New Orleans has never been known for its strong environmental conscience. Until five years ago, the city measured the success of each Mardi Gras by the number of tons of trash generated, and for many, recycling meant reusing the plastic cups caught at parades. In some neighborhoods, curbside recycling programs struggled due to lack of participation. Today, two and a half years after Katrina, residents and social and environmental activists are sweeping away old notions, but some say too much is being lost in the process.
Seeds of Change—and Dissent
Actor Brad Pitt and his Make It Right project have snagged media attention recently, debuting plans to replace 150 Lower Ninth Ward houses with sustainable, eco-friendly dwellings. The project has generated a positive buzz, in part because the targeted area is a Katrina-created wasteland with little, if any, remaining historic character. Other projects around the city are sowing seeds of green hope in some cases, but red-faced anger in others.
In Bywater, a 200-year-old, National Register and local historic district with very little Katrina flooding, a mixed-use loft project is digging a deep rift. New Orleanian Cam Mangham and her partner, Shea Embry, are developing ICInola, which Mangham says will be the city's first LEED-certified, mixed-use development. Plans for the development, anticipated to open in spring 2009, involve partially deconstructing, renovating, and rebuilding a historic manufacturing plant and recycling much of its materials. The plant and a second, new building will be developed with eco-friendly features like roof gardens and solar panels. Two more structures will come later; a total of 105 lofts and 50,000 square feet of commercial space on 2.76 acres.
Neighbors opposed to the project have formed the Bywater Civic Association to fight it. "The project is completely out of scale and context, and the design is too modern for such a historic neighborhood," says BCA organizing committee member Blake Vonderhaar. Vonderhaar says that hundreds of people have committed to boycott any store that leases space there. "They keep saying we can't have replica buildings because they don't want to turn New Orleans into Disneyland. But there has to be a reasonable solution that is appropriate to an historic neighborhood," Vonderhaar says.... Read More →