Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Times-Picayune: “A New Gentilly”
Architect has big ideas for the neighborhood that include town centers and green space
Wednesday, April 26, by Coleman Warner
Determined to influence planning efforts across New Orleans, Miami-based architect Andres Duany and other advisers presented recovery ideas to Gentilly residents Tuesday night, calling for revamped business districts, ongoing technical help for homeowners and conversion of part of the St. Bernard public housing development to mixed-income housing.
Speaking to about 500 people who packed St. Leo the Great Church on Paris Avenue, Duany said residents should insist that a multimillion-dollar citywide planning effort now gearing up furnish a planner for each of 19 neighborhoods his team studied, to ensure that concerns peculiar to each area aren't ignored.
"You deserve a great deal of individual attention," he said, noting that the "tyranny of the majority" is a threat in broad planning exercises.
The large church lost power during a thunderstorm about 8:15 p.m. and many of those attending filed out. But Duany continued answering questions in near darkness. Another meeting is set for today at 7 p.m.to discuss the plan in more detail.
Tuesday's presentation culminated a charrette -- brainstorming and intensive design work, with frequent public feedback -- by dozens of architects and planners led by Duany and his firm, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. The glib, high-energy Duany is a controversial figure in architectural circles. But Gentilly residents, with few exceptions, responded warmly to the work by Duany and other New Urbanist planners who celebrate traditional streetscapes and seek to recreate pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.
Working with the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, the consultants tackled a dizzying array of issues in a flood-devastated stretch of New Orleans. Pontchartrain Park and Gentilly Woods already have launched a planning exercise and weren't included in the new planning study.
Among the group's preliminary recommendations:
-- Ask the City Council to create several neighborhood planning centers in Gentilly that could provide publicly funded architects to advise homeowners trying to rebuild. City planning for smaller geographic areas could be guided by such centers.
-- Establish a nonprofit Gentilly Neighborhood Housing Corp. to buy and renovate, or replace, abandoned homes, drawing financial support from government agencies and mortgage lenders. The corporation would directly support the work of the planning centers.
-- Convert the existing Gentilly Shopping Center at the junction of Elysian Fields Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard to a new town center that features a grassy public square, offices and residential uses along with retail stores.
-- Retain older, well-built sections of the St. Bernard housing complex for affordable or low-income housing, but urge federal officials to demolish more recently built parts of the development and allow construction of mixed-income housing. The existing public housing sections should be refurbished with new streets.
Government officials should give special attention to small neighborhood shopping districts and to former corner-store property uses to allow for a revival of communities marked by heavy pedestrian traffic, Duany told the crowd.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, as he presided over harried last-minute design work by volunteer architects from around the country at St. Leo the Great, Duany said he hopes his plan will become a key element of a citywide neighborhood planning effort.
But Duany, who served as a paid consultant to the Louisiana Recovery Authority in its planning work in other parishes, added that his team's plan must grab public notice or risk being ignored. Duany and his associates are, for now, footing their own bills in Gentilly.
Frustrated with a city planning agenda that may take several months, Duany said the one-week intensive meeting-and-design process in Gentilly should "set standards for speed. The people need help now."
Some architects and planners in New Orleans aren't fond of Duany and his brash, fast-track methods for planning neighborhoods and towns. And as the charrette process geared up last week, one zoning consultant and former New Orleans city planner, Pat Fretwell, said Duany's team is tackling complex issues that typically require months of hard work by local planners.
"When you get planners from outside of the city of New Orleans, they don't know the culture, they don't know the city and they come up with these idealized plans that don't work," Fretwell said.
Nikki Najiola, chairwoman of a planning committee for the civic group, said residents were at first skeptical of Duany's intentions. But the volunteer advisers demonstrated they were listening, Najiola said. When she raised the idea of forming a nonprofit corporation in Gentilly that could redevelop flood-damaged homes, the consultants immediately began researching funding options, she said.
Duany's team plans to produce a formal report from its Gentilly work in the next few weeks that will be posted on the civic group's Web site at www.gcia.us.
. . . . . . .
Coleman Warner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (504) 826-3311.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Times-Picayune: “A New Gentilly”: