Thursday, May 04, 2006

Down by the river

A story in Business Week outlining visions for a redeveloped riverfront raise questions about how the city should allocate its recovery resources. How much time and public money should the city spend on developments that will likely be out of the price range of most New Orleanians while so many people remain out of homes and jobs?

Of course development along the river make sense. No one denies that the Sliver by the River is the most valuable property in the city, because it is the least likely to flood. I expect to see all property south of the waterline redeveloped in the same way the St. Thomas Housing Projects became River Garden.

No development along the river will succeed without some public funds. Much of the downtown/warehouse district revitalization was spurred by the public spending tied to the 1984 Worlds Fair, and as the above link points out, Pres Kabakoff's River Gardens received above average public support.

At a time when no level of government is willing to commit to compensation for our losses from the failure of the federal levees, and when the first public agency has defaulted on a debt payment, the idea that any government money would be siphoned into condos and apartments for the wealthy--certainly the only people who could afford river front views--is patently ridiculous.

The loss of the old, working riverfront could also change the character of the city. The main question for many of the old wharves isn't should they be replaced, it is what will replace them. Attempts have already been made to raise the height limitations in historic neighborhoods like Faubourg Marigny from 50 to 75 feet. The barricades that the railroad tracks and wharves represent could simply be replaced by a high wall of secured communities.

The best use of much of the urban riverfront would be as public space, a massive river-front park. Such an investment would make the city an incredibly attractive place to live, and spur redevelopment all along the sliver. The only blur in that vision is that the city and state can't afford to save City Park, a national treasure of an urban park. How much can we afford to spend on developing a riverfront park if we can't save an existing jewel?

It all comes down to money. Until the central government admits their culpability in the devastation of the city and begins to fully compensate the city and its citizens, all of this is just talk. We will muddle along trying to save what we can, while keeping on eye on people who want to raid the little money we're getting to enrich themselves through cockeyed redevelopment schemes.

Riverfront development will be the biggest issue for those of us Uptown who live on the riverside of St Charles. I foresee some epic battles over height limitations and the whole 9 yards. Hmmm, why is it 9 yards? Why not 10?

End of discursive comment...
No doubt the old wharves should be converted to park space (in the same mold as Woldenberg Park) with development clustered around them (with design controls and appropriateness/height limitations in place, of course). However, creating more parkspace when City Park languishes doesn't make sense. Same thing goes with the "greenspace" designations in the BNOB plan. Pre-K City Park (and the neutral grounds and other parkland) was difficult to properly maintain bc of lack of resources. How the hell is more space doubling the extremely large City Park going to taken care of??
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