Notes from New Orleans: Vote on Charter Offers "Revolutionary" Changes

Posted on: November 3rd, 2008 by Walter Gallas

Along with the history-making national presidential ballot before us on November 4, here in New Orleans citizens have the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the City Charter which could alter the character of city planning and land-use in a revolutionary way. The voters in New Orleans are being asked whether they want their planning and zoning to be protected from City Hall wheeling and dealing -- locked in, as it were, and with the force of law so that developers and citizens will know up front that the rules are set and harder to undermine. The passage of this charter amendment would give new predictability to land use matters and help to avoid so many of the land use and development battles fought for decades in this town -- and with increasing ferocity in these times after Hurricane Katrina.

I have been reflecting recently about what it would have been like in the last three years in New Orleans if -- when Katrina hit -- we already had in place a true master plan for the city with accompanying zoning and which carried the force of law. Maybe we wouldn’t have had the messy fights about how and where public housing should be provided for our citizens. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to argue about whether historic preservation is an important tool for redevelopment. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to worry about which buildings will be demolished next, because we would have had a housing development plan in place. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to fight an ill-conceived plan to demolish historic housing to build hospitals. Maybe we would have had a real downtown development plan for our Central Business District.

Alas, we didn’t have the plan in place then -- and it will be another six to eight months before we see such a plan take final shape, but if the citizens of New Orleans pass this charter amendment on Tuesday, we will at least know that the city is finally headed in the right direction when it comes to planning in the future.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.