Louisiana Charrettes Move to Arabi

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After well-received charrettes in cities and towns to the west of New Orleans, New Urbanist planners moved to the heart of Louisiana's hardest-hit areas. As reported this week in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Andres Duany (of Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) Architects and Town Planners) and his team are getting to work in St. Bernard Parish -- on the east bank of the Mississippi River in the heart of the New Orleans flood zone -- for the last of this set of one-week charrettes. The focus of the charrette will be the Old Arabi neighborhood near the Mississippi River. Arabi is adjacent to New Orleans' devastated Lower 9th Ward.

Like many parishes in southern Louisiana, St. Bernard faces a host of challenges. Entire neighborhoods are still in shambles, and at least 40 percent of the 25,000 homes in the parish are ruined. Katrina hit in August, water reached higher than 20 feet in some areas, rendering many of the buildings uninhabitable.

The DPZ planning team began its work in Lake Charles and then worked in Vermilion Parish in the towns of Erath, Delcambre and Abbeville. The three charrettes are part of the Louisiana Speaks planning effort. Once concluded, a comprehensive plan for the rebuilding of parishes affected by the storms will be presented to the communities to implement.

Photo courtesy of Duany Plater-Zyberk and the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Image is a massing study for infill redevelopment in downtown St. Charles, LA.

"We propose, we listen, and we modify on 24-hour cycles," said Duany in describing the charrette process to the Times-Picayune . We may make a proposal that is very radical. We may get it wrong. We will go back and modify it. We'll get it less wrong. We modify it again until eventually we get it so that the people like it."

The opening public presentation of the charrette occurred Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the St. Bernard Parish Courthouse, 1101 W. Saint Bernard Highway in Chalmette. A design review session will occur Friday at 6 p.m. in the Crescent Room at the Wyndham Canal Place, 100 Iberville St., New Orleans. The closing presentation will occur March 15 at 6 p.m. at the St. Bernard Parish Courthouse. For information, visit www.louisianaspeaks.org or call (225) 382-5502.

In addition Duany, other prominent New Urbanists are leading and supporting the Louisiana Speaks effort.

Urban Design Associates (UDA) will develop a comprehensive toolkit of ideas to be used by homeowners and businesses as they rebuild. UDA pioneered the revival of Pattern Books© as a means of communicating urban and architectural values to the building industry. These Pattern Books will be widely distributed and available for use on both residential and commercial projects and will feature sections on sustainable design and "green" building techniques, as well as tools for financing mixed-income housing.

Calthorpe Associates will develop a regional vision using the best scientists and planners from Louisiana and around the country. Calthorpe Associates has led a number of major regional planning efforts throughout the United States and abroad. Their innovative regional process has set a new standard for comprehensive and highly inclusive large-scale planning.

The regional plan will evaluate the economic, environmental, and social forces that shape South Louisiana and explore alternative ways that growth and development can be accommodated in the context of varying environmental, economic, and cultural patterns.