Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rebuilding the Gulf Coast

Over the past week there have been numerous stories in the New York Times covering the urban planning and architectural aspects of the rebuilding of Gulf Coast communities damaged by the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

I concur with the folks at theboxtank in their assessment of Nicholas Ourousoff's piece on New Orleans. He offers a healthy skepticism about attempts to turn New Orleans into a theme park caricature of its former self.

There is good reason to be worried. As Naomi Klein has reported, there is a strong fear that rebuilding attempts in New Orleans are likely to be dominated by corporate growth machine interests with a desire to "cleanse" the city of its poor, largely minority residents.

Reporting from Mississippi, today the Times' Robin Pogrebin discusses the recommendations of the Mississippi Renewal Forum--a panel of architects and town planners convened by Governor Haley Barbour and led by New Urbanist guru Andres Duany. The results of the six-day "charette" were pretty predictable. They advocate for the creation of a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly form of redevelopment.

While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with new urbanist design precepts, the entire redevelopment process in both New Orleans and Mississippi has proceeded without input from people displaced by the storm. This exclusion is significant as many people of low socio-economic status are being locked out of important discussions relating to the re-building effort. With decision making ensconced in the hands of elites and ideologically-driven planners like Duany, the theme park vision of reconstruction increasingly seems likely to dominate the new Gulf Coast. Disaster survivor groups that have emerged in the weeks since the storm should certainly have a seat at the table to insure successful reconstruction.