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New Orleans: new visions

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We need to do everything with velocity.... You invite in the Urban Land Institute and the Brookings Institution and others, and have them work with locals, then stay up all night for a few weeks, set out a plan, and go. You want to have that national and international good thinking, but it needs to be combined with locals who understand the turf.

Old character, newer values

Reed Kroloff, dean of the Tulane University School of Architecture in New Orleans

What needs to be preserved?

New Orleans has a distinctive and unusual urban pattern. It's like a fine grain on a piece of wood. When the French originally laid out New Orleans, they tried to give as many planters riverfront exposure as they could ... and ended up with a city made up of long, narrow lots. That fine grain is very distinctive, and it's critical for maintaining the character of New Orleans. The beauty is that it makes automatically for a dense, urban, walkable city. It's among the better-designed, better-laid-out, quirkier, more humane cities in this country.

What are the dangers?

The worst thing that could happen is a bad 21st-century version of a great 19th-century home. It would be a bad cartoon version of what New Orleans actually is. We should be careful about creating something that not only respects the old city, but learns from it, because it is sustainable. There's no reason a neighborhood of single-family homes can't be replaced by multi- family homes, or multifamily homes within mid-rise buildings, and still maintain that character: a long, skinny, 12-story building that's elegant and beautiful.

Where should the city rebuild?

We could bring higher buildings into the downtown area or along the riverfront without damaging the character of the city. There are large pieces of blank land in the center that could be developed into dense residential, mixed-use areas.

What's the opportunity?

Why can't New Orleans become the center for sustainable modular housing in the future?... It's an industry that requires working people at every level of economic and educational strata. Why can't we be the people to design "green" modular housing? Those are immediate jobs that become permanent jobs.

From preposterous to conceivable
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