The Richard Campanella Methodology: A Sensible Approach Towards the Reconstruction of NOLA
I have been a fan of Richard Campanella's work in his two books New Orleans Then and Now and Time and Place in New Orleans: Past Geographies in the Present Day. Both of these books are fantastic and extremely well researched and presented--and in the same league as the 1970s Pierce Lewis New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape classic. These books are a must . . .
In Sunday's "Other Opinions" section of the Times-Picayune, Mr. Campanella, a geographer with the Center of Bioenvironmental Research, proposes a scientific methodology to aid in the reconstruction process of New Orleans. As he states at the end of the piece, he doesn't believe his proposed methodology is the end-all be-all, but he does manage to put on paper a rational approach which in some form should be applied. Building an inventory and determining status of individual blocks (preferably) or census tracts is a no-brainer towards understanding the big picture and developing a comprehensive plan to move forward. Inventory then analysis leading to the design or plan--any first year design student can tell you this.
Heres his plan:
Blueprints: Visions for Rebuilding/Finding a Way Out of Devastation
Authored by Richard Campanella
Times-Picayune "Other Opinions"
13 November 2005
New Orleans is facing some colossal decisions. Should certain neighborhoods be demolished or rebuilt? What if residents want to return but engineers recommend against it? What if the housing stock is severely damaged, but historically and architecturally significant?
Every New Orleanian, from layperson to professional, has ideas on how the city should be reconstructed. What has been lacking is a sound, straightforward methodology through which these ideas may be passed, so that difficult decisions may be made fairly and consistently.
As a geographer and long-time New Orleans historical researcher, I would like to suggest a plan.
It is based on one overriding principle: that the best decisions are based on solid, scientific data rather than emotions or politics. But any reconstruction methodology needs to balance four fundamental (and sometimes conflicting) values:
- All New Orleanians have the right to return to their city, and if possible, their homes.
- Homes must be structurally safe.
- The historical and architectural character of the neighborhoods must be maintained to the utmost degree possible.
- Neighborhoods must be safe as possible from future floods, contanaminants and other threats.
Here's the methodology:
Step 1: Determine who wants to return. Survey residents (both returned and evacuated) regarding their intent to live in New Orleans in the future. Record the respondents' pre-Katrina addresses, and map out the results by census tract. Code red those with the lowest return rates, under 25 percent; yellow those with return rates of 25 to 50 percent, and green those with return rates of 50 to 100 percent.
Step 2: Determine structural safety. Code red tracts with over 75 percent condemnation rates, yellow those with 50 to 75 percent condemnation, and green those with under 50 percent condemnation.
Step 3: Determine historical and architectural significance. Once again, code red those tracts deemed to be historically or architecturally least significant; yellow those deemed fairly significant, and green those deemed highly significant.
Step 4: Determine environmental safety. Code red tracts that are determined to be well below sea level and highly vulnerable or contaminated; yellow those near sea level and somewhat vulnerable; and green those above sea level and relatively safe.
Step 5: Map out the results of all four surveys by census tract. Now we know the geography of our problems, and where we need to focus our attention. Tracts coded green in all four surveys are safe, historic areas to which residents want to return. They will rebound on their own.
On the other hand, tracts coded red in all four surveys are dangerous, heavily damaged, non-historic areas to which residents mostly do not want to return. Sad as it is for those few who do, it is not worth the tremendous societal effort to rebuild in these unsafe areas. They should be cleared, and returned to forest, to serve as flood-retention areas, green space and wildlife habitat and Katrina memorial parks. And former residents who desire to return should have first crack at renting or buying parcels in nearby areas.
What about neighborhoods that are more a mixed bag?
Tracts coded yellow or green in the resident-return survey but red in all other surveys--in other words, where most people want to come back despite severe damage and potential danger-should be cleared and rebuilt more safely, simply because a significant number of residents demand it.
Conversely, neighborhoods that are high in architectural or historical value should be saved to maintain our city's character and tourism economy, even if returning residents are few and the risks are high.
Perhaps the surveys should be done by blocks, or by the 70-odd official neighborhood boundaries, rather than by census tracts.
Admittedly, certain elements of my methodology are subjective, time-consuming, costly, susceptible to abuse and overly simplistic. My proposal does not address important engineering issues such as levee reinforcement or coastal restoration. But it is a sensible approach to the mending of the city's urban fabric.
Whatever methodology is chosen, it should balance fundamental values and be easy to communicate to the public. I offer my "road map" not as the one and only possible methodology, but merely in the hope of convincing the powers that be of the need for one.