Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Letter to the Editor of the Times-Picayune

Pared down by the editors, here's how it appeared in today's paper:

April 13, 2010, 1:11AM

I moved to New Orleans in the summer of 2007, in large part because I find this place unique. A significant part of that uniqueness stems from the city's distinctive architectural jumble that has emerged after nearly three centuries.

I object to the plans to demolish a sizable swath of the city's architectural heritage in lower Mid-City to make way for the proposed LSU and VA hospitals. While the return of medical services is an admirable goal, the plans are an assault on what sets New Orleans apart. The use of expropriation to seize properties is also disconcerting.

In the past nine months, I've spent a good deal of time "inside the footprint" of the proposed hospitals. I've seen every single camelback, shotgun, Creole cottage, raised basement home and hybrid. I've talked with many of the residents who returned post-Katrina, only to face a moratorium on repairs and ongoing uncertainty about demolition.

The mitigation factors U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon raised, which The Times-Picayune cited in its editorial, are laughable. Taking photos, salvaging a few architectural elements and moving eight to 12 homes still permits destruction of hundreds of historic properties.

Destruction of the neighborhood lakeside of Galvez Street is completely inappropriate.

As seen after the razing of local federal housing complexes, areas cleared optimistically for major development using expropriation sometimes end up sitting vacant. It would make more sense, as has been suggested all along, to locate the VA Hospital riverside of Galvez Street and reopen the LSU facility within the existing Charity Hospital building.

I'm not suggesting New Orleans put itself in a glass case, preserved for all time. But we need to recognize when changes are too extreme. When a proposed change stands to alter a fundamental characteristic of the city, it needs to include recognition of its harmful impacts and a meaningful effort to mitigate them. That's never been present in the LSU/VA Hospital push. Instead, there's been a consistent attempt to get away with as little effort at historic preservation as permitted by law.

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