Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Bill Borah

Brad V: Briefly, back when you first decided to get involved in this particular fight (Charity Hospital/LSU/VA), what got you involved in the issue?

Bill B: Well, I was a latecomer to the hospital controversy. After Katrina, I and others were very much involved in trying to change the City Charter so the city would be required to do a plan for its future physical development - called the Master Plan - that would have the force of law (meaning citizen-based, everyone would have to follow it). And what happened, unfortunately, was that Mayor Nagin and his recovery czar, Ed Blakely, told Goody Clancey, the firm that was to do the Master Plan, that they were not permitted to study the hospital situation. So here we had the biggest economic health decision that this city will make in the next 10 or 15 years...excluded from the Master Plan planning process.

It was the way that New Orleans and Louisiana traditionally planned - top down, ad hoc, and ultimately corrupt. And that's how I happened to get involved. Because I was outraged by the fact that the LSU and VA hospitals were excluded planning process.

And, of course, when I got in it and saw how terrible it was - the fact that they were wiping out 165 historic buildings and destroying a New Orleans neighborhood that had every possibility of coming back and being viable - and that could satisfy the residential and commercial needs that two new hospitals would have. And they would not consider adaptively reusing Charity Hospital.

That's how I got involved. And then of course I read FHL's (Sandra Stokes) report and was incredibly impressed by it, done by an extraordinary architecture firm with a health/preservation background. It said that you could re-do Charity, get back in it 3 years faster, 34% cheaper. That's why I'm here.

Brad V: And what do you think about the entire LSU/VA situation at this point, seeing as things have changed significantly since you got involved?

Bill B: I'm incredibly depressed by it. I think it's an absolutely outrageous decision by the city, the state, and, of course, the federal government. It's urban renewal in its worst sense. It's from back in the 50s and 60s. It's the kind of thing that this country said it was getting away from. And, quite frankly, that this administration - namely, the Obama administration - said they were moving away from. Quite the contrary. It's an absolute disaster. Now, of course, people are trying to make the best of it. It's a very sad time.

I got involved in the Riverfront Expressway back in the 60s. We were trying to stop the interstate highway going through the French Quarter. We were successful. But in terms of decision-making and the ad hoc, dysfunctional system that I grew up continues to this day. And all the hopes and dreams we had after Katrina...there were some things done that were positive...but the city and state, looks like it's reverting to the way it was before Katrina. And of course the federal government is cooperating with the local politicians...and you know, we're at war. As we've always been, if you believe in historic preservation and decent planning and trying to preserve the unique character of the city. And at the same time, God knows, it really needed development. Everyone supports the hospitals. But, God, this is not the way you do this stuff.

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