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Late in the afternoon of the first day of the Louisiana Recovery & Rebuilding Conference, I went for a walk around the French Quarter. Here are the photos.

My last day in New Orleans, I made a brief trip through the Garden District. Both the French Quarter and the Garden District had severe but normal storm damage, with only a little flooding. The city was decimated by flooding, but that's because much of the city lies 15 to 25 feet below the level of the Mississippi at that point, and several of the levees had weak points that collapsed.

The Mississippi Gulf was ravaged by a 30 foot storm surge that went in and went out: New Orleans was hit by floods when the levees broke. Mississippi houses were completely erased by Katrina: New Orleans houses sat in or under a toxic soup for weeks, except in the oldest areas, which were settled on the high ground. But more important is that their levees didn't break, for the Garden District and the Quarter are also well below the level of the mighty Mississippi today (for the best discussion of the topography and levees of New Orleans, see Peirce F. Lewis's excellent New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape).

What struck me walking around the Quarter was how simple the beautiful urbanism and architecture is. The streets are primarily a simple grid. The buildings have simple massing and common and inexpensive materials and details. New Orleans is one of the greatest and most unique American cities, but in terms of the streets and buildings, designing a place like the Quarter is not difficult, and neither is building it.

Getting it built is another matter, however.

All around the country, we have good local models like the Quarter: Georgetown in Washington, Santa Fe in Mexico, and Greenwich Village in New York, to name a few. But I've been involved in charrettes in all these areas, and the developers and traffic engineers, to name a few, decide they have better models. They build their more contemporary models for no less money than it would cost to build Canyon Road or Bourbon Street, what they build sells for far less money than Georgetown, or Canyon Road or the French Quarter, despite their inferior plumbing, small rooms and lack of parking.

It's not very smart growth.