To the extent that any development in New Orleans makes sense, vertical development makes sense. New Orleans historically was a narrow sliver of a city curving along the banks of the Mississippi, where the only liveable high ground in the city was to be found. Historical neighborhoods like the French Quarter, Warehouse District, Faubourg Marigny, and Central Business District are thus densely developed areas with a majority of structures possessing multiple floors. Even Uptown New Orleans, a primarily residential area, possesses many multi-family homes and multi-floor homes built on relatively compact lots.
Why then are so many in neighborhoods across New Orleans and the metro area fighting vertical development? As developers trot out plans for high rise condominium and apartment buildings as a means to rapidly increase the housing supply, many neighborhood groups and even the city council are fighting to curtail growth. But what other options exist in a city that has an average elevation somewhere between zero and ten feet below sea level? High rise towers provide a much greater level of protection to residents and their property; many living in existing modern high rises experienced relatively little property damage even from Katrina. Since downtown New Orleans predates the automobile era, it also possesses human-sized blocks perfect for dense, pedestrian friendly redevelopment.
While the historical character of New Orleans’ architecture should be preserved in redevelopment, many projects are being sidelined due to height restrictions, minimum parking requirements, and other zoning restrictions. But if New Orleans is to accelerate the recovery and redevelopment process, its politicians and citizens will have to accept that higher density development is the only viable route forward. Vertical development can help minimize the threat posed by future storms while rapidly increasing the area’s housing stock. Let’s hope that the powers that be accept this and move projects to fruition with the expediency that true recovery dictates.