. Given the rather nasty medium term outlook for the East, I think this kind of urban anchor would be a huge victory.

So I was disappointed but not surprised by the initial reaction of Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who "represents" the East. In a two paragraph response distributed via Vincent Sylvain's political consultancy email listserv, Willard-Lewis' primary message is a quite pathetic complaint that she was not given an advance copy of the draft before the public:

The Council President announced at the Recovery Committee on last Wednesday, that she wanted Council members briefed on the draft of the Master Plan developed by Goody-Clancy before there was public discussion. This was to take place before the draft was released to the community and press. Unfortunately I was never contacted by anyone regarding this briefing. Needless to say I was surprised to read in the local newspaper that the draft is on the website and the press had a copy before my office had access.

Of a greater concern to me were the recommendations in the draft regarding the development of eastern New Orleans. The consultants are recommending commercial and multifamily land uses. That is a major concern considering that eastern New Orleans already has high density multifamily projects which are not in proportion to the rest of the City. I understand this is a draft and I will be working with my constituents to address this disparity. This again points to the problem with citizens approving legislation, planning and zoning policies into law sight unseen.

Now let's not ignore this second paragraph, which is at least on-topic, though it may ultimately be deemed uninformed. It doesn't take much analytical skill to understand that Willard-Lewis' concern is that the East will become a dumping ground for the city's poor because she equates high density multifamily residential development with poor people. While this might demonstrate the Councilor's unsophisticated view of urbanity, it also underscores the class conflict inherent in a lot of the redevelopment debates that have occurred in the East.

Willard-Lewis should be looking to make sure that the rest of the city is building high density affordable housing as well and that it's not all just being concentrated in the East. This was a problem before the storm and it is certainly fair to be on the lookout for inherent biases in this regard. I have not yet gone into the specifics of the draft plan to see if that's true. But I doubt that Willard-Lewis had finished reading the entire draft plan herself when three days ago, she decided to stake out her oppositional posture.


Papa Bear said...

I would GUARANTEE that if Willard-Lewis had the same opportunity to check out Atlantic Station during a four day period (such as I did during the Christmas Holiday), she would do whatever it takes to get this type of development into the East.

Other examples include PerkinsRowe in Baton Rouge, River Ranch in Lafayette & VictoryPark in Dallas.

If fully successful, a project can mirror the revitalization that the Columbia Heights neighborhood in D.C. has experienced since 1999.

Anonymous said...

I'm a New Orleans East resident and I like many parts of the proposed redevelopment, however I'm not convinced that the planners from Goody Clancy actually took into account the pattern of redevelopment in the East. They have plans for commercial zoning over a neighborhood on the other side of Bullard Avenue that is almost completely repopulated. The homes in that area that are not lived in are being worked on. I've driven around the area frequently. In addition, they've designated an area on the other side of Lake Forest for homes that are single/double family occupancy. This is another neighborhood that has welcomed back a large number of its pre-Katrina residents. The plan is interesting, but I'm not convinced that anyone bothered to look at the East as it is now.

Jeffrey said...

Just as a point of clarification (I went to planning school, so it's the only soapbox I'm even somewhat qualified to stand on): Goody-Clancy is doing a Master Plan, not zoning. The MP identifies land uses, processes, and policies that will later be codified into a Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, but the two are distinct, which is an important distinction. In many ways, the MP is what gives a CZO its legitimacy and legality, and by the same token, the CZO is primarily what gives the 'MP the force of law.'

That being said, we can rest completely assured that CWL is beating the same dead horse; certainly, Goody Clancy is not proposing multifamily in the East as a way of dumping Section 8 or other affordable (gasp!) or low-income housing disproportionately in New Orleans East. They are most certainly trying to create a so-called 'lifestyle center'--such as Perkins' Rowe, Atlantic Station, Crystal City in Alexandria (VA), and the like--as a way of promoting high-quality development in the East that will also mitigate the East's exposure to hazard. Higher-density development along Read would also make a transit connection (BRT or light rail) actually feasible, too.

The first paragraph you quote is a typical "kiss the ring" comment from her, and I can't wait until the City Council is written completely out of the planning and zoning process.

The second paragraph is indeed about CWL's complete misunderstanding about how urban development works, as you suggest. New Orleans East--as the only part of New Orleans development almost entirely after World War II, and with the large, sprawling tracts of relatively inexpensive 'land' necessary for multifamilty housing--is of course going to have pressure for that sort of development. It's simply not possible to consolidate land on that scale in other parts of the city. It's so telling that rather than use the power of her office to help ensure that there is high-quality development take place in the East, CWL is perpetuating this game of classist redlining.

Let's hope that Goody-Clancy and Camiros (the firm doing the CZO) grow a pair and includes CBA, affordable housing, and inclusionary zoning provisions (among other things) in the CZO! They certainly have a lot more work to do on the Master Plan, because there are some gaping holes in this first draft.

By the way, Papa Bear, no more referencing anything in Dallas as something to emulate. It's bad enough that Baton Rouge and Atlanta are the models for the revitalization of the East! Now doesn't that tell us something?

mominem said...

The real problem with all this planning is providing the economic engine to drive it.

If all you have are poorp people to house, then the housing will be for poor people.

Papa Bear said...

Jeff, I think it's a fair exchange.

Ray Nagin for Victory Park. I'd take that 10 times out of 9.

I also agree that CWL's inexperience and ignorance on leveraging the available space in the East for high quality mixed use development will only hurt the future development of that area. The East need only look at the Midtown development of Atlanta & Houston to see the possible economic impact.

I lived in NOE all of my life pre-Katrina, so I'm very familiar with the area. The current resident leaders of the East have to realize the wants of the next generations. Households are getting smaller, and most people 21-40 want to live in area where they can work, live and play within walking distance. The suburbs of the 1940s and 1950s are failing across the nation, and for the East to fully take advantage of this rebuilding oppotunity it's leaders must understand this trend.

I would also suggest persons check out how Atlantic Station was able to include affordable housing within its model, while still making a large amount of market rate housing available.