Riverfront – aux armes, citoyens!

Tuesday, 6/27. That’s this Tuesday coming up.

The Riverside Overlay is on City Planning’s agenda, in the Council Chamber, in the afternoon.

We could add, Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe, because the neighborhood reactionaries and the old and young fogies who prefer – and have so far successfully maintained – eternal wrangle and snarl and hot air to reality, to time, to this century, are planning to be there in force, thumping tubs to keep Bywater in the scraggy doldrums, to keep Marigny in its state of scruffy gentrification, to advocate policies that block diversity and new life. To keep the neighborhoods confused, divided and bitter. They are calling out the troops to gang the mic, to persuade the Commissioners that the loudest equals the popular, or the logical or best.

You who can see light and life in the world, you should go, too. You are important, because sometimes the Commissioners fall for it. You need to say that we too, the people of this century, are just as keen to keep and respect the old cypress houses. We can maintain the Creole legacy, respect and preserve their great style, and also encourage new quality multi-residential building on the empty, ex-industrial land on the river side of Chartres in Bywater, and the appropriate construction on the Marigny blocks. There is no contradiction except in the lizard medulla of the NIMBY tendency.

They will almost certainly, one after the other say “out of scale.” They repeat it like a meditation mantra. Putting to one side the fact that they frequently misuse the word, substituting scale for size, the fallacy is that nobody disagrees with that! It is not an argument, just a deceptive appeal. I don’t recommend buildings out of scale either.

The question is; what is out of scale? What makes sense? I am going to try to complete and publish an analysis of NFB’s rather incoherent position – hard to pinpoint, but let’s tentatively call it a position – before tomorrow morning. Their letter to City Planning opens a window showing their arguments to be cosmetic cover for emotional reluctance: they repeat several times, “surrounding neighborhood”.

There is no surrounding neighborhood! Chartres and North Peters are on the edge. When the riverfront and border streets are developed properly, Bywater and Marigny would be classic bowl-shaped historic districts.

The classic gothic European cities are the opposite: their centers are soaring, massive castles and cathedrals. Their skylines curve down to the edges.

Except for the French Quarter, designed largely as a miniature of a Franco-Spanish model, New Orleans riverside neighborhoods were residential suburbs, so their later, higher development to restore density and services after the decline of riverfront industry and the demographic change to more square feet per person is higher, denser mixed-use construction around the edges. That does not violate the legacy – it emphasizes it. It underscores it. It frames the art of it. Look at the fine art of the 18th century in NOMA – each canvas has a frame. The frame is not the painting. Is it on that account out of scale? If you want New Orleans to be a city of neighborhoods, as the legend tells us, then Via Latrobe and some excellent architecture on Chartres and Press and St Claude are the ways to clarify it.

It ain’t rocket science, but our most vocal, most militant neighbors just don’t get it.

Try to come, and tell the commissioner and the execs – I’m sure Bob Rivers and Lesley Alley will be there – that we care about good design, good buildings and a real future, not just going a patina while looking in the rear view mirror.

© MOLAscape 2017

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7 thoughts on “Riverfront – aux armes, citoyens!

  1. There is absolutely nothing about increasing height that insures good design. Even with set backs and other modifications, nothing prohibits developers from identically, mechanically filling every inch of their allowances. It just means more cream cheese.

    • You’re right, and wrong. As CPC staff wrote the rules, that would be the outcome. Philadelphia cubes with setbacks. Mixed use Lego. BNA’s comments address that issue, and so do some of mine in the series. Maintaining excellence, difference and compatibility is complex, probably beyond the current ability of the amateur HDLC. It needs expertly written guidelines and professional planning guidance. Andrés Duany has spoken about the idea of average height, i.e., heights within parameters, to keep rooflines from lining up like the blocks of cream cheese before the bagels get to the table. It is only a few parcels of land on either side of Press. Why not engage Duany’s firm to guide the planning part of the design process?

  2. Simply put, for Marigny-Bywater (as a whole) to be the mixed use arts-emphasizing neighborhood we all say we want we need higher density. That means construction. And to maintain the historic areas it means mid-high-rise at the edges including the river edge. This is physics and implacable, so I am with you Bob.

    I split my time between New Orleans and New York; my habitual places in NY range from dense midtown-east to luxury towers surrounding Lincoln Center to the converted industrial mid-density industrial neighborhoods all the rage now. I would guess, from gut feelings, that the right level of density for a vibrant but NOLA-compiant MariWater would be two to three times the current density.

    Wish I could attend the hearings.

    • Thanks, Scott. I agree on the numbers. Bywater is especially low density, less than half its population around 1960. Sorry you can’t address CPC. I’ll try to ensure your message gets to council members, who are likely to be final arbiters on this.

    • MariWater? Seriously?

      This. This. Right. Here. is the problem. People from New York coming in here with their cutesy abbreviations for our neighborhoods, telling us how we need to do things.

      Density is a culture killer. Our children’s bands already practice on the streets, much to the dismay of the newcomers who want to rename our neighborhoods. When the Bywater was dense with families that worked the docks, it was not known as a hub of artistry. That’s because creativity requires space. Nobody blows glass in a 10′ X 10′ ticky tacky apartment.

      But the slightly run down, reasonably priced half double rental has been replaced by people who “split their time” between New Orleans and New York. MariWater? Hell,no.

  3. The height limit as been addressed for far too long. It is established. Enforce it. But more importantly give access to the riverfront to more. Encourage development on the lake side of St Claude to create more density and to encourage more to live there. There are many, many, many parcels needing development in that area that could accommodate the density we need. No one addresses this area because of the crime. Develop it and the crime should go away and the density should increase. Maybe the reason it is not addressed is because it is not a riverfront development that would generate bigger profits? more expensive condos, etc.. you knew the drill., If you think condos on the river will increase our population in Bywater with registered voters I think you are hearing ‘fake’ news.

    • Thanks, David. I agree with your point about lakeside of St. Claude. St.Claude as a segregation line is pretty unpleasant.

      But I don’t think it is contradictory to a few nice buildings to improve the grassland doing nothing on Chartres. That is a project in motion – derailed motion, because the ordinances have had some flaws, and spokes in the wheels thrown in by virulent low skyline advocate groups.

      The new report shows that the height limit is anything but established. A few more 75-80 footers would be great. Why wouldnt they add population? People will live in then, as they do in the Rice Mill Lofts, as they will in Latrobe. They won’t all be condos, and absentee AirBnB is out.

      I know most people don’t believe it, but 75 foot apartments on Chartres under the current ordinance would not be profitable at all. That is why there aren’t any there. I suspect the low roofline activism of FMIA, NFB and their allies may really be intended to block all residential development by other means. The only project that survived their opposition on Elysian, for example, is a planned hotel.

      For new stuff and better density north of St. Claude, yes. But it might be different developers interested in that area.

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