New Orleans Points to a New American Dream

Plan for the 21st Century: New Orleans 2030.

Goody Clancy

Event: Climate Change: Inevitable Challenges and Potential Opportunities
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.17.12
Speaker: David Dixon, FAIA – Director of Urban Design, Goody Clancy (Boston, MA)
Respondents: Illya Azaroff, AIA – Co-chair, AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction (DfRR) Committee; James S. Russell, FAIA – Architecture & Design Columnist, Bloomberg News
Moderator: Lance Jay Brown, FAIA – Co-chair, AIANY DfRR Committee
Organizer: AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee

“Cities have become the new American Dream,” said David Dixon, FAIA, director of urban design at Boston-based Goody Clancy. With a surplus of suburban homes, and a shortage in urban apartments, the problem is that we are not ready yet to make the transition. As society is changing, our challenge as architects and planners is to make cities more livable. The solution, according to Dixon, is to develop amenity-rich, walkable, multi-modal, compact growth.

Goody Clancy has a long history in urban planning, but perhaps one of the most pivotal projects for Dixon is the Plan for the 21st Century: New Orleans 2030. Post-Katrina, Dixon was moved by the true commitment New Orleanians had to rebuilding their communities, absent of all NIMBYism. He grew to understand why some of the early planning efforts, including the “Green Dot Plan” and a proposal to relocate residents of East New Orleans to outer boroughs of the city, were sharply criticized. Comparing those plans to the East Baltimore Development Initiative, which has taken more than 20 years to relocate a community across a street for a hospital expansion, the complex logistics involved with uprooting and relocating a whole community are beyond impractical. James S. Russell, FAIA, a respondent after Dixon’s talk, emphasized that “especially in New Orleans, where the meaning of ‘neighborhood’ is so strong, a nuanced solution is the only answer.”

With the New Orleans 2030 plan, Goody Clancy is not just focusing on rebuilding communities; the firm is also using the inevitability of rising sea levels as a source for sustainable planning. Dixon referenced strategies spearheaded by the Netherlands as an inspiration for the firm’s work in New Orleans. The country is creating islands, new ports, and using natural growth to filter water and prevent flooding. With its intricate canal system, the Netherlands sees water as an amenity. With New Orleans 2030, Dixon wants to create a “blue signature” throughout the city with its own canal system. Instead of perceiving canals as eyesores or building over them so they are out of sight, the new New Orleans will both restore wetlands and create community gathering places. Dixon hopes that the canals will create a shared sense of future and identity for each neighborhood.

Ultimately, even though the country has learned much from Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans after the floods, said Russell, what needs to change is how cities apply those lessons to their own planning efforts. He thinks architecture and planning professionals could have the biggest impact if they better understood how city governments work. Illya Azaroff, AIA, the co-chair of the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee, added that any city can learn from past disasters. Now is the time to anticipate what needs to be done to protect our cities in the future.

Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is a project manager at Gensler and a past editor of e-Oculus.