This is a link to an intriguing article I read on Monday in the November 2009 issue of The Atlantic. Several things were interesting to me.
In particular are the comments sprinkled throughout the article that pertain to remembering, re-building, nurturing , and sustaining community and the role that is playing in the architecture on the homes being built. One interesting section describes features of some of the traditional homes of New Orleans…tall ceilings (“allow residents to live below the worst of the summer heat”); shotgun cottages lack hallways (“allowing for efficient cross-ventilation in every room”); transoms (“make the walls porous and keep the air moving”). Michael Mehaffy, Executive Director of Sustasis, says “What we’re learning is that these traditions are not just fashions. They’re rooted in the real adaptive evolution of a place.” Such an observation requires living in a place and listening to its voices.
An observation by Andres Duany, co-founder of the Congress for New Urbanism, was particularly insightful:
“When I originally thought of New Orleans, I was conditioned by the press to think of it as an extremely ill-governed city, full of ill-educated people, with a great deal of crime, a great deal of dirt, a great deal of poverty,” said Duany, who grew up in Cuba. “And when I arrived, I did indeed find it to be all those things. Then one day I was walking down the street and I had this kind of brain thing, and I thought I was in Cuba. Weird! And then I realized at that moment that New Orleans was not an American city, it was a Caribbean city. Once you recalibrate, it becomes the best-governed, cleanest, most efficient, and best-educated city in the Caribbean. New Orleans is actually the Geneva of the Caribbean. …All the do-goody people attempting to preserve the culture are the same do-gooders who are raising the standards for the building of houses, and are the same do-gooders who are giving people partial mortgages and putting them in debt,” he said. “They have such a profound misunderstanding of the culture of the Caribbean that they’re destroying it. The heart of the tragedy is that New Orleans is not being measured by Caribbean standards. It’s being measured by Minnesota standards.”
As someone who grew up in south Louisiana near New Orleans, this is the first time I’ve heard that description of the city…frankly, it rings true. Much damage is done to culture, place, community in the name of progress or good intentions. Duany came by his observations by living in New Orleans and walking the streets, talking to people who love the place. Brad Pitt, of all people, has bought a home in the city and is an integral part of the “high design” Make It Right development in the lower 9th ward. Again, grew to love New Orleans, moved there, spends time there and becomes part of the solution. (from the article, “BRAD PITT FOR MAYOR t-shirts are not uncommon around town.”)
The writer of the article quotes Steve Mouzon speaking to a group of contractors and architects: “The very core of sustainability can be found in a simple question: ‘Can it be loved?'” Ultimately, that will be hinge of success in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Wayne Curtis closes his article with, “The past here has much to inform the future, not just for New Orleans, but for an entire country that needs to rethink the way it designs its cities and homes. New Orleans won’t be rushed—it never is—but the chances are good that whatever results here will be loved.”