Mid-City Needs a Plan

May 31st, 2006 by Editor B

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.

13 Responses to “Mid-City Needs a Plan”

  1. Geoff Says:

    b,

    This looks like a great structure. I think you have distilled a lot of complex ideas into a compact statement.

    For my money, if you could get only the local control you could probably make much of the rest happen. It could be your strategic initiative — a plan in which a change in one carefully chosen issue area has automatic effects over many others (e.g.: if republicans bankrupt the government, they automatically acheive their goals w/r/t wellfare, schools, regulation of the environment, etc.).

    If your community can gain significant local control, then you are much less likely to get stuck with crappy developments because the people who would have to approve them would also have to live next to them — an not, say, in English Turn.

  2. Terri Says:

    While all things do not revolve around Bloomington, the city and some of the planners have some of their documentation online which might provide you a template and perhaps some of the vocabulary you might need to form a plan that would be attractive to zoning boards and politicians. http://www.bloomington.in.gov/planning/ (see the growth policy plan or downtown plan).

    I would also maybe encourage you to look into the idea of new urbanism. its a movement that seems to match your goals (walkable, green space, encouraging nonreliance on cars, and also development of community). I had an interesting conversation last summer with Matt Press who is behind the South Dunn Street project . he used the example of the Bryan Park neighborhood with its shared alleys and green spaces to explain the overall goal of this kind of urban planning that promotes both density, environmentalism, and quality of life. The project is up and running and he did a lot of work with the Bryan Park neighborhood association – (the organization participated in the brainstorming and planning) so it might be a good model (since its new construction that matches the existing neighborhood).

    Best of luck in your efforts..
    Terri

  3. Terri Says:

    The south Dunn Street Link did not transfer for some reason..
    so here it is again..

    http://www.neighborhoodsolutions.info/philosophy.html

  4. Maitri Says:

    FWIW, I forwarded your post to several friends who live in MidCity in the hopes that they will get back to you with ideas, concerns, etc.

    In my opinion, housing, local control (I worry over how much of that you will get) and education are your top three priorities. Without that, there is no hope for a viable community.

  5. gothgate Says:

    i’ve been thinking about this for a long time. i don’t have a blog of my own, so i figure i’ll drop it here and maybe someone can show me where i’m wrong.

    when i hear about the various people planning our city for us (new urbanism etc.), i keep hearing about “greenspace.” and talk about the need for small neighborhood parks.

    have these people ever lived in new orleans in august? it’s hotter than hades and all but a very few committed souls venture out for more than a minute or two. a dog walk is enough to sunburn you to a crisp and leave you gasping for a breath of air that doesn’t scorch your lungs.

    when i looked at the plans for the ‘katrina cottages’, i thought they were nice, but really, wasting 8′ deep of ‘under the roof’ space for a front porch? most of the porches on the old cottages around here are maybe 4-6′ deep at most. when you’re talking about as tight a space as a katrina cottage, to frame that space in as living space would make more sense to me. very few people sit out on their porches anymore. it’s not a matter that the houses don’t have porches or that the neighborhood isn’t condusive to porch-sitting. it’s that it’s not safe, it’s too hot, and there are too many bugs. the neighborhoods are condusive to porch-sitting, the climate isn’t.

    and have they ever looked at the small parks that already exist here and go unused and unrepaired? who is supposed to pay for these small parks & greenspaces to be maintained? NORD? they couldn’t upkeep what was here before they’re going to do better now with fewer resources & money? neighborhood associations are a great idea in theory, but i seriously doubt they’d generate the funds or volunteers needed for greenspace/park upkeep.

    i remember pre-k driving to my kids’ pediatrician’s office in gentilly. we’d pass a couple of parks. they were totally broken down and no one was ever in them. when we lived in mid-city, i never saw anyone use that park/playspot on the neutral ground on jeff davis. it’s the same for every other park/playspot i’ve seen in the city. even the park on octavia & st charles isn’t that well maintained.

    there isn’t a single small park in the city that i know of that would be safe and appropriate to take my kids to. when we wanted to go to a park pre-k, we’d load up the car and head to lafrenier. they had a great playground, the pond, and all sorts of space for kids to run wild in. and we knew it was safe and clean. for a more structured outing we’d go to the audubon zoo or to storyland in city park.

    these planners are longing for the “good old days” when parents would let their kids go out unsupervised to the neighborhood parks and let them play all day with a “be home for supper” and “don’t get into trouble.” those days are long gone and have been for years.

    it would be great if there were a family-oriented medium-sized park somewhere in mid-city. but it would only be great if there was a committment and funding stream to keeping it maintained. if they provided enough playground equipment, well-kept grass, rubberized stuff under the equipment, smooth sidewalks/paths, h/c accessible, clean & unbroken benches, lots of shade, and security.

    basically, all this talk of greenspace, public space, parks, mixed use, etc. is nice — but if no one can be counted on to maintain it in the long run, it’s soon going to be a dangerous eyesore.

  6. Bob Says:

    Bart-

    You have taken a great start on a much needed endeavor. I have been working on a broader plan with friends in other neighborhoods, and we are trying to put together a blog & meet with politicos.

    Dibert was and can again be a great school, and kudos to all involved in the charter project. The Mid City education piece needs to include the “at risk” schools: Fisk-Howard & Crossman, as well as what was one of the better middle schools of the old system, Thurgood Marshall, to maintain the diversity in the neighborhood. We should utilize the expertise of our new council member who was a co-founder of the International School of Louisiana that operated at Jeff Davis & Canal.

    Perhaps the library-learning center concept could be incorporated with a school as was done at Martin Luther King Elem. in the lower 9th ward years ago. MCNO’s participation with Dibert could be key here. If the city isn’t able or willing to bring in the public library, a semi-public one could be created at Dibert without them.

    I agree in part with the comment by Gothgate that, given the present (or pre-Katrina) level of use, more greenspace is not a high priority, but using what we have is. Turning the RR corridor into the bike path/linear park in the Lafitte Corridor and fully utilizing the Jeff Davis neutral ground and the natural levee along Bayou St. John as you suggest would be a great beginning. Encouragement of some neighborhood gardens, such as the old MidCity Green Org. had done might be another part of the plan.

    With all of the rental property that was in my area (south of Canal St.) and that has not been cleared or redeveloped, it seems like the Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation could be encouraged to assist new owners to acquire these properties with guarantees that there would be owner occupancy. The shotgun and camelback doubles that we see throughout MC provide a means for people with limited resources to acquire property by either partnering with similarly situated friends or family members, or by enhancing their income with rent receipts from the other half of a double. Maybe MidCity CDC or ACORN could help here.

    Mid City also had a history of “cottage industries”, both blue and white collar, with people working out of their homes. This should be included in any formal economic development plan.

    I have heard from friends with RTA that the cost of getting a street car under or over the I-10 & RR overpass is prohibitive. Instead, extending the street car line on Carrollton as far as Tulane, where riders could transfer to the Tulane Avenue bus, would enhance usage and better serve MC residents south of Canal.

    I hope that MCNO will begin actively getting input from residents and developing a plan. Seems like other neighborhood associations are getting help from various universities in and outside of the city. Has anyone offered to assist Mid City?

    Thanks Bart for laying the seeds to get this discussion started.

  7. Bob Says:

    “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.”

    I have just learned that the City Council planner’s group for mid city will meet tomorrow (June 3) at 10:00 a.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, 3700 Canal Street. This was confirmed with a call to Michael at Byron Stewart Architects ((504) 527-5339)) one of the local firms selected to implement this process.

    Please attend so that we are not “flattened”

  8. Editor B Says:

    Bob, I believe that meeting is next week, June 10. There’s a June 3 meeting for Tulane/Gravier which is at St. Joseph’s. I just called that phone number to confirm this.

  9. Paul Ikemire Says:

    on initial reading, it sounds very well aligned with what Tulane/Gravier is looking to produce as far as a neigborhood but the main factor is homeowner/landlord ratio and the importance of the major developments like the medical center. We share the Lafitte Corridor concerns and your bike path/linear park should correspond to our Galvez Promenade linear park so people can turn their bikes down to Poydras and further down to the new jazz center/superdome area.

    Our small restaurants and businesses were never as keen as Mid-City but the potential for NEW owners/businesses is important. For Mid-city, it sounds like you enjoyed the previous owners and want them back. This is something I hope Tulane/Gravier can eventually say about its small business owners who fully affect the care of the neighborhood (corner stores, dive bars etc.)

    Our street car idea is to loop the Canal line through Galvez down to Loyola along Perdido and Poydras in order to feed into the future Rampart loop and mainly create drop off points at the medical centers, city hall and the new jazz center.

    Your involvement has seemed to grow beyond webmaster and I’m glad MCNO is starting the planning to paper stage.

  10. Scott Says:

    gothgate raised a question:

    Why is Audubon Park so well used? The track is packed with people of all sorts although in August the crowds all seem to be early risers, 6 AM and such. All sorts: Obese and slim, bicyclers and skaters, walkers and joggers, young and old.

    Can it be that the circular track makes it convenient for people to drive there make a round or ten and get back in their car?

  11. b.rox » Blog Archive » Overwhelmed Says:

    […] Our Mid-City recovery planning meeting with Clifton James took place Saturday morning, and it was both uplifting and inspiring and surprising. We’d expected Clifton to make some sort of presentation. Instead, he pretty much turned it over to us, the community of neighbors. I was a little taken aback at first, but one by one people stepped up and reported on the planning work they’d done in various areas like education, housing, healthcare and many others. We only formed these committees a couple weeks ago, and I was amazed and heartened by the amount of thought my neighbors had put into their plans. It was particularly gratifying to me because I’d written the tentative first draft of this plan back at the end of May. Here it is less than a month later and that skeleton has gained flesh and might even come to life. […]

  12. b.rox » Blog Archive » My Katrina Timeline Says:

    […] May 31st: I post a rough skeleton of a recovery plan for Mid-City. […]

  13. b.rox » Blog Archive » At the Meeting Says:

    […] of Mid-City’s previous planning efforts, and it did my heart good to hear language from that first draft we formulated three years ago, language which made its way into the final draft of the Lambert […]

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