Mid-City is getting a plan

This Saturday, June 10, at 10am, the Mid-City planning session will be held at Grace Episcopal Church on Canal St. this is the church on the downtown side of Mandina’s. There is a parking lot in the back on Cleveland. This is the session with Sheila Danzey and the Lambert Group who were hired by the city council for $3,000,000. Let’s make sure we get our money’s worth.
Bart Everson, Michael Homan, Wendy Laker and Jim Taylor have put together a preliminary vision to guide the discussion. I know there is no need to invite criticism but let’s try to keep it constructive. Maybe Bart can turn it into a link so it won’t clog the blog.

This represents the second draft of the Mid-City Rebuilding and Recovery Plan.
Mid-City Rebuilding and Recovery Plan
(draft two)
Vision: Mid-City is a unique and historic New Orleans neighborhood that was severely flooded due to levee breaks on August 29th, 2005. As Mid-City recovers from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, we envision a neighborhood where people of all races and economic backgrounds can find and enjoy a high quality of life together and find opportunities for meaningful employment and home ownership. We want a safe walkable and bikeable neighborhood with plenty of green space. We want mixed-use buildings, with appropriate locally-owned businesses interspersed intelligently with private residences. We want an increasing number of owner-occupied homes. We want to preserve the historic character of our neighborhood while expanding modern amenities. The recovery of Mid-City should be just, humane and democratically controlled by the people of Mid-City.
Housing: This is perhaps our number one most pressing recovery issue. We can’t rebuild a city without people, and people need places to live. At this time, many houses in Mid-City remain completely or partially unrehabilitated and will continue to deteriorate. We need a process that will allow those who desire to reside in Mid-City to take ownership of these homes if they are able to rehabilitate them. Blighted housing has been a problem in Mid-City for many years. Previous attempts to address this problem have been cumbersome and ineffective. This problem has been exacerbated by the flooding. We support the City Council’s proposed deadline to declare intention and to secure the property by August 29th, 2006. We support a program to aggressively return these houses to the market. A Mid-City Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation could purchase adjudicated homes and sell them to would-be residents. In the past such programs have been ineffective and plagued by corruption, so a transparent structure would be essential. The bigger this corporation is, the more likely it is to be mismanaged, and so local neighborhood control would be key. In the past, the overwhelming majority of Mid-City residents have been renters. In the recovery project, this is a great opportunity to get more home owners. This would produce a more safe and sustainable community. Mid-City has a distinct architectural rhythm and this should be maintained in the rebuilding process. Since Katrina, there have been a lot of demolitions. There should be a committee to review all of the demolitions, and there should be guidelines for tearing down houses and renovating. There should be a severe penalty for demolishing buildings without permit. The district currently requires the review of all historical housing stock. We are designated as a National Historic District. Existing structures should be rehabilitated wherever possible, but in some cases this will not be feasible, and indeed demolitions will at times be necessary. We may expect plenty of new construction in the months and years ahead. It is imperative that new developments conform to the historic character of the surrounding neighborhood. We recommend the formation of a special zoning district that would specify building requirements for Mid-City. Commercial development should conform architecturally and we should have design and landscaping review at the neighborhood level. Mid-City should also pursue a formal designation as a Local Historic District.
Population & Home Ownership: According to the 2000 census, Mid-City had 20,000 residents and 6,728 houses. Of these, 13.3% were unoccupied, and only 27.9% were occupied by the property’s owner. Our goal should be to meet or even exceed the 2000 population by the 2010 census. At the very least, we would like to see a majority of people own their houses.
Local Control: Housing might be most pressing issue, but having local control is ultimately the most important. If the recovery is to be done just and fair, then neighborhood control is key. We need to decentralize governance in a way that gives control to the local community. Mid-City should have a neighborhood council with the power to initiate, decide, and execute the affairs that concern it closely: land use, housing, maintenance, streets, parks, police, schooling, welfare, neighborhood services.
Green Space: City Park is a wonderful amenity, but it is no substitute for smaller parks intermixed throughout residential areas. Research indicates people do not use green space if it is more than three-minutes’ walk. We need open public green space within three minutes walk of any home in Mid-City. This means we need green space distributed at intervals of 1500 feet or so. More than half of Mid-City can achieve this through the creation of a linear park on the Lafitte Corridor and enhancing the Jeff Davis neutral ground. Key areas in need of green space are the area near Broad and above Canal and the Carrollton corridor on the Uptown side of Canal. Parks have been underutilized and misutilized, and they have been poorly maintained or not maintained at all.
Zoning: We should scatter workplaces throughout Mid-City. Large concentrations of work, without family life around them, are unhealthy. The mixed uses of land in Mid-City give it its interesting character and make it a vibrant neighborhood. Careful zoning and planning can promote this. We have a lot of light industrial zoning in Mid-City, and we need to look at uses and perhaps narrow the uses for “light industrial” zoning. We should try to conform it to two family neighborhood residential and neighborhood business. The proposed neighborhood council should determine the zoning. Compatible light industry would be acceptable in some sections. In large part, we support the City Planning Commission’s 1999 Land Use Plan that stated that heavy industry should be located outside of Mid-City, and we should redevelop current heavy industrial sites. The American Can redevelopment is a good example of redeveloping a property that was formerly heavy industrial. The Lafitte Rail Corridor project would be a key future project.
Economic Development: Mid-City is noted for having many neighborhood restaurants, art studios, and small businesses of every variety. We need to promote the retention of such locally owned and operated businesses by helping with taxation issues. We must encourage local ownership of compatible neighborhood businesses in the proper places that are zoned for such businesses. We could also explore newer innovative means of promoting businesses such as providing free wireless internet access. Our goal is to diversify the economy with things such as cultural attractions.
Education: The Mid-City Neighborhood Organization’s sponsorship of the charter of Dibert School is a positive development. Educational facilities in Mid-City, such as Jesuit High School and Warren Easton High School, as well as nearby schools such as Xavier University and Delgado Community College, are also positives. We need to try to get the schools more involved in the community, and the communities more involved in the schools. The neighborhoods could use the schools as community centers. We should also promote a community of life-long learners. Learning should not be confined to the classroom. A branch library in Mid-City, possibly on Canal Street, with a public computer cluster would be a big boon to the neighborhood. Ubiquitous wireless internet access could also foster easier access to information for all. Such a library could be an excellent community center where groups could meet.
Transportation: Mid-City is fortunate to have the Canal Streetcar line. The Carrollton spur should be extended down South Carrollton to connect to the St. Charles line. More broadly speaking, the Coalition for Sustainable Transit’s Five Point Plan should be embraced and implemented. A light rail system connecting the CBD to the airport could run down Tulane. We should complete the Rails to Trails bike path converting the former rails on the Lafitte Corridor to a bike path. We should also tie this bike path in to the Jeff Davis Bike path. Bike lanes need to be designated on the existing major streets. We also need to survey and identify streets that need to be fixed. Many existing streets are substandard. The sewage and water board has done work and left streets that they tore up in bad shape. The walkable nature of the neighborhood needs to be maintained. We need sidewalks and streetlights for safety.
Cooperation: We must be good neighbors to the neighboring neighborhood organizations. These include Tulane/Gravier, Lakeview, Bayou St John, and Gert Town. As we engage with our recovery, we want it to be in concert and harmony with our neighboring neighborhood organizations.

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