In The News › Early drafts show master plan is a work in progress

Apr 26, 2010

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

Early drafts show master plan is a work in progress

Monday, April 26, 2010
By Autumn Giusti

The story goes that there’s an architecture professor in town who has made a habit of giving his first-year students the same assignment year after year: Look up the city’s master plan.

For a good chunk of the students, many of whom hail from out of town, the joke is on them.

The point of the exercise is to drive home the fact that despite being a major metropolitan area, New Orleans has no master plan.

Since Hurricane Katrina, there have been efforts underfoot that would make the aforementioned assignment obsolete. But if a local watchdog group’s recent assessment of the proposed master plan is correct, there may still be some shortcomings for that architecture professor to pick at.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Governmental Research issued a report criticizing the latest draft of the New Orleans Master Plan and Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, saying it “does not live up to its mission in key areas” and “still falls short of the requirements for a good master plan.”

On one hand, it’s encouraging that city planners, consultants and neighborhood groups have taken the initiative to map out a master plan. At minimum, they deserve an “E” for effort. This is a mammoth undertaking, and it would be much easier to say we’ve gone long enough without such a plan, so why start now?

But judging from BGR’s report, it sounds as though the master plan could use more of what its name implies — planning.

BGR cited four main shortcomings of the draft:

– There’s no effective guide for shaping the city’s future physical development.
– It’s “unwieldy and difficult to use.”
– It sets “unrealistic goals while avoiding the difficult task of setting priorities” and does not address many of the city’s fundamental challenges.
– The community participation program is complicated and would fail to meet the requirements of the city charter.

The hallmark of a good master plan is land use. This may be a city that prides itself on being eclectic, but that doesn’t have to mean our neighborhoods are a mishmash of land uses.
It’s one thing when a neighborhood seamlessly blends historic homes with restaurants, bars and boutiques. But it’s disheartening to see an otherwise adorable shotgun home next to a sheet-metal warehouse.

This is a recipe for poor quality of life, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone willing to live in that house.

That is where land-use plans come in. While BGR says the proposed land-use maps sufficiently lay the groundwork for comprehensive zoning, “it fails to provide concrete guidance in important areas, such as urban design.”

It’s discouraging to think this is one of the shortcomings of the plan, since New Orleans already has many components of good urban design in place.

There’s an enviable supply of historic homes, many of our neighborhoods were designed on a walkable scale and we have miles of streetcar tracks.

Another BGR criticism is that the plan “addresses a wide range of topics that are not relevant to the physical development of the city.”

For instance, the plan spells out recommendations for improving police-community relations and hiring practices for firefighters.

“While important, such topics are not appropriate for a master plan,” BGR wrote.

BGR brings up a good point here, and maybe the plan could spur the offshoot of additional master plans for police protection and other community issues.

All criticisms aside, it is encouraging to see New Orleans so close to implementing a master plan after decades of disorganization and inaction. The City Planning Commission already has approved the plan, which is now in the hands of the City Council, who has until May 26 to vote on it.

Let’s hope the city and the plan’s authors glean some insight from the BGR report and consider amending the plan in the future. It would be great to have a master plan that one day serves as a learning tool for architecture and urban planning students, rather than a cautionary tale.

Apr 26, 2010

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

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