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Archive for the ‘Public Housing’ Category

BW Cooper, originally uploaded by tempey.

[Note: This is more or less a cross post with the MLK BLVD blog, a spinoff of one of my other projects, the MLK BLVD Flickr pool. Because public housing was the subject of one chapter in LfNO, I’ve written before on this site about the spate of housing teardowns in New Orleans, and thought this material seemed relevant here as well.]

“Stop the Demolition Coalition Rally, New Orleans, LA,” says the caption on the above image from that city’s MLK Blvd. The teardown of public housing in New Orleans was already a controversial issue before Katrina, and the rapid acceleration of teardowns since the storm has made the controversy that much more intense. BW Cooper, better known locally by its old name, Calliope, was among the larger projects in New Orleans, and probably most famous as the place where Master P grew up.

An earlier image of Calliope taken about six weeks after Katrina is here.

Flickr user tempey also contributes the images below, and a few more in the MLK BLVD pool. The curious Statue of Liberty tableaux on MLK has appeared in the pool before — here (before Katrina) and here (after).


BW Cooper, originally uploaded by tempey.

Liberty, originally uploaded by tempey.

 

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Razing issues, again

Back to one of my hobbyhorses: project teardowns.

Some of the best-known razing of public housing has been in Chicago. Less widely understood is that while Chicago did tear down some notoriously bad-for-living projects, it renovated others. In light of this, a thoughtful op-ed in the T-P asked recently: “Can HANO follow its Chicago counterparts in distinguishing between bad housing projects, which need to be torn down, and good ones, which don’t?” Once again, Lafitte is cited as an example of public housing that should, perhaps, be saved.

Lafitte’s handsome, people-scaled two- and three-story buildings are set in what used to be gardens before decades of neglect. They were built solidly and with great care by Creole craftsmen who would not be surprised that Katrina didn’t do much damage.

The architecture here clearly did not cause the residents’ suffering; it fell victim to drugs, crime, poverty, poor schools and lack of opportunity, just as they did.

Lafitte’s buildings are mirrored all over the country in postwar middle-class housing complexes still in congenial service in close-in suburbs, even though these aren’t as solidly built. And other public-housing officials are rehabilitating older garden-style projects.

The Chicago Housing Authority, while still demolishing the 28 monstrous high-rises of the Robert Taylor Homes, has renovated the 454-unit garden-style Trumbull Park project, built in 1938 with a scale and quality that resembles Lafitte, which was built three years later.

[Thanks CRF]

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The housing project teardowns in New Orleans remain in limbo for now because of a lawsuit. Here’s the T-P story. Some excerpts:

The Housing Authority of New Orleans said this week in court papers that the lawsuit threatens the estimated $681 million redevelopment of what it calls the “Big Four”: C.J. Peete in Central City; Lafitte in Treme; St. Bernard in the 7th Ward; and B.W. Cooper, which sits between Earhart and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards.

Filed in June, the lawsuit has yet to draw any conclusive rulings from U.S. District Court. …

For now, the vast low-rise complexes remain a frozen landscape of failed housing for the poor, with thousands of homes shuttered, fenced-off and lying in wait for redevelopment.

Except for a portion of the apartments at Cooper, the four complexes marked for redevelopment have been shuttered since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast 15 months ago. HUD has tagged each for demolition, yet has not formally approved any such plans….

Passing mention of Desire, the torn-down and supposed-to-be-rebuilt complex I wrote about in LfNO:

Before Katrina, HANO had embarked on a $700 million redevelopment plan for five of its 10 traditional housing sites. Private developers worked on the “new” Desire complex in the Ninth Ward and the River Garden neighborhood that replaced the former St. Thomas complex in the Lower Garden District, while HANO was developing new units at Fischer, Florida and Guste.

Since the storm, only Fischer and Guste in Central City are still on the redevelopment track by HANO.

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Tearing things down

Today’s New York Times has an article about the project tear-downs in New Orleans, something that I’ve mentioned here before, and is of interest to me in part because of things I learned while writing the piece in the book called “The Desire Line.” The article is by Nicolai Ouroussoff. An excerpt:

Billed as a strategy for relieving the entrenched poverty of the city’s urban slums, [the teardown] is based on familiar arguments about the alienating effects of large-scale postwar inner-city housing.

But this argument seems strangely disingenuous in New Orleans. Built at the height of the New Deal, the city’s public housing projects have little in common with the dehumanizing superblocks and grim plazas that have long been an emblem of urban poverty. Modestly scaled, they include some of the best public housing built in the United States.

Furthermore:

If the sight of workers dynamiting an abandoned housing complex was a cause for celebration in Chicago’s North Side, the notion is stupefying in New Orleans, whose public housing embodies many of those same New Urbanist ideals: pedestrian friendly environments whose pitched roofs, shallow porches and wrought iron rails have as much to do with 19th-century historical precedents as with late Modernism.

More specifically, they were inspired by local developments such as the 1850s Pontalba Apartments and late-19th “Garden City” proposals, whose winding tree-lined streets and open green spaces were seen as an antidote to the filth and congestion of the industrial city.

The low red-brick housing blocks of the Lafitte Avenue project, in the historically black neighborhood of Treme, for example, are scaled to fit within the surrounding neighborhood of Creole cottages and shotgun houses. To lessen the sense of isolation, the architects extended the surrounding street grid through the site with a mix of roadways and pedestrian paths. As you move deeper into the complex, the buildings frame a series of communal courtyards sheltered by the canopies of enormous oak trees. Nature, here, was intended to foster spiritual as well as physical well being.

And finally:

The point is not that projects like Lafitte should be painstakingly restored to their original condition; nor are we likely to return to the same spirit of social optimism that created them any time soon. None of the projects rise to the level, say, of the best Modernist workers housing built in Europe in the 1920s, some of which were such refined architectural compositions that their apartments are now occupied by upper-middle-class sophisticates.

But they certainly rank above the level of much of the conventional middle-class housing being churned out today. And it is not difficult to imagine how a number of thoughtful modifications — the addition of new buildings, extensive landscaping, extending the existing street grid to anchor the project more firmly into the city — could transform the project into model housing.

I’m not naive about the problems that have beset public housing in New Orleans and elsewhere. But as you might guess by the fact that I’m now linking to the article a third time, I think it’s definitely worth reading.

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Nearly a year later…

NPR gives its report on the project teardowns in New Orleans. The blueprint is apparently the St. Thomas / River Garden — a controversial development when it happened, to say the least. Pres Kabacoff is quoted pointing out how that area had lagged behind and maybe even weighed down surrounding neighborhoods back when it was dominated by public housing.

He’s right, of course. One of the things people who haven’t lived in New Orleans don’t really understand about the place is that unlike most big cities, where the projects are all stuck off somewhere where nobody has to think about or deal with them, there are housing projects all through the core areas of the city. So when Kabacoff says that the decision, post-Katrina, to tear down several of them of represents an “opportunity” to revitalize New Orleans, that’s what he means. A lot of that land could be worth something, if not for all the poor people living on it in big immovable structures that will never gentrify.

Again, he’s right. My issue, my concern, my fear, is what exactly it means when he also says that it’s inevitable that some people will be left out of whatever revitalization occurs. Oh really? And who might that be? The city’s most defenseless and resource-poor citizens, perhaps? “It’s not going to be nirvana,” he says.

The projects weren’t nirvana either. I’m not a romantic about that: They’re dangerous and they probably enable and even encourage a lot of pathological problems. But just to shrug off the whole issue by saying that some people will be left out — it’s pretty sad.

Also on NPR, a report on the drugs and other problems in a FEMA trailer village in Picayune, Mississippi, which is also, evidently, not a nirvana.

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Calliope (Post-Katrina)

I have a really bad feeling about the news that four New Orleans housing projects are now slated for demolition. I don’t have any illusions about the problems of the projects, but when I was researching the long piece in LfNO about the Desire projects, I got pretty familiar with the extremely bad history of broken promises about public housing. I won’t recap all of that here, but, it’s depressing and enraging.

The projects that will be razed are St. Bernard, Lafitte, C.J. Peete (Magnolia, spawning ground of the Cash Money empire), and Cooper (Calliope, pictured). The HUD honcho is quoted in the T-P saying:

We’re making the president’s vision a reality with an innovative plan which will reopen nearly half of the city’s public housing but also bring about a renaissance in public housing neighborhoods. Rebuilding and revitalizing public housing isn’t something that will be done overnight. Our redevelopment represents a major step forward. Sadly, not all residents will be able to return home in the near future.

Sure, sure. Guys like this have been talking about major steps forward for decades. What distresses me about it is that people in public housing, obviously, have few resources, and maybe even fewer advocates. The only politician speaking up for them is William “Cold Cash” Jefferson, probably the least effective elected official in America right now. It seems to me hardly anybody else cares what happens to these people. For all the righteousness and rage in post-Katrina New Orleans, I don’t hear a whole lot about making sure the most defenseless citizens aren’t victimized and tossed aside yet again.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’ll all work out this time. I certainly don’t have any easy solutions. But reading about this just gives me a sinking feeling.

The T-P story did have this bit about the Desire projects, the first updated I’ve heard.

HUD has run the city’s public housing authority since 2002, after years of rampant mismanagement and corruption took its toll on the complexes and their residents.By late 2005, HANO, directed by a one-person board of commissioners who is appointed by HUD, was making headway in its far-reaching renovation of public housing complexes. Desire and Florida in the 9th Ward were pastel-colored rows of townhouses and shotgun-type homes.

“Katrina made a bad situation worse,” Jackson said. “A massive redevelopment effort was under way when the hurricane hit.”

Today, Desire — renamed Abundance Square — and Florida are vacant, muck-stained neighborhoods. Desire was a Hope IV project, part of a federal grant program that transforms public housing into mixed-income housing.

“The developer of Desire has indicated a strong desire to bring it back online as a development,” Keller said. “They are working with the insurer right now to get funds available.”

I drove around Desire and Florida in October, last time I was in New Orleans. The pastel-colored housing looked pretty desolate. I’m pretty sure Desire flooded big-time. We’ll see if this “strong desire” to do something there ever materializes.

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6 Links

1. Pal Marc Weidenbaum (proprietor of Disquiet) hosted a panel about making instruments and making music with them — his panelists were Tom (Univac) Koch, Krys Bobrowsk, and Chachi Jones — at the recent Maker Faire in San Francisco. He’s posted a recording of the 45-minute panel, and it’s very cool. Check it out.

2. New images have been added to the MLK BLVD Flickr pool from contributors in North Carolina and St. Louis. Some of the St. Louis entries came from the author of Urban Review, which covers what I guess I’m going to call urban design issues in St. Louis and environs. A recent post there discusses development ideas for a neighborhood called The Ville, which includes MLK Drive. It’s pretty interesting.

3. Our contact at Garrett County Press passed along this “>surprisingly interesting YouTube video by a New Orleans 10-year-old (I have a feeling she had some help).

4. MySpacecide.

5. HUD’s Alphonso Jackson says of the “gang-ridden” projects of New Orleans: “Only the best residents should return. Those who paid rent on time, those who held a job and those who worked.”

6. Acoustic covers of rap songs, discussed at BoingBoing.

Actual number of links in this installment of “6 Links:” 14.

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