2007-02-09, 11:30

The new urbanism and the tragedy of New Orleans

By: Jonathan Groner
The current issue of The American Prospect, a liberal policy-oriented magazine, has an article by Kellie Lunney, a D.C.-based reporter for National Journal here in D.C., about post-Katrina New Orleans and the question of rebuilding much of the city along "green" lines.

Lunney, who covers housing and urban redevelopment issues for National Journal with considerable flair and in-depth knowledge, makes a point about "the new urbanism" that I had never seen before. (I spent a week in New Orleans last summer as part of a pro bono project undertaken by the law firm I work for, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, and I toured many devastated areas and read a good deal about the hurricane's effects.)

Here is Lunney's interesting contention:

"Pre-Katrina New Orleans was already a kind of new urbanist city for the working poor. It had relatively high density, affordable prices, one of the nation's best ratios of income to housing costs, and an above-average rate of homeownership among African Americans, as well as fine parks and a decent system of public transportation -- the key elements of the new-urban formula. Indeed, as the nation witnessed the tragedy of people trapped in the flooding city, one big reason why more residents could not get out was that nearly 35 percent of black households owned no cars, and relied instead on buses and trolleys."

She also points out that "it's more than a little ironic that a diffuse army of planners is seeing New Orleans as an opportunity to promote sustainable development, at a time when more than two-thirds of the city's onetime residents are more concerned about having an affordable roof over their heads -- one that will not blow away in the next big storm. To most locals,
'sustainable' has more to do with making sure the levees hold than with energy-efficient buildings or a new urbanism."

The article can be found at http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewPrint&articleId=12328.

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