After some initial grumblings, it now seems there's no question that New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast hit by Hurricane Katrina will be rebuilt.
But deciding which Gulf Coast to rebuild is proving to be a little more contentious. As with other parts of the hurricane fallout, the effort to re-develop New Orleans and other coastal cities is becoming a forum for promoting political concerns that long pre-dated Katrina.
Should officials try to rebuild the area like it was before? Should they take steps, such as suspending historical preservation laws, to construct new homes and businesses as quickly as possible? Or should they use this opportunity to push for a "smarter," more idealized development?
A group of architects from all over the country met in Biloxi last week to dream up designs for 11 coastal cities, as part of the Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal in Mississippi. What they came up with was a New Urbanist vision of pedestrian walkways, storefronts, greenways and light rail.
While all those features are improvements over the poorly-planned development that was there before, the New York Times wonders if it isn't all a little too fake, too antiseptic, too much like a theme park. New Urbanism, says the Times' architecture critic, is "a sentimental and historicist vision of how cities work," and it fails to "[embrace] 20th- and 21st-century realities as well as the 19th-century charms of New Orleans."
Rebuilding the areas hit by Katrina is obviously important. But creating a squeaky-clean Disney version of the Gulf Coast would be disrespectful to the colorful, organic, real architecture that made it unique in the first place.
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