New urbanist firms will plan Louisiana recovery

The Louisiana Recovery Authority is

hiring experienced new urbanist firms to help the state, where an estimated 205,000 homes were destroyed in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and their aftermath. Peter Calthorpe of Calthorpe Associates in Berkeley said the Authority is pursuing a “three-track approach” that will involve his firm and Fregonese Calthorpe Associates of Portland, Oregon; Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh; and Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company (DPZ) of Miami.

• As the lead firm, Calthorpe Associates will work with Fregonese Calthorpe Associates to devise a long-range vision for southern Louisiana (not including New Orleans). The Berkeley and Portland firms will collaborate with experts, local stakeholders, and others to produce “a series of development scenarios,” Calthorpe said. The scenarios will “frame and quantify the impacts of differing investment strategies, environmental systems, cultural patterns, economic development strategies, and government policies,” he explained. This approach — similar to long-term planning that Calthorpe has conducted in Utah and elsewhere — will help Louisiana decide how to go about its long-term recovery from the hurricanes. Although New Orleans, where the Urban Land Institute conducted a planning exercise, is not part of the Recovery Authority’s endeavor, Calthorpe noted that New Orleans has retained the Philadelphia-based firm WRT, where longtime new urban planner Jonathan Barnett is a principal. Calthorpe expects to coordinate efforts with WRT.

• DPZ will conduct design charrettes in Lake Charles and two other local jurisdictions. The Authority said the charrettes, which will all take place within three months, are intended to represent typical conditions in Louisiana and “serve as models for rebuilding and redevelopment.”

• Urban Design Associates will provide “a planning toolbox and pattern book” for areas unable to organize their own charrette, according to the Authority. Workshops will train local officials, architects, engineers, developers, planners, and citizens engaged in reconstruction.

The consortium was chosen from a field of 14 applicants by the LRA Support Organization, a nonprofit foundation made up of board members from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and the Authority. PolicyLink, a nonprofit organization, is providing the Authority’s staff with pro bono consulting on economic and social equity, affordable housing policy, community outreach, and communications strategy.

The Authority decided in mid-December that before local governments can receive federal funds aimed at minimizing future damage from floods and storms, the governments must accept new FEMA flood standards, which require many hurricane-damaged buildings to be rebuilt at higher elevations. In Mississippi, FEMA standards have been controversial because they sometimes make it hard to create buildings and streetscapes that work well as settings for pedestrians.

Editorial writer Lanny Keller wrote Dec. 30 in in the Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate that the Authority “holds a lot of cards to ensure Calthorpe’s process is taken seriously … If the Recovery Authority wants a regional plan, it is likely to get it. The quality of the plan, though, depends on what has always been in shortage in Louisiana: cooperation, vision, a willingness to work across divisive lines of race, politics, and particular interests.”