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Discussion on NOLA

Tuesday was a travel day for me heading back from four days in New Orleans. I got home at 2 AM and have not had adequate time to write (although lots of time to think). In lieu of a more substantive post, I'm going to try and induce some discussion here that parallels a discussion amongst my Facebook friends.

I was in NOLA with my wife, who was attending the Society of Professional Journalists annual conference. Monday afternoon she was able to sign me up for a tour of the levees which, as a civil engineer, I was really fascinated with. So here I am traveling around with a bunch of journalists and, after visiting two levee construction sites, we pull into the Make It Right (Brad Pitt) portion of the lower 9th ward.

Not to stereotype my touring companions, but this was something they could understand.

I was really amazed by how they uniformly seemed to think the neighborhood was great, that somehow these were not just "beautiful" homes but that it was perfectly normal (and not some type of freaky circus) for good, decent people to have a bus full of journalists pull up to their front yard and start taking pictures of their homes.

So here's where you come in. Today's discussion is about the Make it Right neighborhood. Is it:

a) A great project, well executed.

b) A vain experiment on the poor and vulnerable.

c) Some good intentions with poor execution.

d) Other

Some photos for those of you unfamiliar with the project.

I'm going to be at the Minnesota APA conference tomorrow but will try and weigh in with my own thoughts sometime in the afternoon.


Afterthought: Sorry for not providing more context. As soon as I posted the photos on Facebook, I was inundated with thoughts and comments. Should not assume all our readers would automatically know this project. For those of you not familiar with the Make it Right neighborhood or any of the controversy, here are some good resources:


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Reader Comments (7)

Having never been to this neighborhood and just judging from the pictures I would go with answer B.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpcorder

I know nothing about the project except for these pictures, but will guess C.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMidwestern State

There is a history of beautiful architecture in New Orleans, but instead of honoring it, these houses use the hurricane as an excuse to bring back modernism and to add even more egregious excesses of it. I see this all the time with "green" buildings, which are often so ugly that I fear they will discredit the whole idea (just look at the San Francisco Federal Building). When people have a choice of residential architecture, they rarely choose modernism, but it can be imposed upon them in cases like this. Do these houses function optimally for their location? Just looking at some of them, such as the gray one, I see that a smooth featureless surface is valued over the use of overhangs and louvers that would allow people to keep out sun and to leave the windows open during rain - something very important in this climate. I also think it is dumb to put this neighborhood in one of the places most vulnerable to flooding. So I guess my answer is B, though I do think the intentions are good.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris

How about the possibility of (d) none of the above? For example I know of an effective community organization in Philadelphia which decided, after building some blocks of pseudosuburbs, decided to create an ultramodern design because that's what the people who were to actually live there wanted. Just because somebody's poor doesn't make them uninterested in modern architecture.

Granted, I don't know a thing about how Make It Right is being marketed: that is, whether or not it is (or is not) responding to its constituents' desires. The big question, then, becomes whether or not the built form represents the desires of the people living there. If they purposely chose this particular design over others, or if they purposely bought in to the development (over the choice of others), then the architecture becomes a choice. If not--it becomes an encumbrance.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Good intentions, certainly, and these houses do seem to be better designed for the Louisiana coast than what they replaced, but I second the commentor who questioned whether we should be building in the Lower Ninth at all.

I was disappointed that there was no attempt to create a Place, and are just replacing individual houses. With the amount of destruction in this area, we really should have reconsidered whether to rebuild, and how to rebuild the neighborhood to make it a better Place to live. Definitely a missed opportunity to rethink the neighborhood plan.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterForaker

After reading more about the project I'll answer D - A vain project with good intentions executed well enough.

Homes are being built, a spotlight is being shown this continuing tragedy, thus financial and other support continues, and egos are fed.

If this project didn't happen... if Brad Pitt and the crchitects weren't involved... it seems to me that would mean the neighborhood would be worse off.

I am totally ok with people criticizing this project though. I would rather have more affordable housing being built than these homes. I'd rather have people spend a few hours helping out the neighborhood, instead of taking a tour, but people make their own choices. I could see the possibility that these homes might be the crown jewels of the neighborhoods. Perhaps inspiring other home creation, and attract business and notoriety.

I'd rather wait until the neighborhood is done before taking the tour however.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergml4g

I'm going with C Chuck. I've seen modernist buildings that are a lot worse. At least these try to have some personality. Do they fit into the NOLA motif? Heck no but at least these folks have a place to live. A better alternative would have been to ship over a ton more Katrina Cottages from Mississippi to put in the 9th Ward.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Hadden
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