Monday, August 21, 2006

Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Venice: Biennial Features WRT's Rebuilding Plan

Wallace Roberts & Todd's New Orleans rebuilding plan may have been buried under a heap of post-Katrina political mud, but it has been selected as part of the United States entry at this year's presitigious Venice Biennial, which is taking up the theme, "Cities, Architecture and Society."
When the three-month-long international exhibition opens Sept. 10, WRT's plan for rebuilding New Orleans as an archipelago of connected neighborhoods will be featured at the United States Pavillion, as part of a display entitled, After the Flood: Building on Higher Ground. (Click here for larger, better images) The projects chosen for the biennial are vetted by a jury and few in number, so WRT is savoring the honor as a small, but nice, compensation for the rough treatment it received in the Big Easy earlier this year.
WRT planner John Beckman was given just 10 weeks by Mayor Ray Nagin's Bring Back New Orleans Commission to come up with a city-wide rebuilding plan. While the result was widely praised by professional planners, the scheme was never able to win the hearts and minds of New Orleans residents. As I chronicled in a Feb. 21 story for the Inquirer, Beckman started with the premise that all of New Orleans could be made safe with good engineering and good levees.
But because of the city's dire financial condition, and the fact that it was losing population even before the deadly storm, he argued that the city should "shrink the footprint" by strategically rebuilding neighborhoods most likely to have a critical mass of returning residents. Even the mere suggestion that the city government would play Solomon with its neighborhoods set off such a huge storm of protest, and the plan was ultimately abandonned. Now it will have a brief revival in another city threatened by the sea. Although the state of Louisiana and the city are now working on new, competing plans, it already appears that New Orleans will be rebuilt, for better or worse, in the usual organic and haphazard American way. WRT takes some small satisfaction that, whatever happens, its research and ideas will serve as a starting point of discussion.
The WRT plan was submitted as part a presentation called The Resilient City, assembled by the architecture department at the University of Texas in Austin. You can view the entire WRT plan here and read an interview with Beckman in Architectural Record. Posted by Picasa


Anonymous bvan said...

Thank goodness we are going to let our passions guide us. Instead of rationally planning for the future in a coherent way.

What nonsense that would be!

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

could have added a better picture. not many of us younger than 65 carry a magnafying glass around.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Phinela said...

That's great! After Katrina, we can start anew. I think this time, we would be wiser and New Orleans will be more beautiful.

11:37 PM  
Blogger Lyllia said...

“…it already appears that New Orleans will be rebuilt, for better or worse, in the usual organic and haphazard American way.”

… because finding an alternative way will require just too much thought and effort from our ‘friends’ in the White House.

BTW- I’m a Temple U Architecture grad. … moved from Philly 4 years ago to the architecturally defunct city of Houston. Thanks a bunch for your blog… I miss your column!

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It only took four posts. Impressive.

Thank you Lyllia for pointing out what needed to be said: that the White House, which has no authority to accept or deny rebuilding plans for the city of New Orleans, is at fault for this plan being rejected. Like him or hate him, it really doesn't matter -- but let's just try to keep it all fairly logical, k?

As for the plan itself, I didn't really notice anything altogether drastic about it, but it did propose a number of excellent ideas. New Orelans' residents should be embarassed that their elected officials turned this idea away.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Louisiana already has a Venice. Venice, LA is a community south of New Orleans in the Mississippi river delta. There are no roads and people get everywhere by boat. There are even school boats instead of busses.

11:42 AM  

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