I’m going to try to articulate a few ideas knocking around in my head about the recovery of Mid-City.
Remember, the City Council’s planning process is now underway, and the common wisdom seems to be that if we don’t participate, we’ll be flattened.
Also, please realize that I don’t consider myself any kind of expert in urban planning or the like. I’m quite naïve in these matters. I’m just a concerned resident of Mid-City worried that if we don’t articulate a vision and a plan, someone else will, and it may not represent out best interests.
Also, the following thoughts are only one small piece of the Mid-City puzzle. Others have been working on other pieces and I’m trying to compile all that work: the effort to charter Dibert School, the plan to build a bike path/linear park in the Lafitte Corridor, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s study, the AIA-RUDC charrette.
Anyway, here goes. I fully realize that this is half-baked, and I apologize for that — I’m rushing. Consider this a rough draft.
Vision: As Mid-City recovers from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, we envision a neighborhood where people of all races and economic backgrounds can find can enjoy a high quality of life together and find opportunities for meaningful employment and home ownership. We want a walkable (and bikeable) neighborhood with plenty of green space. We want mixed-use, with appropriate locally-owned businesses interspersed intelligently with private residences. We want an increasing number of owner-occupied homes. We want to preserve the historic character of our neighborhood while expanding modern amenities. The recovery of Mid-City should be just, humane and democratically controlled by the people of Mid-City.
Housing: This is perhaps our number one most pressing recovery issue. We can’t rebuild a city without people, and people need places to live. At this time, many houses in Mid-City remain completely or partially unrehabilitated and will continue to deteriorate. We need a process that will allow those who desire to reside in Mid-City to take ownership of these homes if they are able to rehabilitate them. I’m kind of a dummy when it comes to such matters, but I’ve heard it suggested that a Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation could purchase adjudicated homes and sell them to would-be residents. In the past such programs have been plagued by corruption, so a transparent structure would be essential.
Population: We were 20,000 people in the 2000 census. Our goal should be to exceed that number by the 2010 census.
Local control: We need to decentralize governance in a way that gives control to the local community. Mid-City should have a neighborhood council with the power to initiate, decide, and execute the affairs that concern it closely: land use, housing, maintenance, streets, parks, police, schooling, welfare, neighborhood services. Ultimately, as we repopulate, Mid-City probably needs three or four such councils.
New construction: Existing structures should be rehabilitated wherever possible, but in some cases this will not be feasible, and indeed demolitions are already underway. We may expect plenty of new construction in the months and years ahead. It is imperative that new developments conform to the historic character of the surrounding neighborhood. We recommend the formation of a special zoning district that would specify building requirements for Mid-City. No buildings over four stories.
Green space: City Park is a wonderful amenity, but it is no substitute for smaller parks intermixed throughout residential areas. Research indicates people do not use green space if it is more than three-minutes’ walk. We need open public green space within three minutes walk of any home in Mid-City. This means we need green space distributed at intervals of 1500 feet or so. More than half of Mid-City can achieved this through the creation of a linear park on the Lafitte Corridor and enhancing the Jeff Davis neutral ground. Key areas in need of green space are the area near Broad and above Canal and the Carrollton corridor above Orleans.
Mixed use: We should scatter workplaces throughout Mid-City. Large concentrations of work, without family life around them, are unhealthy. The mixed uses of land in Mid-City give it its interesting character and makes it a vibrant neighborhood. Careful zoning and planning can promote this.
Economic development: Mid-City is noted for having many neighborhood restaurants, art studios, and small businesses of every variety. We need to promote the retention of such locally owned and operated businesses by traditional means and by newer innovative means such as providing free wireless internet access.
Education: The charter of Dibert school, noted above, is a positive development. The nearby presence of the Xavier University, Delgado Community College and Jesuit High School are also positives. However, we need to do more to promote a community of life-long learners. After all learning should not be confined to the classroom. A branch library in Mid-City (Canal Street?) with a public computer cluster would be a big boon to the neighborhood. Ubiquitous wireless internet access could also foster easier access to information for all.
Transportation: Mid-City is fortunate to have the Canal Streetcar line. The Carrollton spur should be extended down South Carrollton to connect to the St. Charles line. More broadly speaking, the Coalition for Sustainable Transit’s Five Point Plan should be embraced and implemented. A light rail system connecting the CBD to the airport could run down Tulane (as proposed in BNOB plan?).
I’m posting this even though it’s rough because I want and value your constructive criticism. If you live in Mid-City, does the above represent your thoughts and feelings and desires? (If you live elsewhere I’m also interested in your perspective.) What would you add or subtract? Help me accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.