Big Easy, Complete Streets

Harrison Street, New Orleans

The minds behind CNU are always in demand. Just last week, our Planning Director Heather Smith was called by the Louisiana chapter of the AARP to participate in a series of events being conducted in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Between sitting on a jury, attending meetings, and hopefully having a chance for a bowl of etoufee while listening to the great cajun sounds of Nathan Abshire, Smith was able to briefly connect with CNU's Ben Schulman back in Chicago to relay the details of her trip.

CNU's Ben Schulman: NoLa always seems to be in the spotlight when it comes to urbanist issues, especially as it continues towards full recovery post-Katrina. What brings you down to NoLa now? 

CNU's Heather Smith: AARP is holding their 2nd annual great places competition and I was asked to represent CNU and participate in the jury. Since I was in town, AARP also asked me to sit in on one of the first meetings of their complete streets working group with representatives from the City of New Orleans, the regional planning Commission and local groups such as the Louisiana Public Health Initiative. 

Schulman: Does the AARP in Louisiana envision complete streets fitting in with their constituent needs? Is the Louisiana chapter spearheading adoption of complete streets for the organization as a whole? 

Smith: Absolutely. AARP in Louisiana has spearheaded a work group to focus on complete streets and is working on getting communities to adopt ordinances and has a plan for specific milestones and events around implement complete streets. 

Schulman: How do complete streets complement other discussions about preparing communities for the influx of aging baby boomers, e.g., the work of CNU 19 speaker Henry Cisernos? 

Smith: As people age, they need alternatives to the car.  Many AARP members want to stay in their homes and get around by other means.  These factors can lead to creating great places, since if it is a safe environment and you can actually do your errands while seeing your neighbors and participating in the community life, it adds to the social and economic health of the place. Most people see complete streets as a critical part of the community, and AARP is making livable places a priority with their members. Complete and connected streets and networks are the cornerstone of creating great places.  As a jury, when we reviewed the projects, we looked carefully at how the projects fit into the surrounding community.  Whether it was looking at walkscore or streetsmart, we heavily weighted projects based on how they fit into the community. 

Schulman: NoLa is an interesting example of a city with large quantities of land available for infill development, as well as beautiful historic tracts that are attractive to rehab via tax credits. Do you think these developments can be compatible to one another, especially if a complete streets guide is proposed for all to follow?

Smith: Yes!  New Orleans and Baton Rouge are trying to do the right thing with their streets, but are often faced with engineers who are still focused on battling congestion.  CNU is giving AARP and leaders in Louisiana access to tools such as the CNU/ITE Walkable Urban Thoroughfares manual to help form cohesive visions for their streets.  In terms of historic vs. new infill, it really depends on the design. Design not just for aesthetics, but also for scale, walkability and accessibility.  This will ultimately help communities be safer too. Infill can be compatible or not compatible, but it depends on how it is done.






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