New Orleans, Build Upward

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.

3 thoughts on “New Orleans, Build Upward

  1. Good post. The city must be open to land use planning–including high rises– to prevent future disaster. The reason for underinvestment in disaster mitigation strategies across the world is likely a lack of appreciation for the true cost of rare disaster events.

    Roger Pielke and Dan Sarewitz point out that:
    “Many well-tested policies are available to help reduce vulnerability to natural disasters. These range from building codes that can keep structures from collapsing in a storm or earthquake, to land use regulations that limit construction in disaster-prone areas, to environmental laws that preserve natural features, such as wetlands and forested slopes, that act as buffers against extreme events. The rising toll of disasters around the world demonstrates that nations are greatly underinvested in applying such policies, despite the fact that they are known to be effective, and despite the certainty that more disasters will soon occur.” The rest of article discusses the importance of separating disaster mitigation from global warming:
    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/disasters/001015disquiet_on_the_hurr.html

  2. While high rise building make perfect sense to the NO situation from an hurricane engineering perspective, to the best of my knowledge as an ex-civil engineer, they have been discredited as solutions for public housing, mainly due to reasons of lack of ownership of the common areas.

    Since I expect a lot of these new developments in NO will be serving as public housing aimed at the poor, high rises may not be such a great idea. For example, take a lookat the history of a similar project undertaken in St. Louis in the 60s (http://www.soc.iastate.edu/sapp/PruittIgoe.html) that was a flaming failure.

    BTW, it was good meeting you and Sireesha last evening. Also from your last name I am guessing, you speak Telugu or come from a Telugu speaking family?

  3. Actually, I am not referring to public development at all, but rather to private high-rise development (high-rise condos) and the stifling political bureaucracy in New Orleans which often impedes it.

    Large-scale public housing has been condemned nationwide – the Housing Authority of New Orleans recently announced that it will demolish four more such projects, in fact.

    Yup, we’re telugu alright, met at TANA in fact…

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