Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mid-City is getting cheated

Big master plan meeting tonight for District 4 (Mid-City).

Check out what I mean.


Jeffrey said...

E, I think you should take a different angle on GNOBEDD. GNOBEDD is a Business Improvement District; it literally is a Downtown Development District with different boundaries. As a DDD, it does have taxing powers within its boundaries, but that tax has to be approved by a citywide vote. Moreover, a DDD (or any BID for that matter) has no zoning or land use decision-making capacity whatsoever.

I also want to suggest that the main reason GNOBEDD seems to be such a shadowy and potentially insidious organization is that they actually have zero capacity to do anything; none of the institutions (neither LSU, Tulane, Xavier, nor Delgado) are on the board or come regularly to a board meeting (if at all), and they have no paid staff (the meetings are public--you should go to one).

Unless GNOBEDD turns itself into an East Baltimore Development Initiative--which wouldn't be a terrible thing, with its equity and inclusion provisos and all--there is very little there there.

I say all of this because I think that this is a part of a larger concern I have about how Mid-City has approached the Master Plan. I have heard at least two different conspiracy theories about Goody-Clancy being told to keep their hands off of certain areas of the city, but I think that these are both ignorant of the realities of the Master Planning process and a fantastically counterproductive exercise that inhibits our ability to think proactively about the future of a wide swath of our city.

Here are my reasons:
1. Goody-Clancy is a wonderful planning firm filled with great people. David Dixon--their principal--and Mary Means (who actually started the Main Street program for the National Trust in the 1970s) are the best in the business, and are taking years off of their lives doing this.

I don't think most people realize this, but they are taking the hardest road they possibly could to write this Master Plan. They are choosing to write a wildly optimistic one that says that New Orleans is going to have as many households as it had in its peak in the 1960s (you probably saw that at the presentation tonight), and they are actually putting the razing of I-10 into our Master Plan! It would be so much easier to make the numbers dance in another direction--one that says there won't be any growth--and dying cities don't have to plan for their futures. You don't write a Master Plan like the one Goody-Clancy is writing and then sit idly by while some petty vested interest in New Orleans says 'don't pay any attention to the man behind the curtain.' David Dixon would laugh in that person's face.

That is not to say they haven't made any missteps: I think they have done a terrible job describing the relationship between a Master Plan and zoning, and what the land use maps and categories actually entail, bringing many of their problems onto themselves. And they suck on transportation right now. But I am hopeful, especially for some inclusionary zoning and some other goodies, especially when the zoning-drafting process kicks in.

2. The City Planning Commission is a bunch of generally wonderful, hard-working people who are understaffed and overworked. Not only would never have the inclination or the balls to tell Goody-Clancy what to do, but they also don't have the time or the luxury. If they were in the business of being proactive or were actually empowered to take a stand on anything, we wouldn't have the hospital brewhaha, multifamily housing controversies, or so many crappy and inappropriate developments in the city. Come to think of it, we wouldn't even be having a Master Plan process at all--they would have passed their Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance in 1999, and they would have been the ones leading the recovery after Katrina like they are statutorily-mandated to do.

3. Neighborhoods/citizens aren't always right. At the last MCNO meeting, I heard some absolutely horrible shit come out of some people's mouths (to wit: 'I don't want to live next to poor people'). Mid-City is the one place in New Orleans where the modern-day urban mongrel utopia of mixed-use, mixed-income, mixed-race, mixed-age, mixed-everything could actually happen organically.

But rather than seeing the uniqueness of the land-use map of Mid-City as a validation that Mid-City is singularly wonderful in all of New Orleans, the vast majority of residents and almost all of the 'community leaders' have taken exception to the fact that Mid-City isn't singles and doubles like most of the rest of New Orleans. That sucks, and that's wrong on a number of fronts. This crazy, racist fear of mutlifamily, affordable, workforce, and rental housing, and the general fear of density, has to stop. New Orleans--it's neighborhoods, it's culture, it's sense of community--is what it is because of a mixture of rental & ownership and density (the city used to be over three times as dense as it is now). We don't need to return to that, but if we want new and old New Orleanians alike to come into this city, and if we want things like better public transportation, multifamily should be a celebrated part of the equation.

The notion that the land-use map of Mid-City--with its multifamily brown and medical-mixed use blue--is a part of some vast conspiracy to plan and redevelop Mid-City from underneath neighborhoods and citizens is both counterproductive and wrong. Goody-Clancy's original land-use map was pretty much right, and it's a shame that it is already getting changed to try and make Mid-City over in the image of some other neighborhood.

Final note: I don't want to confuse GNOBEDD or the land-use issues in Mid-City issue with the Charity issue. I think you are unequivocally correct about Charity Hospital. LSU (and to a certain extent the VA) have bullied and browbeat New Orleans, and ORDA, the DDD, and the RPC drank (and subsequently passed-around) the Kool Aid and are therefore completely complicit in that process. I sincerely hope that LSU is forced to go back into Charity. But Goody-Clancy didn't become the mouthpiece for LSU/VA or ORDA when it came to land-use planning in Mid-City around the hospitals and biosciences district; I believe that they were simply acknowledging the reality that LSU and the VA are by and large not beholden to municipal zoning.

E said...

You've left a very thoughtful comment but I think you're misinterpreting my views in some instances. Let me try to go down and address your points in order. I apologize if I miss anything.


I have no opposition to the concept of an economic development district or a body charged with creating a climate that will attract industry. We need new industries in New Orleans. But GNOBEDD as formed and designed is a vague entity. I don't believe that the people within that district had much say over whether their neighborhood would become a biomedical corridor. Later you say that citizens aren't always right and that's true. But there's a big difference between racially tinged class-ist invective about types of housing land use policy and the creation of an industrial-commercial corridor on top of a historic residential neighborhood.

As for GNOBEDD's powers, while they might not have much money right now, if you take a look at the laws governing development districts, I think you'll come to a different conclusion or at least become quite a bit more skeptical about how they operate and the types of powers they'll have to circumvent city planning, etc. For instance, contrary to Mr. McNamara's assertions at the meeting last night, GNOBEDD does have the power to create their own master plan. They have the power to acquire property, to enter into public-private partnerships, etc., etc. Now that may be all well and good - if in fact, the professional planners we hired to conduct an open, transparent, and comprehensive master plan are permitted to actually analyze whether or not extending that large economic development district all the way to Carrollton Avenue is what we want to be doing. Or if in fact the people living in that district actually got a chance to vote whether or not they wanted their neighborhood turned into a development district for the biomedical industry - if they've even been informed that such a district has been created.

2. Mid-City and the Master Plan

I'm with you a hundred percent about some of the more racist, classist, and parochial interests apparently expressed by some Mid-Cityers at previous meetings. I don't think that having to make some sacrifices in regard to adding some density and some housing stock means that Mid-City has been shortchanged or is getting screwed. Rather, I think their getting the short end of the stick as far as planning is concerned because the creation of an enormous biomedical corridor has not been evaluated and planners are extremely reticent to even answer questions about it. The lack of openness and honesty about these plans (which Goody Clancy claims no ownership of) brings the credibility of the great work they're doing overall into question.

3. Goody Clancy and CPC

Again, you're partially right here. Goody Clancy and the CPC are not the bad guys in terms of creating or advocating GNOBEDD or the LSU/VA plan. But I think you've misinterpreted what I've written if you're thinking that is who I've pointed out as 'the bad guy' or whatever. Rather, I think the Goody Clancy guys have by and large done a pretty good job. They're pros. They're crafting a pretty damn progressive land use plan. But I do think that they need to be a little bit more honest about what's going on with the hospitals and with the biomedical industry. They're explanation last night - that they don't have the expertise or time to evaluate those plans or something along those lines - was pathetic. And it lends credence to those that believe that assume Blakely or someone else has explicitly instructed planners NOT to take an objective look at those plans. (Or that those plans were purposely left out of the scope of work) People were angry at planners last night because planners refused to substantively address the issues most on the minds of people at last night's meeting - namely why the plan has no real analysis of the single largest development deal in the city and the creation of a new biomedical district that nobody has heard of - one which consumes over a third of the planning district.


I actually think we're largely in agreement. What I'm trying to do is to figure out how the various players with stake in the LSU/VA complex (DDD, GNOBEDD, LSU, VA, ORDA, various venture capitalists, and real estate investors) are interacting with each other and with different city, state, and federal funding streams. Demonstrating the degree to which government and industry are intertwined may help shed some light on why Charity Hospital was shuttered so abruptly in 2005, why it has not reopened since, and why efforts to seriously evaluate the competing hospital proposals consistently fall on deaf ears.